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February 1, 2018 9:36 am

Congress Works to Curb Anti-American and Anti-Israel Bias on US Campuses

avatar by Jennifer Dekel

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The US Capitol building. Photo: File.

At the end of 2017, a monumental piece of legislation to curb anti-American and anti-Israel biases on college campuses was passed by the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The Higher Education Act (HEA) — last reauthorized in 2008, and now renamed the “PROSPER Act” — is the primary federal law governing higher education. Within the law is a statute called Title VI, which includes a section that provides grants for international and foreign language studies.

Unfortunately, for many decades, some of these grants have supported a number of professors and programs on university campuses that espouse anti-American, anti-Israel — and at times — antisemitic viewpoints, in violation of federal law. The new language within Title VI of the PROSPER Act, included by the House committee, seeks to remedy these biases.

On January 25, a group of 14 Jewish, educational and civil rights organizations sent a letter to Chairman Lamar Alexander (R, TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D, WA) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, urging the committee to adopt the new Title VI language that is included within the PROSPER Act.

The original intent of Title VI of HEA was to prepare students to serve the national security needs of the United States, by funding foreign language and area studies programs at universities. These area studies programs, known as National Resource Centers (NRCs), receive millions of US taxpayer dollars each year. However, research shows that these funds are largely misused and abused by their recipients.

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Title VI-funded NRCs — currently located at 100 institutions of higher education across the US — are replete with anti-American and anti-Israel biases. Specifically, many Middle East NRCs at prestigious institutions including Columbia University, Georgetown University, Princeton University and Yale University, among others, are teeming with Title VI-supported faculty and programs that advance the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel; whitewash terrorism; and create a false narrative of US foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Also, problematically, under Title VI, NRCs are required to extend their activities by creating programs of “public outreach,” including workshops where K-12 teachers are trained. Many of these workshops, and their lesson plans on the Middle East, are heavily influenced by Saudi money. Some of the training materials have included essays of Islamist radicals who advocate for terrorism, and textbooks painting Israel and the West as colonial powers. As a result, Title VI-funded Middle East studies biases are trickling down to our most vulnerable youth.

In 2008, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-America and pro-Israel think tank, prompted Congress to amend Title VI to require the need for “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views” within the programs. But despite the new amendment, the US Department of Education, which provides these grants to the universities, as well as the recipients of the grants themselves, have largely ignored their statutory requirements to provide “diverse perspectives.”

In part due to EMET’s educational efforts on the Hill, changes were finally made to attempt to remedy Title VI within the PROSPER Act. The new language creates accountability for universities and Title VI-funded programs — including the NRCs — that fail to comply with the “diverse perspectives” requirement, including the possibility of losing funding. EMET’s work also prompted an amendment within Title VI which states that any Title VI-funded program “shall not promote any biased views that are discriminatory toward any group, religion, or population of people.”

The job is not done, however. The PROSPER Act still needs to be voted on by the entire House, and a companion bill will need to be introduced and passed in the Senate for the president to sign. But once this happens, we might finally see an end to the biased, anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric espoused by Title VI-funded faculty, centers and programs. And this, in turn, might result in a less hostile learning environment for pro-American and pro-Israel students on college campuses throughout the US. All of this would be a tremendous victory for American college students.

Jennifer Dekel is the director of research and communications at the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC.

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