“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”
By contemporary Washington standards, James Bond’s nemesis Goldfinger was naïve. He was only scheming to corner the world’s gold supply by using a nuclear bomb to break into Fort Knox.
The ever-alert guardians of academe’s corrupt, taxpayer-supported status quo, however, weren’t so easily fooled. They knew trouble was afoot when the Department of Education (ED) began asking probing questions about the use of federal funds months ago. Then last week, for the third time in under a year, a member of Congress called on ED to investigate a university’s use of grants awarded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act (Title VI/HEA) to support biased, anti-American, pro–Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) programs.
Rep. Paul Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) February 24 letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos details abuses at the University of Arizona’s (UA) Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and urges the department to review how CMES “allocates its Title VI funding” to discern if it is “violating the spirit and/or letter of the law.” Founded to educate area and language specialists in fields critical to national security, Title VI/HEA is among the most politicized ED programs.
Gosar’s request echoes last April’s objections by Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) on politicized teaching and scholarship at the Duke/UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies and December’s letter from Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) protesting the “systemic support for biased, anti-American, pro-BDS individuals and scholarship” at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Both letters were spot on.
But Gosar has upped the ante by leveraging an option unavailable earlier. Whereas his colleagues’ complaints dealt with violations of Title VI/HEA, Gosar invokes President Trump’s December 11 Executive Order (EO) on Combating Anti-Semitism. Under the order, “prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism” will now be enforced under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI/CRA) of 1964. Completely unrelated to Title VI/HEA, which Gosar also cites, violators of the better-known Title VI/CRA can see their federal funding cut off.
Trump’s order makes this step possible by applying the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to Title VI/CRA. Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism cited by the IHRA include “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Gosar’s letter shows he believes UA is likely in violation of these provisions: “Under this EO there are troubling aspects involved with the U of A CMES, particularly its aggressive pursuit of the racist BDS policies. Without action … to terminate these efforts by CMES, U of A is at risk of losing all [emphasis original] federal funding under this EO.”
In short, UA is in hot water for possibly violating both Title VI/HEA and Title VI/CRA. The first can result in a loss of funds directed to CMES, but the second could theoretically see Arizona’s flagship university lose federal funding for everything from Pell Grants for undergraduates to medical research. As Gosar’s letter shows, politicized Middle East studies often nurture prejudices that lead to students’ civil rights violations.
The embrace of BDS by UA’s Title VI-HEA–supported faculty illustrates this linkage. Title VI/HEA requires recipients to “promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages to overseas institutions.” BDS’s principal goal is to end such linkages with one state — Israel — a clear effort to thwart federal regulations. As Gosar relates, Maha Nassar, who teaches in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, defended the viciously anti-Semitic group Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) relentless promotion of BDS by claiming that “SJP boycott and divestment campaigns are launched with an eye towards dismantling structural oppression everywhere, not attacking a single group of people.”
Yet SJP regularly singles out Israel for opprobrium, as it did at Vassar College last November when the group repeated the Hamas chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for Israel’s extinction as a Jewish state. Gosar also quotes Nassar’s December 2018 Forward op-ed defending Temple Professor Marc Lamont Hill’s UN speech calling for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Other UA faculty have signed pro-BDS petitions.
Similar actions at other universities have already sparked ED investigations for potential civil rights violations under Title VI/CRA. In January, ED announced it was investigating UCLA after it hosted an SJP annual conference in November 2018 that resulted in “harassment on the basis of shared ancestry” that “created a hostile environment based on shared ancestry” for a Jewish student. Last November, ED opened an investigation at New York University to establish whether the school failed to respond properly after members of its SJP chapter physically assaulted Jewish students who were singing the Israeli national anthem.
These developments should worry UA’s administrators and spur its alumni, students, and donors, including Arizona taxpayers, to demand immediate changes. Reps. Holding’s and Riggleman’s letters illustrate (and older, in-depth research proves) that recipients of Title VI/HEA Middle East studies grants willfully ignore the program’s mission. Now, with an ED willing to enforce Title VI/HEA’s mission, bolstered by an EO that holds universities responsible for civil rights violations that grow naturally in the toxic environment nurtured by biased professors, genuine improvement is possible. It won’t be easy given academe’s history of blocking reforms that threaten the uninterrupted flow of federal dollars into its coffers. But taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to support spreading anti-Semitism on campus.
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