A legal organization has filed a series of requests to compel American universities to turn over documents that it suspects will shine light on efforts by Qatar to peddle influence and push anti-Israel bias in U.S. public schools, according to a copy of public records requests obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The Lawfare Project, a legal group that provides services to the pro-Israel community, has filed document requests to compel Middle Eastern studies departments at the University of North Carolina and Duke University to turn over documents related to the alleged promotion of curricula sponsored by Qatar Foundation International, a partially state-funded organization that has helped Doha spend an estimated $1 billion pushing the Middle Eastern nation's priorities.
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The Lawfare Project suspects these documents will reveal how Qatar has worked to spread its propaganda inside the American education system. The organization is seeking public records from UNC regarding any potential involvement by Qatar and its proxies in teacher training programs sponsored by the Duke-UNC Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
The document requests come as the Department of Education investigates how some $235,000 in federal funds were used to organize a series of anti-Israel events jointly held by Duke and UNC. The events have sparked questions from lawmakers and others into the relationship between these American universities and nations such as Qatar that spend millions to influence the U.S. education system.
The Education Department is also investigating teacher-training programs Duke held through its Islamic Studies Center and Middle East Studies Center underwritten by QFI. Critics say these programs promote anti-Israel bias and unfairly portray the Jewish state.
Qatar has "spent billion of dollars in the U.S. trying to influence not just colleges … but also public schools and police departments," Gregg Roman, chief operations officer of the Middle East Forum—which promotes American interests and western values in the Middle East—said during a recent conference on Qatar's influence operations.
QFI is said to have been integral to spreading influence abroad.
"Qatar has become the single highest [foreign] funder of American universities," Oren Litwin of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Money in Politics Project said at the same conference.
The Lawfare Project's document requests aim to shine further light onto these alleged efforts. It is seeking, among other records, all emails and letters from employees or staff members related to QFI's involvement in the university's programs.
"Qatar's efforts to influence the American public education system raise some important legal questions," Brooke Goldstein, the Lawfare Project's executive director, told the Free Beacon. "Should a hostile foreign country be allowed to push Islamist propaganda into our public school curricula? Do school administrators who accept funding and take direction from a foreign government need to register under FARA? Are U.S. taxpayers’ dollars, via Title VI grants, subsidizing this effort? We hope these records requests will help us answer these questions."
The Lawfare Project is seeking documentation to elucidate recent reporting by investigative journalist Sloan Rachmuch, who assisted Lawfare with the filings and has published reports on QFI's increasing involvement in the American public school curriculum. Other requests issued by the group seek communications with specific staff members affiliated with these programs.
Lawfare's document requests also seek every email and letter from affiliates of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies who may have engaged with a representative of QFI. The group is specifically seeking records related to QFI's possible involvement in training programs for teachers at American public schools.