Another Academic Threat to Israel
JNS.org – Many in the Jewish community have been basking over the recent success of having the California Department of Education cancel its proposed, highly biased Palestinian ethnic-studies curriculum. However, most are oblivious to the fact that there is an equally, if not more, insidious program that has been going on for decades on the federal level, affecting every single state throughout the United States.
This program has been slowly and steadily eroding the hearts and minds of America’s most impressionable students away from support of the State of Israel. It is a part of Title VI of the Higher Education Act (HEA), a law that was passed during the height of the Cold War in 1965.
The initial motivation for the program was a good one. It came about when folks in Washington realized that American students lacked sufficient knowledge in foreign regions, languages and cultures, and were therefore woefully ill-equipped to deal with the Soviet threat. So they set aside a pot of money to give to various universities in order to establish various regional studies programs, such as Soviet studies, Latin Studies, Asian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.
Thus, a thriving regional studies industry was born.
Then, in 1978, the entire field of Middle Eastern Studies was revolutionized by the late professor of English comparative literature at Columbia University, Edward Said, with the publication of his book, Orientalism. The treatise said that no one could speak with any degree of scholarship and authenticity about the Middle East unless he or she was a native of the region (i.e., an Arab or a Muslim).
Therefore, wonderful scholars such as Efraim Karsh and Bernard Lewis were moved aside on the bookshelves, and the university library and classroom doors were opened to a new generation of highly-politicized, rabidly anti-Israel scholars.
This rather facile treatise caught on like wildfire. Academic scholarship of the Middle East became profoundly altered, and polemics started taking the place of serious scholarship. It made a sensational splash, bringing with it waves of academics who parrot the prevailing “group think” that is overwhelmingly anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, post-colonial and anti-American.
A cannon of almost biblical proportion developed. Edward Said was the grand master, and his disciples include (among many others) Rashid Khalidi, Hamid Dabashi, and Joseph Massad at Columbia, and Hatem Bazian, the founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, which has known links to terrorist organizations.
And they begot more disciples. By now, thousands of doctoral dissertations have been written based on Said’s thesis, and the faculties of departments of Middle Eastern Studies are overwhelmingly staffed by professors who buy in to this one-sided dogma. It is, by now, difficult for students to survive in most of these classes unless they either a) affirm the prevailing anti-Israel and anti-American biases; or b) lie just to succeed in the class (and consequently feel demoralized).
In 2008, the organization I founded, EMET, was able to help pass some amendments to Title VI of the HEA through Congress, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. These amendments called for a “diversity of perspectives and wide range of viewpoints.” However, although I had thought then that we had reached a victory, it was actually a rather Pyrrhic one.
The same one-sided politicization of the issues are still being taught in the Title VI-funded university classroom. And because of the cherished values of “academic freedom” and “free speech,” there is very little that can be done about this (although because this is a taxpayer-funded grant, we are currently working on some legislation to reinforce the diversity of perspective amendments).
What is even more pernicious, however, is that in order for the universities to get the federal funding, they have to hold teacher-training workshops in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Even more alarming is the curriculum guide being used in these teacher-training workshops. It is Audrey Shabbas’s The Arab World Studies Notebook, which has entire chapters devoted to how to teach Islam in the classroom. All of this section never mentions antisemitic and anti-Christian teachings of the Koran, or Islam’s treatment of women, minorities, and gays.
The Notebook is published by the Middle East Policy Council, which gets its funding from Saudi Arabia, and AWAIR, which is funded by the Saudi oil conglomerate, Aramco.
Just as significant are the chapters regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, where Israel alone is completely at fault for every war in the Mideast. Particularly upsetting is the chapter on Palestine, which simply engenders sympathy towards the Palestinian cause and hatred towards Israel. Among other things, the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, including “Identity Card” is taught, which speaks of olive groves planted by a Palestinian grandfather that are ripped away by Israel before the Palestinian children can harvest them, and another compelling essay by Darwish speaking about the racism of an Israeli cab driver and his humiliation while in the cab.
The book was first introduced to teachers in 1990, and is the primary curriculum guide used by the Title VI, legally mandated teacher-training workshops. Ms. Shabbas has bragged that her book has been distributed to more than 10,000 teachers, and that “if each notebook teaches 250 students a year, over 10 years, then you’ve reached 25 million students. Now, my teachings have reached the hearts and minds of millions of American school-aged students.”
By now, some of these students have graduated and occupy positions of power in Washington. Is it any wonder, then, that there are strong voices within one of our major parties calling for a re-evaluation of America’s alliance with Israel?
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy center in Washington, DC.