Noah Rubin-Blose, a continuing education student at UNC and community activist, spoke first and defined anti-Semitism as ideological oppression originating from Christian Europe that targets Jews.
Then, Crystall discussed her own interpretation of Nafar’s song “Mama, I Fell in Love with a Jew,” which she did not find to be anti-Semitic.
“I heard satire, irony and pointed critique – critiquing us for our often unacknowledged white supremacist culture and our tolerance of anti-Semitism,” Crystall said.
She continued by presenting what she believes is a comparable analogy that puts Nafar’s words in context of the power relations.
“What Nafar said would be akin to a gay person saying 'I’m in love with a straight person' or a black person singing 'I’m in love with a white person,' none of which I think would raise eyebrows or be seen as racist or homophobic, all of which could be and would be understood as irony and satire,” Crystall said.
Next, Suzi Pietroluongo, a UNC masters student in the School of Social Work, shared several of her unpleasant experiences growing up Jewish in school, such as her classmates frequently touching Bibles to her skin.
As the final panelist to speak, Osterweil affirmed the previous panelists' views, saying that the song did not offend her.
“As an Israeli, I think I was able to get the sarcasm of his comments quite easily,” Osterweil said. “It never once occurred to me that he was actually saying he was anti-Semitic. I also recognized almost immediately that Nafar’s statements could be misinterpreted and certainly would not land well, but it was a cultural slip, a failure to understand the line of acceptability in our culture about such heated topics.”
One of Osterweil’s main concerns amidst the controversy has been the reactive nature of academic units on campus, including the School of Law and the School of Government, whose deans requested that the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies refund their supporting money and remove them from the list of conference co-sponsors following the release of an excerpted video of Nafar’s performance. Their actions threaten academic freedom on campus, Osterweil said.
“That’s a very scary prospect because you cannot account for what every single person that participates in a conference is going to say, and it sets a very dangerous precedence in my opinion,” Osterweil said.
After the four panelists presented their own views, the discussion was opened to attendees who asked questions or shared their own thoughts about the conference and Nafar’s performance, as well as the anti-Semitic posters that were found in Davis Library on April 10.
Similar to Osterweil, one attendee expressed concern about the actions of administrative units on campus, asking why deans and administrators quickly issued statements about the conference but have been slow to condemn anti-Black racism, including vandalism of multiple statues on campus during the same time frame.
Nafar’s performance evoked different subjective experiences in many people – some did not find it anti-Semitic, while others were hurt.
“I do think intention is different than impact and the way that American-Jewish students and many folks experienced it is very different from the way he intended it,” Rubin-Blose said.
Attendees of the two sides engaged in heated arguments at times, but the panel's goal to create a space for conversation was achieved.
“It’s so great that we had a conversation,” Osterweil said. “We have strong feelings, and we have strong thoughts too, and it would be great if we could have more of these before we leap to declarations of revoking money, and even just the declaration that now that song is called anti-Semitic, and we didn't get to hear the multi-vocal way in which it was received.”