Federal Inquiry Opened After Antisemitism Complaint

This article was updated Feb. 12, 2024.

The U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an inquiry into allegations of discrimination against Jewish students at UNC.

David Weisberg, an attorney from Cary and identified in a complaint as “a Jewish American who favors a close relationship between the United States and Israel,” filed a complaint in December with the department alleging E. Chebrolu, a UNC assistant professor in the communications department, made discriminatory comments about Israel during two classes held in October. In one class, according to the complaint, which cited an unidentified newspaper account, Chebrolu allegedly said Israel is “a clearly fascist state committing a genocide.”

In addition, the complaint alleges Rania Masri, a co-director of the N.C. Environmental Justice Network, referred to the attacks against Israel on Oct. 7 as “a beautiful day” during a November roundtable discussion sponsored by UNC’s department of geography and environment, and the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from the Department of Education,” according to the agency’s Dec. 22 response to Weisberg’s complaint. The department reports it is conducting 89 such inquiries nationwide, involving K-12 schools and colleges.

Former chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz condemned the November speech in a statement issued in December, saying he was “appalled” by the speaker’s comments. He asked James White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to review University policies regarding panels and free speech. White released a statement condemning the remarks and promised discussions with department chairs about expectations for events.

Weisberg also states in the complaint the University violated a resolution created by UNC and passed by the Office for Civil Rights in 2019. The resolution addressed complaints from The Zionist Organization of America regarding antisemitic flyers distributed in March 2019 after an on-campus conference on conflict in the Middle East. UNC, while denying any violation, agreed to provide anti-harassment training and listening sessions with campus administrators to ensure a nonhostile and nondiscriminatory environment for students.

In response to Weisberg’s complaint, the Office for Civil Rights stated in a letter that “opening an investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the complaint.”

The letter explains the complaint could be resolved prior to the conclusion of the investigation if UNC is willing. If a resolution agreement is not reached, the office will propose a resolution agreement, which would call for the University to take remedial actions.

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