The Education Department has informed Congress that it is launching an investigation into how $235,000 in federal grants were used to fund a series of anti-Israel events that featured speakers and events tied to Palestinian terror groups organized by Duke University and the University of North Carolina.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos informed Rep. George Holding (R., Ga.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, that she has directed her agency to investigate how these funds were used and whether they violated grant conditions, according to a letter sent to Holding, who had initially requested an investigation into the anti-Israel conference in April.
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"I am troubled by the concerns outlined in your letter," DeVos wrote to Holding, according to a copy of that letter obtained by the Free Beacon. "In order for the Department to learn more about this matter, I have directed the Office of Postsecondary Education to examine the use of funds under this program to determine if the Consortium violated the terms and conditions of its grant, Department regulates, or the HEA. It is critical that recipients of grants use funds in accordance with statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as for purposes of the program for which they are funded."
The joint UNC-Duke conference spawned concern in the pro-Israel community due to what observers described as extreme anti-Israel bias. Lawmakers such as Holding, as well as pro-Israel campus advocates, maintained that the conference fostered an unsafe environment for Jewish students and was part of a larger effort by anti-Israel activists on campus to drive support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
"I appreciate Secretary DeVos treating this matter with the seriousness and attention it deserves," Holding told the Free Beacon. "Substituting one-sided advocacy for constructive academic discourse undermines the integrity of our education system and exploits the American taxpayers."
"Universities have a responsibility to promote free and open debate featuring diverse perspectives and viewpoints," Holding said.
Holding first reported to the Free Beacon in April that his office had received multiple phone calls from concerned constituents who described the conference as an anti-Israel hate fest.
The conference in question, titled "Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities," was co-sponsored by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, which reportedly "applied for and received a $235,000 grant through the Department of Education in 2018."
Several of the events held during the conference were organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has been at the center of anti-Israel controversy on many U.S. campuses. SJP branches have been known to distribute anti-Semitic propaganda and has been cited by multiple watchdog groups for fostering unsafe environments for Jewish students.
"A number of my constituents have reached out to me expressing concern over what they tell me are reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer-funded conference, ‘Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities,' held between March 22nd-24th at the University of North Carolina (UNC), in conjunction with Duke University (Duke)," Holding wrote in his April letter to DeVos.
Several speakers at the event in question were videotaped discussing how they held meetings with members of the Popular Front for the Liberations of Palestine, or PFLP, which has been designated as a foreign terror organization.
In addition, conference speakers, including Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, who has been accused of spreading anti-Semitism, are said to have repeatedly maligned Israel and pro-Israel Jews.
DeVos, in her response to Holding, said the Education Department takes these concerns seriously and does not view itself as in the business of allowing taxpayer funds to be used for partisan, one-sided collegiate events.
"Institutions of higher education that receive Federal funds under Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), are required to use those funds in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant and the HEA, and Department regulations," the letter states. "This includes a requirement under section 602 (e)(1) of the HEA that grantees must use funds to support activities that ‘reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs.'"