A few months after Duke University’s Student Government (DSG) scandalously vetoed the recognition of a pro-Israel group on campus, they have managed to outdo themselves by funding a known antisemite speaker. Earlier this year, DSG rescinded its recognition of Duke’s SSI (Students Supporting Israel) chapter after the Duke SSI Instagram page rebutted a student who posted that the group “promotes settler colonialism.” After a long battle between various student groups, DSG & Duke President Vincent Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth, Duke SSI was reinstated.
Most recently, DSG allocated $5000 to an event featuring antisemitic speaker & Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd. The event, “Narrating Resistance & Agency in Palestine,” was sponsored by Duke Students for Justice in Palestine & Duke Arab Student Organization. DSG hypocritically deemed the event “educational” and acceptable by DSG standards, despite evidence that the event violates university anti-discrimination policies.
Bringing a known antisemite to campus crosses the line between freedom of speech & hate speech. El-Kurd has a history of spreading many antisemitic tropes such as blood libels against Jews & Holocaust trivialization & denial. In his book Rifqa, he wrote that “they [Israelis] harvest organs of the martyred [Palestinians], feed their warriors our own” & later tweeted that Zionists have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.”
Furthermore, he has compared Zionists to Nazis, which is antisemitic according to the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. It is a disgusting analogy that erases the trauma of a whole generation, and Duke University has no business bringing a speaker to campus who erases the memories of 6 million Jewish men, women & children. El-Kurd has tweeted that Zionists gas Palestinians, called Israelis “sadistic, barbaric neonazi pigs,” & claimed that they [Israelis] “are Kristallnachting us.” In this last tweet, Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, is a reference to one of the first pogroms that the Nazis carried out against Jews, breaking & vandalizing synagogues & Jewish businesses.
It is no surprise that this event brought out antisemitism on full display by students who felt it was a “safe space” to antagonize Jews. On an online forum that students used to pose questions before/during the event, we saw quotes such as “Jews are aware of their wrongdoings. This is why they try so hard to cover it up”. This shows how hypocritical it is to disconnect Zionism & Judaism – quotes like this show that under the guise of anti-Zionism, there is likely underlying antisemitism.
El Kurd openly called out Jewish students in the audience, saying, “Even if there are apartheid lovers here…” and “they are making a stupid op-ed,” a reference to an article published by a concerned Duke student a few days earlier.
It is unfathomable that the Duke University Student government (and Duke University’s Administration) allow such a blatant antisemite to speak on campus, let alone spend $5000 of funding on the event.
This isn’t a question of free speech, it is a question of the direct consequences legitimizing such a speaker will have on Jewish students at Duke. The safety of Jews is being put, once again, in peril. If a “legitimate” speaker on campus is allowed to think, say & write such vile antisemitic tropes, what kind of message is this sending to the student population? What message is it sending to those who already have antisemitic beliefs (and yes, even open-minded, liberal arts schools such as Duke have a lot of antisemites)? What message is this sending to the Jewish students on campus who thought their school cared for and respected them? The answer: a dangerous one. Since 2019, the AMCHA has documented seventeen serious incidents of antisemitism at Duke, including several directly targeting Jewish students and faculty.
One does not need to be a statistician to determine that Jews are disproportionately targeted. According to a 2021 survey by the ADL and Hillel, nearly one-third of Jewish college students in the US reported antisemitism directed at them by a member of their university or the surrounding community. In 2020, Jews were the target of almost 60% of all religiously motivated hate crimes, despite making up only 2% of the population.
A few weeks ago, fourteen Israelis were murdered in 4 separate terror attacks. In Jerusalem on March 22nd, 4 Israelis were stabbed to death with many others wounded before the Arab terrorist was neutralized. May their memories be a blessing. Then, on March 28th, in Hadera, 2 Israeli police officers were shot and killed by an ISIS terrorist. May their memories be a blessing. Then, as I was writing this article, on March 29th, I received news that five more innocent Israelis had been murdered in a drive-by shooting in B’nei Barak & Ramat Gan, with many others injured. A week later, my phone received a barrage of notifications about another terrorist attack on the crowded Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv – this is the equivalent of a terrorist shooting up a bar on a Friday night in a major city like New York or Los Angeles.
This tragedy reverberated around the Jewish & Israeli news yet didn’t break through to the mainstream media. Sources such as BBC refused to call it a terror attack -there is a difference between a ‘gunman’ & a terrorist. After two bloody weeks in Israel, the world seemed oblivious to the terror faced by Israelis. No buildings lit up in solidarity with the Israeli people, nor circulated hashtags on social media. Indeed, no one shed a tear for the 14 innocent people murdered in cold blood.
This hatred against Jews & Zionism directly leads to the deaths of innocent people. This is the reality that Israelis of all faiths have to live through.
I am disappointed that Duke University and Duke Student Government continued to host El-Kurd, despite evidence presented in an op-ed published a week before the event that identified his support for terrorist organizations and justification of violence and murder of Israelis.
Let’s be clear: Duke University & its Student Government are choosing hate and violence over positive discourse and constructive conversation.