Last week students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) showed up for their first class in a course called “The Conflict Over Israel Palestine.” But instead of learning about competing narratives and claims over the course of the semester, they will be treated to a one-sided antisemitic hate-fest from a graduate student professor who has been outspoken about her illegal plans.
It is clear that the course will be one-sided and antisemitic because the teacher in question, Kylie Broderick, has said so. In a tweet about how hard it is to pretend there are two sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she wrote “there is only 1 legitimate side – the oppressed – versus imperialist propaganda. I don’t ever want to encourage them to believe there is reason to take on good faith the oppressive ideologies of American and Western imperialism, Zionists, & autocrats.” In other posts she described all of Israel as occupied territory, and just a few months ago she spread a vicious blood libel, tweeting that “Palestinians are being murdered for just being alive & bc [because] they’re inconvenient to Israel & its patron, the US imperialist death cult.”
That particular outburst was written while Israel was daring to defend itself from indiscriminate rocket attacks launched at its civilian population by a designated terrorist group. Five days later she wrote an op-ed in support of the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in which she managed to squeeze in dozens of lies about the Jewish state while avoiding any mention of Hamas, the terrorist organization that started this round of violence.
After early reports about the course by Peter Reitzes, a board member of Voice4Israel of North Carolina, prompted some public pushback, UNC defended its decision to allow the class to be taught by a hostile professor who intends to demonize, delegitimize, and apply a double-standard to Israel by pretending that such an offering was somehow part of an “abiding respect for the First Amendment, academic freedom, and the open exchange of ideas.”
UNC is just wrong as a matter of law. But the worst part is that they know it, and they do not seem to care.
As it relates to academic freedom, there is a difference between education and indoctrination. Per the American Association of University Professors 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, an instructor who address “controversial matters” should present “the divergent opinions of other investigators” and “above all” should “remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.”
As former Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus has explained, there is a difference between a professor sharing their opinion versus disingenuously presenting that opinion as if it were truth. In the first Supreme Court case to expound upon the concept of academic freedom, Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957), the Court wrote that “The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. …Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” In Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967) the Court again noted that “The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] than through any kind of authoritative selection.’”
Allowing professors to share biased lies cast as truth in the guise of academic freedom while shutting down an exploration of alternative viewpoints is to violate entirely all that academic freedom is meant to protect.
Allowing professors to share biased lies cast as truth in the guise of academic freedom while shutting down an exploration of alternative viewpoints is to violate entirely all that academic freedom is meant to protect. What student in their right mind would feel comfortable challenging a professor’s anti-Zionist perspective, when that professor has recently referred to Zionists as “dirtbags,” and moderated an event that tried to legitimize violence against Israelis?
When it comes to the First Amendment, the freedom of speech—even offensive speech—must be cherished and protected. But as the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has made clear, there are times when even speech can cross over into harassment and invidious discrimination. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. While Title VI does not include religion, discrimination against Jews may give rise to a violation if it is based on race or national origin. Under Executive Order 13899 (Combating Anti-Semitism), when evaluating potential Title VI claims, the government uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Per the IHRA definition, it is antisemitic to, among other things, deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, engage in blood libels, or apply a double standard by requiring of the Jewish state a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Speech crosses over from protected territory into harassing verbal conduct when it is “sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by a recipient.” In their messages to the University, members of the Jewish community on campus confirmed what should already be obvious; they are fearful that students who support and have a connection with Israel will be unwelcome or unsafe in this classroom environment, which is not only an impingement on their academic freedom but also a violation of Title VI, as well as other state and university policies against discrimination.
A violation of Title VI may be found if discrimination is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by administrators, and complaints alleging such violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or in the federal district courts. But of course, UNC already knows all of this because this is not their first, nor even their first recent, Title VI antisemitism rodeo: In 2019 the University hosted an antisemitic conference, and was forced to settle the ensuing Title VI complaint with the Department of Education. In their resolution agreement, the school agreed to “take all steps reasonably designed to ensure that students enrolled in the University are not subjected to a hostile environment.”
The University’s commitment to that requirement is laughable, and in fact the Zionist Organization of America has already filed a letter with the Department of Education notifying them of the breach. But the potential result is no laughing matter. Study after study has shown that the kind of inflammatory discriminatory anti-Zionist rhetoric that Broderick intends to continue spreading under the banner of UNC eventually leads to antisemitic action, and to people getting hurt. Over the last few months, and particularly in the immediate aftermath of the most recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East last May, antisemitic attacks around the world shot up over 400%. On college campuses, in between dodging protests, ignoring death threats, and removing Nazi symbols, Jewish students have been subjected to campaigns that call Israel a colonialist settler state, negate the history of their people, and dismiss the lives of their co-religionists, if they are even worth mentioning at all.
North Carolina has also not been immune from this alarming trend, nor has the Chapel Hill campus itself, and it is in this environment that UNC is knowingly shirking responsibility.
This is not a new problem, but the intensification of an existing phenomenon. On university campuses around the country, antisemitism has become entrenched and systemic, with recent studies showing that the number of Jewish students experiencing antisemitism has spiked to nearly 75 percent. North Carolina has also not been immune from this alarming trend, nor has the Chapel Hill campus itself, and it is in this environment that UNC is knowingly shirking responsibility.
That is too bad for them. Universities have duty to protect students from hatred and bigotry motivated by discriminatory animus, including antisemitism, and students need to know that if the University won’t protect them, there are people who will have their back. If UNC will not do this the easy way, by standing up for its Jewish constituents and against unapologetic hate, then they will be forced to do it the harder way, and risk their federal funding—again. And this time, they will have to do more than make empty promises they don’t intend to keep.
Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.