Issues

Pro-Israel Groups Call on Feds to Pull Funding from Anti-Israel Middle East Programs

Letter says programs 'being misused to promote biased, one-sided, anti-Israel' views

An Israeli man holds his country's national flag
An Israeli man holds his country's national flag / Getty Images

Fourteen advocacy organizations are calling for federal funding to Middle East studies centers to be pulled if the programs do not end their anti-Israel and anti-American "indoctrination."

The letter to the Senate HELP Committee charge that the 16 Middle East studies centers receiving funding under Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunities Act are "being misused to promote biased, one-sided, and anti-Israel programming," in violation of a requirement for the programs to "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views."

Title VI funding was rolled out in 1958, a product of the Cold War era effort by the Department of Education to ensure Americans obtained sufficient knowledge in foreign language and international studies to respond to national security threats. The diversity requirement was added in 2008.

The coalition of Jewish and Zionist organizations behind the letter are advocating for the Senate to approve provisions adopted in the House's reformed Higher Education Act, passed in December as the PROSPER Act, which call for institutions to adequately assure it will adhere to the diversity policy and for a modified evaluation policy to be instituted to ensure compliance.

Title VI-funded Middle East programs include those at Georgetown University, whose center has been dubbed the "Islamic outpost on the Potomac," and Columbia University, where Middle East studies professors are currently boycotting a bookstore for its recognition of Israel's right to exist.

Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, was insistent that centers must lose their federal funding if they do not make a "concerted effort to diversify."

An unbalanced power structure of the classroom makes it impossible for students to independently strike back at biased professors who use their "desk as a one-way street for paltry propaganda," said Stern.

Pressed to identify how the DOE could enforce the diverse perspectives mandate without violating scholars' academic freedom, Stern said that it would be "very, very difficult."

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, described sufficient diversity as constituting a one-to-one schedule of programing, in which a presentation by a proponent of BDS is balanced out with an opponent or a lecture by a Palestinian refugee is balanced with a corresponding lecture from a Jewish settler from the West Bank.

Rossman-Benjamin, whose organization provided much of the research backbone for the letter, said 42 percent of Title VI national resource centers have endorsed BDS.

"You should be allowed to sign petition for or against BDS, and still receive funding. Your extramural activity is up to you," said Rossman-Benjamin, a retired Jewish studies lecturer at the University of California-Santa Cruz. "But our research finds that those who support BDS outside of the classroom, are more likely to bring in, I'd say promote, BDS in their teaching."

She added that if centers find it impossible to present an "objective" view of the Middle East, then it may be time to reconsider the Title VI program entirely.

"If students are getting a jaundiced view of the issues, then the programs are not serving the national interest, their purpose has been subverted," she said.

Aviva Vogelstein, director of legal initiatives at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, maintained that the petitioners are not pursuing DOE regulation of curricula or classroom discussion, rather only that outreach programming conducted by Title VI centers represent a "fair" spectrum of views.

"The problem with the status quo is that only one side of the debate is permitted in Middle East studies centers. We want both sides to be heard," she said.

Other signatories to the letter include the Academic Council for Israel, American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International, IAC for Action, Middle East Forum, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, Zionist Organization of America.

As of press time, the organizations report no response from HELP committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), or ranking member Patty Murray (D., Wash.) since the letter was sent last Wednesday.