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Antisemitic civil rights violations accusations probed at Carolina

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(The Center Square) – Federal officials are investigating accusations at UNC Chapel Hill involving antisemitic civil rights violations on campus in the wake of conflict between Hamas and Israel that began Oct. 7.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in late December confirmed officials opened a probe into “whether the university responded to alleged harassment of students based on national origin (shared Jewish ancestry) in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title VI.”

David Weisberg, a semi-retired Jewish American lawyer in Cary, filed the complaint that sparked the investigation. He declined to discuss the situation with The Center Square.

“The complaint speaks for itself,” Weisberg said. “I have nothing to add.”

University officials are aware of the investigation, and have highlighted efforts by UNC leaders to address antisemitism in recent months.

“The College also will begin planning events in spring 2024 to address antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination,” Kevin Best, director of UNC media relations, wrote in an email to The Center Square.

Weisberg’s complaint centers on events in October and November that “constitute independent violations of Title VI, and also constitute breaches of a previously executed resolution agreement between UNC” and the Office of Civil Rights.

The 2019 agreement aimed to resolve complaints that UNC discriminated against Jewish students during a conference on campus sponsored by the school that “featured an offensive and antisemitic performance by a person who was identified as an entertainer.” The 2019 complaint also involved antisemitic flyers distributed on campus.

Weisberg details similar antisemitic activity both in and out of the classroom in recent months, including an Oct. 17 classroom discussion led by Communications Department Assistant Professor E. Chebrolu. Weisberg says Chebrolu told students “Israel and the United States do not give a s— about international law or war crimes” and described Israel’s existence as “somewhat ridiculous.”

Weisberg says on Oct. 31, Chebrolu told UNC students Israel is “a clearly fascist state committing a genocide under the guise of it supposedly being the only democracy in the Middle East.”

The complaint contends Chebrolu also told students “The United States government is trying to cover up a genocide and make you all want it, desire it.”

Other examples stem from a Nov. 28 event titled “No Peace Without Justice: A Round-Table Talk on Social Justice in Palestine” that was joint hosted by the UNC Department of Geography and Environment and the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.

One of the speakers at that event, Dr. Rania Masri, who is not employed by UNC, is accused told the audience: “October 7, for many of us from the region, was a beautiful day. It was a day on which we saw … men break out of a concentration camp.” Masri allegedly described Zionism as a “cancer” and urged attendees to “demand the eradication of Zionism.”

Weisman says that “the fact that the (2019) Resolution Agreement was signed more than four years ago indicates that antisemitism at UNC is a persistent problem that in fact has not been resolved.”

The complaint cites a letter signed by over 200 UNC staff condemning the November event and an online petition signed by 6,500 titled “Protect Jewish Students: Demand UNC Stop Antisemitism Now.”

A message from The Center Square left with the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of North Carolina Hillel, which caters to Jewish students on campus, was not returned before publication on Thursday.

“Numerous students, parents, and faculty have approached UNC expressing their concerns about the hostile campus environment for Jews,” the online petition read. “Yet, by taking effectively no action while citing ‘free speech’ and ‘institutional neutrality,’ UNC is sending a clear message that eliminationist rhetoric and antisemitic statements are, regrettably, tolerated on campus.”

Best stressed that the federal investigation “does not mean it has made a decision about the case.” He pointed to services and resources for affected students, as well as communications from UNC leaders regarding the ongoing war in Israel.

“University leaders, including Chancellor (Kevin) Guskiewicz and Provost (Christopher) Clemens, are on record speaking out against antisemitism, other prejudices and violence. Their statements include two campus emails sent on Oct. 13 (‘Caring for Our Community During Global Conflict’) and Nov. 9 (‘A Call for Peaceful Dialogue’). The chancellor posted a statement on Dec. 1 about troubling remarks made by a visiting panelist.”

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