Eighty-eight groups urged the US Department of Education on Wednesday to safeguard against the misuse of federal funds to promote boycotts of Israel in academia.
In a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a coalition of Jewish and Zionist groups led by the AMCHA Initiative pointed to multiple recent incidents showing a willingness by some faculty members in US campuses to implement the Palestinian-led boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli scholars and universities.
Among them was a refusal by a University of Michigan professor to write a letter of recommendation in September 2018 for a student who sought to study abroad in Israel, a vote by some Pitzer College faculty that November to suspend a study exchange program with the University of Haifa and a resolution of non-cooperation passed by a department at New York University in May targeting the school's own campus in Tel Aviv.
The signatories argued "that more than half the directors of currently Title VI-funded Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs)" — which receive millions in taxpayer funds to promote the study of foreign languages and foreign affairs — "have pledged support for an academic boycott of Israel or engaged in boycott-compliant behavior, including attempts to shut down their universities' study abroad programs in Israel, as have these centers' affiliated faculty."
They pointed to a 2017 AMCHA study of more than 100 Middle East Studies programs in the US, including all 15 NRCs, which "found that departments with one or more faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel were 5 times more likely to sponsor events with boycott-supporting speakers than departments with no faculty boycotters, and departments with academic boycott-supporting chairs or directors were 3.5 times more likely to sponsor such events."
While faculty members have a right to express support for academic boycotts of Israel under the tenants of academic freedom, "were the director or affiliated faculty of an NRC to implement an academic boycott of Israel or any other country within their center's purview, it would explicitly contravene the purposes of Title VI and the will of Congress," they emphasized.
The signatories accordingly urged DeVos to warn NRC directors and faculty against implementing such boycotts, and to require directors seeking funding to affirm that neither they nor their faculty would "implement an academic boycott of any of the countries within the purview of their program in such a way as to restrict or limit the academic opportunities of their students or colleagues."
A representative for the Department of Education confirmed to The Algemeiner on Thursday that the letter had been received and was under review. "Our concern with that inquiry begins and ends with Title VI compliance," the representative stated. "The law requires National Resource Centers receiving Title VI funds to meet certain requirements, including providing a 'comprehensive' look at the region along with foreign language instruction."
AMCHA's latest letter follows another sent by the group and 68 supporters in November, which similarly urged DeVos to guarantee that taxpayer dollars would not be used to implement academic boycotts of Israel.