Duke and UNC Should Not Host Hateful, Anti-Zionist Conference

Rabbi Lev Cotlar is Director of Education at Congregation Sha’arei Israel in Raleigh, NC. 

Rabbi Cotlar wrote UNC and Duke University officials to express his concerns about their planned anti-Israel conference camouflaged as a conference on Gaza. 

“I wrote this letter to some of the contacts in the link below, I think it’s important that we voice our opposition to something as biased and anti-Israel as this on campus, being disguised as academic discourse.” -Rabbi Lev Cotlar

Open Letter to Duke University President Vincent Price and UNC Officials 

Dear President Price,

I hope you are doing well. Many people in the Jewish community here in Raleigh have approached me expressing concern about the upcoming conference on Gaza scheduled from March 22-24 being co-hosted by Duke and UNC. After looking into the course schedule and its presenters, it sadly appears to be no more than another anti-Israel affair camouflaged as a discussion about Gaza. I was horrified to discover that several presenters have compared Israelis to Nazis and many promote boycotting Israel. Opening the conference is speaker Laila El-Haddad who has tweeted “Israel is a terrorist state” and has charged Israel with “equating [Palestinian] children with human cannon fodder.” Additionally, El-Haddad has compared Gaza to the Holocaust. Other speakers and moderators, including Sara Roy, Rebecca Stein, and Sara Shields, are known to be highly critical of Israel and promoters of boycotting Israeli academic institutions and supporters of the BDS movement (Roy even had the audacity to draw “parallels between the behavior of Israeli soldiers and Nazis during the Third Reich.”) Likewise, the conference will include a number of videos featuring artists discussing the hardships of living in Gaza and blaming Israel for the hardships. Not one Israeli artist or civilian is represented to share their experiences of living under the fear of Gazan rockets, mortars, tunnels, and incendiary devices intended to kill, terrorize, burn, and kidnap Israelis

As President of a highly prestigious institution such as Duke University, I respectfully request that you reconsider co-hosting this hateful, anti-Zionist and anti-academic conference. It is clear that this is not about having a balanced and unbiased discourse, but rather another opportunity to demonize and delegitimize Israel, without even giving her a voice to defend itself by featuring any pro-Israel presenters or artists. It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify as a proud Jew and/or Israel supporter (most anti-Israel students and organizations don’t make the distinction) on campuses across the country due to the toxic anti-Israel atmosphere, and I fear that this conference will only contribute to that environment of hate. Once again, I implore you to take action to ensure that Duke remains a safe and comfortable environment for all students by cancelling this upcoming unbalanced and biased conference.


Rabbi Lev Cotlar
Director of Education
Congregation Sha’arei Israel

Be like Rabbi Cotlar and Make Your Voice Heard

Contact the following UNC and Duke leaders to voice your concerns about this unbalanced and biased conference against Israel.

Duke President Vincent Price (919) 684-2424 vincent.price@duke.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz 919-962-1365 chancellor@unc.edu

Duke Chair, Board of Trustees, Jack O. Bovender, Jr. boardchair@duke.edu

UNC Board of Governors, Chair Harry L. Smith, Jr. public@bog.northcarolina.edu

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