Why are students demonstrating for Hamas terrorists on NC campuses?

By Amy Rosenthal

Raleigh, NC – If you’ve been on a North Carolina college campus in recent days, you likely heard chants like “Israel is a terrorist state,” “from the river to the sea,” “How many kids did you kill today?,” intifada revolution,” “glory to the martyrs,” “queers for Palestine,” and other provocative and ignorant slogans. These protesters chant while waving Palestinian flags and wearing kaffiyeh scarves to show their solidarity with a cause they clearly don’t understand. 

Image of James B. Duke statue covered in Palestinian flag and scarf. (photo by Amy Rosenthal)

How did the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israelis on Oct. 7 generate rallies in favor of the perpetrators, even before any military response by Israel? This is no accident. A combination of faculty bent on disseminating propaganda in lieu of scholarship and weak leadership has created this perfect storm.  

For years, anti-Israel faculty have indoctrinated students to vilify Israel and dehumanize Jews. This is outright antisemitism. When Hamas attacked Israel in 2021, 110 UNC faculty and 75 Duke faculty signed a letter siding with Hamas. Language has been changed so that the word “terrorism” is now “resistance” and thus justified, as long as Jews are the target.  Students are taught that a country called “Palestine” exists, when it does not; that there is an occupation, where there is none; and more. 

Jewish history is erased and delegitimized. When Jewish leaders and community members repeatedly voiced their concerns to both the University of North Carolina and Duke University, the administrations shrugged. 

Activism has now become part of the curriculum in our state, even in K-12 schools. In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district for example, the strategic plan includes social justice action, which is not clearly defined. It’s no surprise then that students coming to campus expect to participate in social action, whatever the cause. Since so many faculty, including the UNC Faculty for Justice in Palestine, push the anti-Israel agenda, students fall in line and advocate for something they don’t understand.  

When they saw the pro-Hamas tent encampments at Columbia University, UNC students were inspired to join in. On Friday April 19 they began to put up tents on the quad. When administrators told them they couldn’t have tents on the grounds, they put them on chairs, then they marched them around before taking them down and going home. 

A week later on April 26, they decided they would try again. Tents went up and were taken down later in the day. They slept on blankets at first and whined that they didn’t have access to bathrooms at night because buildings were locked, and that their trash wasn’t taken out.  On Sunday the 28th, students linked arms so that others could put up tents unimpeded. Campus police said they would do a sweep to remove them that evening, but it didn’t happen.

Attempts at a similar encampment took place at the UNC Charlotte campus on April 22. In response to the antisemitism and intimidation these encampments generate, Jewish organizations Hillel and Club Z, working with the administration, were able to get them taken down hours before the Passover holiday.

Duke’s campus has not been quiet either. When on April 3 Jewish and pro-Israel students hosted a vigil on behalf of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, pro-Hamas agitators marched in front of them banging their drums and yelling antisemitic slogans. They faced no consequences. On April 27, the Hamas mob placed a Palestinian flag on the statue of James B Duke while speakers spouted anti-Israel propaganda, accusing Jews of genocide, killing babies, etc.

Notably, many who participate in the anti-Israel demonstrations are not students but are instead community members, faculty, or outside agitators. Some even claim to be Jewish, although they are a fringe minority. The terrorism supporters appear to provide their own security, but their people wearing yellow vests don’t admit to it. Instead, they claim to work for no one or to just be enjoying the day. 

What is also distressing is that some students at UNC are merely trying to enjoy their graduation ceremonies. Students were on the quad in graduation garb, but they could not gather or take photos where the Hamas agitators have been camping out, which is prime real estate.

It is unclear why UNC has been slow to take action to protect Jewish and pro-Israel students, and to allow those graduating to do so in peace. Students have chanted that they “have the power here” and for a while, it looked like they were right. But now, the encampment has been cleared and some arrests were made on the morning of April 30 for violating school policy. However, the conflict is far from over. The problem of anti-Israel antisemitism has been embedded in academia after growing for decades. It is an integral part of the anti-police, anti-capitalism, anti-America movement. It will escalate unless and until faculty promoting anti-Israel rhetoric and hatred of Jews are rooted out.

Amy Rosenthal is a physician and co-founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Israel. NCCI was established in response to the rise in antisemitism in our state.