Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Col.) called on the Department of Education to investigate UC Berkeley's Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) over the institution's alleged "bias against Israel."
Tikvah: Students for Israel, a pro-Israel student group at UC Berkeley, shared Lamborn's June 16 letter to the department in an Aug. 17 Facebook post. Lamborn's letter argued that UC Berkeley students have been subjected to a "false and distorted narrative" about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He pointed to Tikvah's March 2019 complaint against CMES as an example.
"In a statement published online in March, Tikvah noted that the center had hosted more than 24 anti-Israel related events since 2016 and that each one 'has maliciously attempted to portray the democracy of Israel in a negative light,' " Lamborn wrote. "CMES, despite being focused on the Middle East, refused to co-host an event featuring Israeli MK [Member of the Knesset] and Ambassador Danny Ayalon."
The congressman also alleged that since 2012, the CMES has received $24 million from Saudi Arabia and that a campus newspaper reported in 2003 that two of the CMES' Saudi funders had ties to al-Qaeda; the CMES has denied this allegation and has said that the Saudis don't influence its curriculum.
"The Department of Education should investigate if Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act] are being utilized in conjunction with Saudi Arabia," Lamborn wrote. "While the United States and Saudi Arabia share some strategic goals, their interests and values differ greatly, and the wishes of the Saudi government or government-connected businessmen should not drive American national security education."
Additionally, Lamborn argued that the CMES has featured several professors who are "highly politicized." He cited Berkeley Comparative Ethnic Studies associate professor and CMES research scholar Keith Feldman as an example, noting that Feldman has called Zionism "racism settler colonialism" and signed a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) statement urging the University of California (UC) system to not adopt the 2016 Statements of Principles Against Intolerance because it condemned "anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism."
Lamborn also cited CMES senior research scholar and Middle East and North African Jewry (MENA-J) Program Director Emily Gottriech, who served as the CMES chair from 2015-20 and is currently an adjunct professor of Global Studies in UC Berkeley's Department of History. Gottreich, who has worked at UC Berkeley since 2002, also signed the JVP statement as well as a 2009 letter urging the UC system to end its study abroad program in Israel, according the letter. Gottreich also said the reporter who alleged in 2003 that the CMES has two funders connected to al-Qaeda of promulgating "the most extreme form of right-wing Zionism," the letter states.
"While professors can teach and write as they wish, this kind of scholarship is not what Congress intended when it passed Title VI legislation and should not be supported by Title VI funds," Lamborn wrote. "An investigation into how Title VI funds are used should follow to ensure funds appropriated by Congress for U.S. national security interests are spent accordingly, not on politicized scholarship aimed mostly at one of America's closest allies."
Tikvah wrote in a Facebook post that the student group applauds Lamborn's letter to the Department of Education.
"For years, the CMES has abused their academic platform to indoctrinate students against Israel and has repeatedly exulted Jewish and Zionist students," the post stated. "As [C]ongressman Lamborn cited in his letter, we have been documenting the overt bias that these campus departments exhibit against Israel and Jewish Students, through their course work, public events and the conduct of their faculty."
Tikvah also alleged that when is has brought its complaints to the UC Berkeley administration, the complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
"Having gone unchecked for years, the UC Berkeley Administration has allowed a culture of anti-Semitism to permeate its campus," the post stated. "We saw firsthand the manifestation of this hateful culture and the effects that years of antisemitic and anti-Israel indoctrination in the classroom has on the student body.
"This past semester Jewish Students were harassed and threatened with violence on multiple occasions in the ASUC [Associated Students of the University of California]," the post added. "It has become ok on our campus to put up photos of murderers and hold moments of silence for Islamic Jihad terrorists, whose stated goal is genocide against Jewish people. This is the result of the failure of leadership to deal with antisemitism and antizionism happening in the classroom."
In February, the ASUC had debated a resolution condemning a Bears for Palestine (BFP) display from December; the resolution alleged that the display glorified "violent terrorists, including but not limited to Rasmea Odeh, Fatima Bernawi, and Leila Khaled," all of whom were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Jewish students walked out of the meeting as pro-Palestinian students chanted "Free Palestine!" The Jewish students said that pro-Palestinian students were harassing and threatening them during the meeting; pro-Palestinian students also said that pro-Israel students harassed them. The resolution failed.
Additionally, in November, BFP held a moment of silence for Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes; many of those Palestinians were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, according to The Algemeiner.
"In this time of reflection regarding racism and discrimination, we hope that the DoE helps us fight this culture of antisemitism that sadly exists today on many college campuses, starting with UC Berkeley," Tikvah's post concluded.
The CMES did not respond to the Journal's requests for comment. Gottriech declined to comment.
Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley's assistant vice chancellor, said in a statement to the Journal that while the CMES isn't under the purview of the UC Berkeley administration, the university rejects allegations that it has ignored anti-Semitism on campus.
"You don't have to take my word for it," Mogulof said. "San Francisco's Jewish Community Relations Council awarded Berkeley's chancellor, Carol Christ, with the organization's Courageous Leadership Award for her strong, consistent words and actions against anti-Semitism on the Berkeley campus."
He added: "Last year, The Forward ranked UC Berkeley as the second-best place in the country for students who wish to engage with Israel. We are home to the most ambitious Israel Studies program in the United States: the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. UC Berkeley is one of a dozen universities in the country with a permanent faculty position dedicated to studying Israel: the Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies. Berkeley is home to the country's only program in Jewish law, thought and identity. The Berkeley Hillel, which recently underwent a $10 million renovation, welcomes 750 students during the High Holidays last year. We established a working group, the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Jewish Life, headed by the former president of the University of California system, Mark Yudof. Its members include students and faculty, but also community members.
"As they say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but facts are facts."
Ethan Katz, a Jewish Studies professor at UC Berkeley, told the Journal that he has been leading the university's Antisemitism Education Initiative.
"This has included an extensive and well-attended speaker series; trainings that have been conducted by myself and Berkeley Hillel Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman for staff and students; a [P]ower[P]oint module we created that is now part of new student orientation; other multimedia components that are in the works; and op-eds that have been written by Berkeley faculty in major national publications," Katz said. "This has been heartily supported from the chancellor on down. To help us take our efforts to another level, we just received a $25,000 grant for this to be rolled out as a national pilot program that can be a model and support for other campuses, from the Academic Engagement Network (AEN)."
He added that the initiative "dramatically undercuts the claims made on social media by these students," stating that he, Mogulof and other faculty members "have spent extensive time communicating directly with those students about our efforts in the above areas, which makes their decision to write what they did all the more disappointing."