"[T]hey will bomb Gaza back to the Stone Age they said, and that they did–and yet there are very few spots on planet earth today nobler to the human spirit of resistance to tyranny and injustice than Gaza–now held like a shining jewel on the loving ring of humanity around the globe–I kiss that noble ground and hold it dearer than cities full of ignoble postmodern architecture built on the stolen land of other people."
– Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, referring to Israel's Operation Protective Edge; Facebook, August 6, 2014. (link to source)
The above quote, replete with biases and omissions, does not simply represent the viewpoint of one lone professor. It represents an extensively held perspective that has become a rigid orthodoxy that permeates through many of our nation's Middle Eastern Studies Departments. This bias is being spoon-fed to our nation's college students and sold to them as scholarship. As American parents who save for years for their youngsters' college tuitions, many of us should be outraged that this bigotry is masquerading as solid erudition to our youngsters. As American citizens, we should be outraged that this sort of thinking is being subsidized by the American government in the form of Title VI grants to universities, and is shaping the thinking of our current and future American thinkers and leaders.
In fact, so blatant are the biases of the program, that 218 scholars from Middle Eastern Studies programs across the country, ranging from Columbia University and New York University on the East, the University of Chicago University of Illinois, and Michigan State University in the Mid-West to University of California in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, San Diego, Riverside, Santa Cruz, and hundreds of points in between, have all recently signed a petition for an academic boycott of Israeli Universities and any joint program with Israeli scholars.
How did this come about?
Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunities Act, which had formerly been known as The National Defense Education Act was implemented in 1958, during the height of the Cold War, in order to ensure that we were prepared to confront the challenges of the Soviet threat. At that time, it was felt that our students were woefully ill-equipped to be competitive in the world against the Soviets in their knowledge of foreign languages and regions. It was then determined that certain universities were to be granted sizeable sums of money from the federal government in order to establish and help maintain regional or area studies centers, such as African Studies, Asian Studies, Latin Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies etc. in order to ensure that our nation had a generation of well-trained regional experts to meet the national security and defense challenges arising out of the former Soviet Union.
Our government therefore provided tax payers' dollars to give birth to a regional studies industry in order to meet a specific national and security need. However, with the ensuing years, the original legislative intent of Title VI was totally ignored, and the universities simply took the money without any sort of oversight.
Universities have always been the vanguard of the latest political fashions and trends. The very first institutions in Germany to willfully adopt Nazism were the universities. Indeed, Martin Heidegarr who was a famous philosopher and a Nazi sympathizer, fired the James Husserl, the father of phenomenology because he was a Jew.
Many products of the '70s, who had been profoundly affected by the anti-Viet Nam war movement, have ended up teaching on college campuses, where a rigid liberal orthodoxy has set in and dominated the classroom instruction. This was reflected in a classic survey by Prof. Robert Lichter of George Masson University, Professor Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Professor Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, which was based on a survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools.
The survey found that 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans. In elite universities, the disparity is even greater, with 87 per cent of faculty describing themselves as "liberal" and only 13 per cent describing themselves as "conservative."
Another study that came out in 2012 by Professor Yoel Inbar and Professor Jorris Lammers, indicated that more than one third of the respondents said that they would discriminate against a conservative candidate for a faculty position. One respondent openly admitted that "if faculty members could figure out who was conservative, they would never have hired them."
Unfortunately, the Middle Eastern Studies programs have enthusiastically embraced this liberal orthodoxy as a knee-jerk sympathy for the Palestinian cause, as the under-dog. Most classes reflect no appreciation for the struggles of the state of Israel, which they often describe in the most distorted, vulgar and hateful of terms, as "racist," "imperialist," "colonialist," even as "war criminals" and "Nazi-like."
Much of what passes for scholarship in the Academy in the United States has emanated from a simplistic treatise by the late professor of comparative English literature of Columbia University Edward Said, entitled, "Orientalism." "Orientalism," which came out in 1978, is considered a foundational text of post-colonial theory that revolutionized the field. It tends to regard as suspect any scholar who, himself, is not a native of the Arab world. So that means scholars such as Bernard Lewis or Efraim Karsh are castigated as "orientalists" who have no real understanding of the field, and Edward Said, and his disciples, such as Joseph Mossad and Rashid Khalidi, are considered to be the genuine experts.
Much of the scholarship is oriented along this rigid, one-sided political agenda and is of an inferior quality, replete with errors of omission and commission. Students who are Jewish or whose beliefs do not conform to this agenda are often made to feel marginalized, as though their beliefs are antiquated and bigoted. Many students have reported being singled out for harassment in the classroom by professors when they challenge any of these ideas.
On the campus, this pseudo-scholarship has given an intellectual patina for the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism. We see this every year as the "Divest-Boycott-Sanctions," (BDS) movement grows, and "Palestinian Solidarity Week" or "Israel Apartheid Week" grows in popularity on our nations' college campuses.
A one-sided political agenda, at taxpayer's expense, has often become a paltry substitute for a good, solid education in regional studies. Many of this is reported in the late Dr. Gary Tobin's excellent book, "The Uncivil University: Politics & Propaganda in American Education."
In many of these departments, not only is Israel portrayed as the cause for all the problems in the Middle East, the United Sates is depicted as "the mother of all ills" in the world. Many students who are graduates of Title VI programs tend to be more sympathetic to some of our nation's foes than to their own nation. It is almost reflexive to blame America first in these programs for our "colonialism" or "imperialism."
They are equally likely to blame Israel first when anything, whatsoever, erupts in the Middle East, including the Sunni-Shiite conflict, or ISIS taking over parts of Iraq, saying that this is "the underlying root cause of the problem," and "our relationship with Israel is the source of our resentment, overseas."
Of course, the more one studies the Middle East, the more one realizes that this is wholly ludicrous; that the region is replete with many ancient, tribal and atavistic rivalries that are not easily remedied. Yet, when one speaks to most graduates of Middle Eastern programs, they predictably pin the blame for everything that goes awry in the Middle East on this, or as a minimum say, "We will be more likely to win the favor of the parties if we get to the root cause, if we first resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute."
One doubts that it is ever mentioned in the classroom that the Palestinians have been taught to despise and to vilify the Israeli, the Christian and the Jew, and that since 1993, they have been fed a steady diet of anti-Semitism that has metastasized like a cancer throughout the Palestinian body politic. When one of the parties can't even say they recognize Israel's right to live as a Jewish state, without choking over the words, that makes the odds of resolving this conflict rather low.
Almost as reflexively, when the United States is forced to enter into any conflict, the United States is almost reflexively blamed in the university classroom for meddling and inflaming the region. President Barack Obama's policies seem to be almost wholly reflective of this sort of rigid analysis
One readily sees therefore, how the original intent of the Title VI legislation has been turned on its head. By now, many of the students who are graduates of these programs have already entered into positions of leadership, and one does not have to search any further than these programs when one fears that America is in a period of decline in our international standing in the world. Practically any step the United States takes as a moral leader is automatically looked upon with cynicism.
What makes this even more pernicious is that in order to get the Title VI grant from the government, the university professors in these departments must conduct "teacher training workshops" for teachers of kindergarten through twelfth grade, ensuring that these biases get transferred to our most vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who lack critical thinking skills.
From 2004 through 2008, I had been privileged to work with two of the most renowned experts in the field, Martin Kramer, author of many books including the seminal study on Title VI centers, "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America," and Stanley Kurtz, himself a former scholar of Indian Studies and renowned columnist for National review Online, in order to work with Congress to correct this.
We were successful in passing certain amendments to Title VI in 2008. These included a statuary requirement for: 1.) The Secretary of Education to develop a survey from a wide range of Federal agencies to find out what it is that they need for expertise in world regions and languages 2.) The Secretary of Education is to assist the universities who were recipients of Title VI funding in developing a survey to students to determine their areas of employment or post-graduate study. This survey should be administered by the university once every two years, and the results of the survey should be reported to the Secretary of Education. And most importantly: 3.) Each university which receives Title VI funding is to reflect "an explanation of how the activities funded by the grant will reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate."
The funding for this program is up for congressional renewal this year. From our discussions with educational congressional staffers on Capitol Hill, it appears as though it will automatically be put on "continuous resolution," (which means, that because they don't have the time or the inclination to take it up, the program, and its funding will remain in place).
However, it does not appear that any of these legally mandated requirements have been taken seriously. There has been zero congressional oversight, zero accountability and zero transparency to the revisions in the law that I had helped to enact.
I strongly suspect that all of these requirements, particularly the one which asks the university to describe what steps they have taken "to encourage diverse perspectives," are wholly glossed over, and that the DOE is simply rubber-stamping any university that applies for a grant from this program.
In the meantime, the use of our taxpayers' dollars to fund these programs which trade flimsy propaganda as a paltry substitute for firm scholarship continues unabated. Much of this has simply served to give an intellectual patina to the ancient virus of antisemtism, a virus that has survived centuries of mutations, and for which there is no known antidote.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, The Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in our nation's capital.