Eighty-eight groups have appealed to the US Department of Education to prevent federal funding from being used for Middle East Studies programs at universities and colleges that support an academic boycott of Israel.
In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the civil rights, education and religious organizations groups led by the AMCHA Initiative, which combats antisemitism on campuses, cited several cases where faculty members across the US "demonstrated the willingness... to implement the academic boycott of Israel on their campuses.
"Last September, a University of Michigan professor who supports the academic boycott of Israel refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wanting to study at Tel Aviv University," the letter states. "In November, the entire faculty body at Pitzer College voted to suspend the school's study abroad program at the University of Haifa, in compliance with the academic boycott of Israel; And in March of this year, New York University's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis passed a resolution of non-cooperation with the university's school in Israel."
The organizations also argued that directors and affiliated faculty at federally-funded Middle East Studies programs, who support an academic boycott of Israel, have attempted to implement that boycott in ways that directly violate the legislative intent of Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA).
The Title VI HEOA, which was enacted by Congress as part of the 1965 Higher Education Act, provides millions of federal dollars to more than 100 international studies and foreign language centers at universities nationwide and it also has the mandate to strengthen US security by training security specialists and educating the public.
The groups highlighted that more than half the directors of currently Title VI-funded Middle East Studies National Resource Center's (NRC) "have pledged support for an academic boycott of Israel or engaged in boycott-compliant behavior."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post late Thursday night about the letter, AMCHA Initiative co-founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said they decided to appeal to DeVos because "more and more faculty on more and more campuses are attempting to inject their own personal politics onto campus and implement an academic boycott of Israel.
"This is becoming a serious problem," she explained. "The behavior is not only antithetical to the mission of a university and completely reprehensible, it directly violates the rights of, and substantively harms, students and faculty. And to do so with federal dollars intended for the exact opposite purpose is corrupt, abusive and inexcusable."
She called on the Department of Education to put a stop to this immediately.
When asked about the reaction she hopes to receive from DeVos, Rossman-Benjamin said that now that they have brought the problem to the secretary's attention, "our hope is that she will take immediate action to prevent federally-funded Middle East Studies Centers from using Title VI funds to boycott Israel.
"Specifically, we have asked Secretary DeVos to take two critical steps," she continued. "One is to issue a statement warning NRC directors and affiliated faculty that implementing an academic boycott of one of the countries in the NRC's purview would be a direct subversion of the stated purpose of the Title VI funding."
Rossman-Benjamin stressed that the second step is to require area studies' program directors applying for or renewing NRC funding "to sign a statement affirming that neither they nor any of their program's affiliated faculty will, as part of their academic responsibilities, 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."
What the organizations are asking DeVos to do is a short-term solution.
"However, Congress must amend the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the law that authorizes Title VI, to ensure federal funds are only used for their intended pedagogical purposes and not for faculty members' personal politics," Rossman-Benjamin said. "In the absence of congressional oversight, however, some of these programs have devolved into hotbeds of anti-Israel activity, including attempts to implement academic boycotts of Israel."
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) has been leading the charge on this amendment, "however, his sensible attempts to date have failed along party lines in this climate of partisanship. This should not be a partisan issue," Rossman-Benjamin said.
"We will continue to work directly with university leaders on this effort, particularly focusing on those schools where faculty are making attempts to implement a boycott," she concluded.