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March 9, 2023 1:31 pm

‘Obsessive’: Republican Senators Urge Department of Education to Examine Anti-Zionism in College Programs


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The US Capitol building exterior in Washington DC. January 21, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger.

A group of Republican US Senators issued a letter Wednesday asking US Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Miguel Cardona to determine whether taxpayer funded federal grants have supported college programs that foster anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

A lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education is a major source of the problem, the letter said, explaining that Near East and Middle East studies program often fail to present the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dedicate “a disproportionate amount of their curriculum on criticizing Israel.” Much of the criticism, it added, which includes comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, imposing double standards on its government, and denying its right to exist may be considered antisemitic according to the International Holocaust Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

“Some universities may have even violated anti-terrorism laws by hosting convicted terrorists as speakers,” it continued, citing New York University’s hosting Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who twice hijacked planes brimming with Israeli passengers, at a webinar held in 2020. “A core reason college campuses are plagued by antisemitism is because professors who teach the curriculum indoctrinate students with anti-Israel bias and viewpoints.”

Citing another professor who said “Holocaust denial is a form of protest,” the letter described anti-Zionist ideology in higher education as “obsessive” and “negative” and said “many Jewish and pro-Israel students no longer feel safe” because of it. They argued that many colleges are possibly non-compliant with Title VI of the Higher Education Act (HEA), a provision requiring college programs to “reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” and that DOE has failed to address it.

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Signed by Sens. James E. Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), among others, the letter urged the DOE to create a plan for addressing anti-Israel bias in academic programs and to propose ways that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) can help Jewish students feel welcome on campus.

In a statement to The Algemeiner, AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that monitors antisemitism on college campuses, noted that many Near East and Middle East programs receive lucrative grants from the DOE’s National Resource Center Program (NRC), a Cold War era initiative providing financial awards to universities teaching foreign languages, foreign affairs, or about a particular world region. In fiscal year 2022, Congress appropriated $25 million for NRC grants. Compliance with Title VI of the HEA is a necessary prerequisite for receiving the money.

“We have long been concerned that directors and faculty in federally-funded NRCs, many of whom have expressed public support for an academic boycott of Israel, would use their positions to implement that boycott by not only providing a steady drumbeat of one-sided, virulently anti-Israel programming, but even worse, work to impede their own students and colleagues from studying in or about Israel,” AMCHA Initiative executive director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said. “We strongly commend the legislators for calling attention to this growing problem, and we urge the Secretary of Education to issue a strong warning to NRC directors and faculty that using the funds to implement an academic boycott of one of the countries in the NRC’s purview is a direct violation of the federal funding they receive.”

The Senators’ letter comes amid pervading concern that higher education has become a hotbed of antisemitism, evidence of which has been put forth by Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), StopAntisemitism, and AMCHA Initiative, which last year published a study showing a correlation between antisemitic incidents on the campus and the presence of anti-Zionist faculty, who, it said, are the principal purveyors of extreme anti-Israel opinions.

Being pro-Israel on college campuses is an academic, professional, and social liability, numerous students have told The Algemeiner.

In Feb. 2022, a Jewish SUNY New Paltz student was expelled from a sexual assault awareness group for supporting Israel. Earlier this month, a University of Chicago student said she self-censors in class “because humanities grades especially are largely based on your aligning with certain beliefs.” Most notably, a graduate student at George Washington University allegedly received disciplinary charges for complaining about a professor who invited an antisemite to address the class.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center, a Jewish rights group, praised the letter for being a significant step towards bringing attention to anti-Zionism on college campuses.

“We continue to encourage the Department of Education to investigate the antisemitic nature of many of their grant recipients’ programs and clarifying their grant selection process,” a spokesperson with the organization said. “Sen. Risch and his colleagues have taken an important step in ensuring that the Department of Education maintains its dedication to promoting diversity and that federally funded programs are held accountable if they do engage in antisemitism.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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