Benjamin Franklin once said that "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest." He was right — but what "interest" is the Federal government gaining from their funding of certain American universities' Middle East Studies programs?
If we go by Title VI of the Higher Education Act (Title VI/HEA) criteria, educators should use money granted under this clause to advance "the security, stability and economic vitality of the United States in a complex global era" and foster expertise in "world regions, foreign languages and international affairs" (as I have written about previously).
This may not be happening, and some legislators are taking note.
Following in the footsteps of Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) and Rep. George Holding (R-NC), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has urged the US Department of Education (DoE) to investigate the University of Arizona (UA)'s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) for possible such offenses.
In a recent letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the congressman alleges departmental violations not only of Title VI/HEA, but also of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI/CRA), pursuant to President Donald Trump's recent Executive Order (EO) to combat antisemitism in higher education. He also highlights the impact of foreign money on the school's educational programming. The importance of this development cannot be overstated.
As Campus Watch's Winfield Myers points out, universities found to be in violation of Title VI/CRA could find all of their Federal funding yanked — not just certain grants for specific programs. Because President Trump's recent EO urges Federal investigators to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism when enforcing Title VI/CRA, institutional support for the BDS movement may put American institutions of higher learning in hot water.
Considering that the BDS movement is unequivocally opposed to Israel's existence as a Jewish state (leader Omar Barghouti has said as much), its ideological goal clearly violates the IHRA definition, which includes "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination" as one of its tenets.
To make matters worse, the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (a member of the BDS National Committee) includes Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — all US-designated terrorist organizations.
Indeed, Rep. Gosar alleges in his letter to Secretary DeVos that CMES faculty propagate "vigorous advocacy for the BDS movement against Israel." It's difficult to imagine how systemic support for a movement to erase Israel connected to terrorists would not constitute discrimination against Israelis, if not Jews writ large.
Even without the Title VI/CRA argument, such "vigorous advocacy" for BDS likely violates the Title VI/HEA stipulation that grant recipients must maintain linkages with overseas institutions. To cite just one example, this legal provision probably does not jive with CMES professor Linda Darling's 2014 decision (documented in Rep. Gosar's letter) to sign a pledge that endorses the BDS movement and promises a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions. We have already seen the destructive effects of such misguided activism elsewhere, such as University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold's refusal to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study in Israel, purportedly motivated by "solidarity" with the Palestinian call to boycott the country.
This discriminatory behavior is widespread in academia, and it is no small wonder when one follows the money. In addition to the possible HEA and CRA violations at CMES, Rep. Gosar also unveils a staggering statistic: since 2012, "the University of Arizona has received over $1.65 million from Qatar, and nearly $5.3 million from Saudi Arabia."
The University of Arizona is not alone — thoroughly invalidating any theories about "Zionist lobby" control of our campuses is the fact that Qatar is the largest foreign donor to American universities; and its influence is palpable.
Unsurprisingly, research conducted by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) "found a direct correlation between the funding of universities by Qatar and the Gulf States with the presence of groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and a deteriorating environment that fosters an antisemitic and aggressive atmosphere." At UA specifically, the Qatar Foundation is a sponsor of the Wireless Communications and Networking Laboratory. Seems innocuous enough, but as Rep. Gosar points out, it may be unlawful to use tax dollars to prop up "foreign state programs."
Clearly, the winds of change are in the air. With the release of Rep. Gosar's letter, three Congressional representatives have now urged the DoE to investigate potential misappropriation of Federal funds within university Middle East Studies programs, perhaps amounting to civil rights violations.
We can expect to hear the usual gripes about violations of "academic freedom" from the anti-Israel professoriate embedded in academia, which utterly miss the point: requiring institutions of higher learning to allocate funds appropriately is entirely independent of the First Amendment. Professors are free to teach however they please, even if it involves patently absurd falsehoods about the Jewish state. The message from the government is clear: use our money to educate, not indoctrinate. This should not be controversial to those who recognize the value of a well-rounded education.
Zac Schildcrout is a campus adviser and online editor for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).