Taxpayer-Funded Bias on Middle East Invades K-12 Classrooms
While much attention is devoted to the politicization of Middle East studies on college campuses, biased perspectives on Western values, Israel, Islam and terrorism are also infiltrating K-12 education.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) recently published a study about the introduction of factually inaccurate and partisan information related to Israel and Middle East politics in public school history curricula. The study focused on Newton, Massachusetts, where teachers used materials recommended by Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
But the problem isn’t limited to Massachusetts. All around the country, educators are being trained to teach politically motivated courses by US government-funded Middle East centers.
As I wrote in The Arab Lobby, Israel’s detractors have become increasingly aggressive at infiltrating K-12 curricula to shape the views of Americans from an early age. Their goals are to demonize Israel and present a sanitized education about Islam. Their willing accomplices are faculty at prestigious universities, many of whom are BDS advocates, who often receive funding from Middle East sources.
The unwitting partner is the American public, whose tax dollars fund Title VI of the Higher Education Act, through which the Federal government supports Middle East studies centers as they conduct the type of public outreach that CAMERA’s report found so deleterious in Newton.
The original idea was to establish institutes unavailable elsewhere to teach foreign languages of strategically important areas. Over time the mission expanded to include providing educational materials to foster understanding of regions such as the Middle East.
More than $13.4 million was allocated for 15 Middle East centers for the 2014-2018 cycle. These centers, which typically have no scholars on Israel and are primarily inhabited by faculty hostile to the Jewish state, are training centers for future leaders and teachers. Interestingly, Harvard is no longer one of them, having “decided to refocus” their outreach activities and support K-12 efforts on an ad hoc basis.
But Columbia University, which has several outreach programs related to “Palestine,” is the prototype of everything that is wrong with Title VI.
The faculty there apparently believe that “Palestine” refers not just to the West Bank, but to all of Israel. Hence, their focus on the “nakba” (the Arabic word for “disaster,” or Israel’s founding in 1948); Zionism “in its political, national, and racial conceptions”; and raising “awareness about the Palestinian struggle.” One such link for teachers is to “Visualizing Palestine,” where one will find infographics such as “How Israel Turned Hebron Into A Ghost Town.”
The Columbia program uses taxpayer money, and the university’s imprimatur, to delegitimize Israel and promote the Palestinian narrative.
The University of Chicago’s center produced a 2017 fact sheet on Islam that offers generic information, while omitting the concepts of jihad, radicalism and hostility toward gays and non-Muslims. It does, however, devote nearly two of the five pages to a discussion of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
Another lesson, “Teaching About Islam and Muslims in the Public School Classroom,” written by the Council on Islamic Education, gives a vanilla overview that ignores controversial aspects of Islam. Separately, a sheet on the history of jihad acknowledges extremist elements in Islam, such as Al Qaeda, but omits the word “terrorism.”
Lesson plans from George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies offer nothing about Israel. One of them, “Media Bias in the Middle East,” starts with two photographs from Palestinian artist Rula Halawani. The photos are accompanied by Halawani’s unsubstantiated claims about Israel’s 2002 incursion into Ramallah.
Investigating her allegations would have been a better lesson, as the incidents occurred at the height of suicide bombings inside Israel, a fact that is conveniently omitted. In an assertion rather than an analysis of how the media covered the issue, the lesson claims that her “photographs powerfully address the experience of destruction and displacement during the Israeli incursion and the lack of attention the media gave to the suffering of Palestinian civilians who were caught in the middle.” In fact, the opposite is true: the media were overly sympathetic to the Palestinians.
The institute’s director, Nathan Brown, is a harsh critic of Israel, who wrote a study whitewashing the incitement against Israel in Palestinian textbooks. Typical of the disingenuousness of guardians of Title VI, Brown plays the McCarthy card, suggesting that defenders of Israel “who have been offended by specific individuals or events at particular universities see Title VI reauthorization as a political tool to cut off funding to those whose opinions they dislike.” As with others who claim expertise in identifying antisemitism, Brown seeks to insulate faculty so they can engage in pseudo-scholarship under the guise of academic freedom.
For too many years, taxpayers have underwritten the political agendas of anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-Islamist scholars and allowed them to spread their poisonous views to pre-collegiate educators. The Title VI program must be modified to include scholars in the review process of grants to Middle East centers, who are willing to break with this corrupt tradition to ensure scholarly balance in each grant’s fulfillment.
A key step is to enforce the Federal requirement that “activities funded by the grant will reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” to end the one-sided awards process and to ensure that historically accurate educational materials are used in government-funded programs for teachers. Efforts are currently underway to achieve this goal. A second step made necessary by the documented, widespread biases against Israel would include administrative action by the Department of Education to include in the review process scholars specializing in Israel, ideally appointed by the Association of Israel Studies.
Meanwhile, in the meritorious interest of teaching Americans about Islam, its extremist elements have been omitted from curricula. Students need accurate information about the religion, but should not be shielded from learning about the views of Islamists and their impact on the lives of non-Muslims.
Finally, it should go without saying, but universities have a responsibility to demand that outreach programs meet scholarly standards. The type of material that found its way into Newton schools would never pass muster in a rigorous Middle East studies department. The failure of faculty to police their own programs is a major reason why Title VI must be reformed.
Dr. Mitchell Bard, a Campus Watch Fellow, is the author/editor of 24 books, including the 2017 edition of “Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict”; “The Arab Lobby”; and the novel “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”