Universities funded by the Department of Education to help shape the way U.S. K-12 schools and colleges portray the Middle East and Israel are simultaneously bankrolled by $600 million tied to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Muslim-majority countries, a Daily Caller News Foundation data analysis found.
One critic called the payments "a back-door route to Saudi influence over America's K-12 curriculum."
The Cold War-era Higher Education Act of 1965 created a program called "Title VI" that pays colleges to help students better understand international relations and includes funds earmarked for studying the Middle East. It was intended to help prepare a cadre of intelligence agents and diplomats.
Instead, the money has funded anti-Americanism and anti-semitism in U.S. higher education, according to a November 2014 report by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. There have been instances where some of the universities hosted or employed anti-semites, with some facing accusations of having ties to terror groups.
For 2019 through 2021, the Education Department has allocated nearly $7.5 million to 16 universities for Middle East studies and outreach, according to Title IV records. Twelve of those have recently received money affiliated with Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, and in each case, that money dwarfed the U.S. funding, a DCNF data analysis found.
The nations included in TheDCNF's analysis incorporate Islam or Sharia law in their governments or had an overwhelmingly Muslim population, such as in the case of Turkey. Lebanon was excluded, since Islam only holds a small majority and has a large Christian population, according to the CIA's World Factbook.
The Education Department says that "In addition to supporting foreign language and area studies instruction and research, Title VI" recipients will "conduct outreach and develop programs that expand global opportunities for K-16 educators."
A senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Stanley Kurtz, has been warning about the issue for years.
The system "has opened up a back-door route to Saudi influence over America's K-12 curriculum," he wrote in the National Review in 2007. "Believe it or not, the Saudis have figured out how to make an end-run around America's K-12 curriculum safeguards, thereby gaining control over much of what children in the United States learn about the Middle East."
The Muslim nations awarded $603 million to the 12 universities from 2011 to 2016 — 80 times more than the allocated Title VI funding, TheDCNF found. Israeli interests donated a total of $13 million to eight of the schools, but in every case, their funding was only a fraction of the Muslim nations'.
"As a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored National Resource Center on the Middle East and North Africa (NRC-MENA), the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown conducts workshops for educators throughout the year," Georgetown University notes on its website. "The K-14 Education Outreach program focuses on the needs of K-14 educators in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and beyond."
"The program helps teachers convey a nuanced and realistic view of Arabs and Islam to overcome stereotypes and shallow media presentations, supplementing the often inadequate treatment in curriculum and textbooks," it continues.
But Kurtz wrote: "Outreach coordinators or teacher-trainers at a number of university Middle East Studies centers have themselves been trained by the very same Saudi-funded foundations that design K-12 course materials."
Below are examples of anti-semitism from colleges or their faculty that received funding from the Muslim nations.
- The University of California, Berkeley, which is the second-highest recipient of Title IV funding and has received $19 million in funding from Middle Eastern countries, hosted a 2011 event where a lecturer said that "Holocaust denial is a form of protest." In its report, the Brandeis Center wrote that he "downplayed the atrocities of the Holocaust."
- At Columbia University, which received $14 million from the Muslim countries, $600,000 from Title VI, and none from Israel, Iranian Studies professor Hamid Dabashi said in May that the Jewish state is behind "[e]very dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world."
- The University of California, Los Angeles, held a 2009 panel comprised of four critics of Israel's existence, according to the Brandeis Center. One described Israeli soldiers as war criminals, and another said they target civilians. The panel "riled up the largely non-student audience into chants such as 'Zionism is racism,' 'Zionism is Nazism,' and 'F- Israel,'" according to the Brandeis Center. UCLA received $12 million from the Muslim nations. It also received $6 million from Israel, far more than any other school, but most of that money came from Israeli biotech firms, while only $980 came from a group dedicated to boosting ties with Israel, the Yahel Foundation.
- In October 2015, "Georgetown's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies hosted a teach-in for K-14 teachers and the public on Gaza featuring speakers who have defended Hamas and support the BDS movement," according to the Endowment for Middle East Truth. "The event was co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council and the Jerusalem Fund." Also at Georgetown, a Saudi-funded entity uses social justice rhetoric popular among liberal college students to advance a Saudi agenda, likening Muslims to Hispanic "Dreamers," invoking "white supremacy" and using hip-hop.
- At the University of Michigan, which has received $16 million from the Muslim countries and $1.8 million from Israel, two instructors refused to help students study abroad in Israel in 2018.
In 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found "substantial evidence" that "many university departments of Middle East studies provide one-sided, highly polemical academic presentations and some may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel."
In 2008, Congress required that the recipients offer a "wide range of views to generate debate on world regions and international affairs," but the Education Department later acknowledged to Congress that it did not factor that in to its decision for awarding funding, according to the Brandeis Center.
Most of the colleges did not return a request for comment from TheDCNF, but some noted that a portion of the funds come from private biotech firms and other apolitical interests. Other schools underscored that they value academic freedom.
None provided data or policy information on how they ensure they offer a "wide range of views" on the Middle East.
American Association of University Professors President Cary Nelson, wrote in a 2010 book that "faculty and students with sympathies for Israel encounter implacably pro-Palestinian attacks in multiple settings; these include departments where no candidates who has written in support of Israel in general or a two-state solution in particular would even be considered for a job."
More recently, the University of California chancellors issued a statement on Dec. 13 in response to an academic boycott of Israel:
"We believe a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty, as well as the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on our campuses, including debate and discourse regarding conflicts in the Middle East," they said.