My community is under threat, and we will not stay silent.
Last month, Duke Student Government took a strong stance against antisemitism by unanimously passing a resolution which defined and condemned antisemitism. In the resolution, DSG expressed its support for the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism and supporting examples, which are widely used as an educational tool to identify and combat antisemitism worldwide. Given that antisemitic incidents are not by any means a new occurrence at Duke, the passage of this resolution was long overdue. This resolution, along with the mandatory antisemitism training that DSG senators recently attended, gave me hope that DSG was taking steps in the right direction.
But last week, that feeling changed. I woke up to read that DSG had just approved an allocation of over $16,000 to fund Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) “Narrating Resistance and Agency: Shifting the Discourse on Palestine” event. SJP plans to host a few guest speakers in their event series, one of whom is Mohammed El-Kurd.
As a Jewish student, I felt endangered and attacked upon learning this. El-Kurd is an outspoken antisemite and a dangerous voice to my community. He has made numerous derogatory and threatening tweets bashing Israelis and Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization established to fight against hate and antisemitism, has cited numerous writings, comments and tweets as reasoning for labeling El-Kurd as an antisemite.
For instance, in one of his most famous collections of poetry, “Rifqa,” El Kurd writes, “they [Israelis] harvest organs of the martyred [Palestinians], feed their warriors our own.” Similarly, on June 15, 2021, he linked Zionism to “blood thirsty [sic] and violent” actions in a tweet. In another tweet on May 12, 2021, he stated that Zionists have “an unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.” Jewish people like me see these words and are all too familiar with El-Kurd’s rhetoric because it is blood libel. Blood libel is a historic form of antisemitism which began during the Roman Empire as a way to demonize Jewish indivduals as inhumanely violent and even cannibalistic.
In addition to his modern-day blood libel and his commonly made statements likening Israel to a “genocidal death cult” is El-Kurd’s tweet in which he used the term “Kristallnachting” to describe Jews’ treatment of the Palestinians. This is a clear a reference to Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass,” which took place on November 9, 1938, when a series of violent anti-Jewish riots and demonstrations broke out in streets across Europe. Comparing modern-day Jews to the Nazis of the Holocaust — a genocidal tragedy in which six million Jews were viciously murdered and our people were traumatized forever — is insulting, dehumanizing, and harmful to our people.
El-Kurd’s violent speech is antisemitic through and through, yet DSG has just provided funding to give him a platform at Duke. This is painfully inconsistent with DSG’s own values, given they just passed a resolution to condemn antisemitism. IHRA specifically mentions “blood libel” and "drawing comparisons… to Nazis” as examples of antisemitism. Therefore, by approving this speaker, DSG has shown the Jewish community that they will stand against antisemitism on paper, yet will still take action that undermines the Jewish community.
Furthermore, El-Kurd’s violent speech stands in stark contrast to Duke’s Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Related Misconduct. By demonizing Israel and Zionists for being “blood-thirsty,” “fascists,” “terrorists” and “colonizers,” El-Kurd is directly targeting me and other students who have ethnic ties to the land of Israel, which is thus discrimination on the basis of national origin. Through his accusations of Jews as neo-Nazi figures against Palestinians, not only is El-Kurd targeting Israel and totally delegitimizing it as a nation-state, but he is discriminating against Jews and holding us accountable for everything Israel does. Thus, by providing funding to bring El-Kurd to campus, DSG is not only permitting discrimination based on religion but is complicit to it.
Many people will say that El-Kurd has a right to come to campus due to free speech. However, that right does not entail our student government paying $5,000 as an honorarium to a speaker that incites violence against a religious minority on campus. That right does not entail that my money, paid through the Student Activity Fee, should finance this antisemite. According to the FBI, The Jewish community makes up less than two percent of the United States population, yet we are victims of nearly sixty percent of religiously motivated hate crimes. Free speech is important; exchange of ideas is important. So is my safety.
Duke has an incredible Jewish community, and so many Jewish students feel at home every time they go to a Friday night Shabbat dinner or eat kosher food from the Freeman Center. But now, I and other Jewish students feel betrayed and endangered. Our right as individuals who are part of Duke’s vibrant Jewish community is being threatened by DSG’s dangerous decision to allow harmful, antisemitic speakers such as Mohammed El-Kurd to come to our campus, and moreover to provide thousands of dollars in funding to do so. The decision to fund El-Kurd says that DSG will stand against antisemitism on paper, but not in action.
I call upon Duke University Administration and the Duke Student Government to re-evaluate this decision and take immediate action regarding this event. Discussion and civil discourse is a wonderful thing, but hateful rhetoric filled with false narratives and glaring antisemitism certainly is not.
Alexandra Ahdoot is a Trinity first-year and Students Supporting Israel president.
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