The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been dominating the conversation on anti-Israel activity at universities over the past few years. Yet few have heard of the interconnected issue involving the misuse of funding from Title VI educational grant programs, which is an underlying factor contributing to the growth of BDS and anti-Semitic activity on college campuses around our nation. Both problems urgently need to be addressed.
In October 2014, more than $3.3 million of federal grant money was awarded to Middle East "National Resource Centers" (NRCs) at 16 universities throughout our nation under a statute called Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). More than $13.4 million will be awarded to 19 Middle East NRCs for the entire 2014-2018 cycle. Reports show some programs and faculty funded under Title VI advance the BDS movement, and help feed the rise of anti-Semitism on some campuses. The legislative intent of Title VI of the HEOA was to establish language and area studies centers to produce graduates that can better serve our nation's national security interests. In other words, it was meant to educate and inspire the next generation of CIA operatives, FBI agents, and national security experts.
Unfortunately, for decades, Title VI grants have supported programs and faculty that advocate for the destruction of Israel, whitewash terrorism, and create a false narrative of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The Title VI grant program as it currently exists no longer educates and inspires American students to better serve our nation's national security interests.
Title VI-funded programs help perpetuate the narrative that the United States is at fault for all of the ills occurring in the Middle East, and that Israel is a liability to the United States, rather than an ally. This narrative comes from the 1978 book Orientalism, authored by the late Edward Said. Said, a Palestinian and post-colonial theorist, served as a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, as well as a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's top body, the Palestinian National Council. Said wrote that Western scholars cannot understand the "Orient", and "(i)t is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric."
Today, nearly 40 years following the publication of Orientalism, and nearly 13 years after Said's death, Said's writings continue to dominate the syllabi and teachings at many of our nations' finest universities, thanks to Title VI of HEOA. And, with Said's writings comes a virulent hatred for the State of Israel. Said repeatedly praised the Yasser Arafat, blamed Israel for Palestinian terrorism, compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, and falsely alleged that the Palestinians are "paying a very heavy price in dispossession, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and massive social injustice." Said also advocated for the "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, in this case, was a plan put forth by anti-Israel activists who seek to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish state of Israel.
Thus, it comes with little surprise that many of Said's disciples currently teaching at U.S. universities are also supporters of the BDS movement, as that movement is inherently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. Yet it is extremely troubling that a number of the Said disciples, and the pro-BDS programs organized by their respective Middle East studies Centers, are supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars under Title VI of HEOA. Out of the 19 directors of the Title VI-funded Middle East studies Centers, eight of them have expressed public support for BDS, according to a 2015 report from the AMCHA Initiative, which monitors anti-Semitic behavior on college campuses. (Five of them endorsed an academic boycott of Israel). The report also shows that 45 out of a total of 111 speakers who participated in 81 Israel-related events sponsored by Title VI-funded Middle East programs during the 2014-2015 academic year endorsed BDS.
By supporting the BDS movements, these directors are violating U.S. law. The directors have a duty under Title VI of the HEOA to give "assurances" that they will "maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center," Campus Watch has noted. The BDS movement actively seeks to sever ties with Israeli academic institutions on campus.
Furthermore, under Title VI of the HEOA, grant recipients are required to "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs." Advocating for BDS is clearly just one perspective.
In addition to the directors, a considerable number of faculty members at Title VI-Middle East Studies Centers support BDS. For example, of the 54 faculty listed on Columbia University's Title VI-funded Middle East Institute website who teach Middle East courses, 14 have signed a petition calling on Columbia University to divest from Israel, and "divest from corporations that supply, perpetuate, and profit from a system that has subjugated the Palestinian people for over 68 years." At Georgetown University, 19 faculty members have endorsed the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Of those, 10 are faculty members of Georgetown's Title VI National Resource Center on the Middle East and North Africa.
BDS activity on campuses—including anti-Israel divestment resolutions and opposing Israel's right to exist—is also contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism on campuses. "The primary sources of antisemitic activity are anti-Israel students and faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel," the AMCHA Initiative Report on Antisemitic Activity in 2015 at U.S. Colleges and Universities With the Largest Jewish Undergraduate Populations states. Another AMCHA initiative report on anti-Semitic activity during the first half of 2016 at U.S. universities states that "the rise of anti-Zionism—particularly BDS campaigns and anti-Zionist student groups and faculty—is fueling the rise of anti-Semitism on campus..." The report examined 113 schools, showing that there were nearly 100 more anti-Semitic incidents on campuses in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, including examples from some schools with Title VI-funded Middle East Centers.
As the 2016-2017 academic school year begins, it is past time that our Members of Congress, educators, and the American populace call for reformation of Title VI of HEOA. Not only do U.S. college students deserve to receive a balanced education on the Middle East, but American Jewish students have the legally mandated right to be protected from the virulent rise of anti-Semitism on our campuses to which our federally tax payer dollars are helping to support.
Jennifer Dekel is the Director of Research and Communications at The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).