The “Old Well” at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Credit: Caroline Culler via Wikimedia Commons.
By Zach Schildcrout
(JNS) — The Middle East is one of the most complex and dynamic sectors on the planet. Almost daily, violent conflicts, regime changes, uprisings, terrorist attacks and foreign military campaigns pervade this region that boasts rich cultures and history. For those professionally engaged in global affairs, a well-rounded education about the Middle East is necessary to advance the interests of the United States and its allies.
Our universities’ Middle Eastern Studies departments must take the lead in this task. The federal government seems to agree; many such departments receive federal grants for this very purpose—specifically, in accordance with Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Adopted in 1965, the clause mandates that grant recipients should, among other things, foster “the security, stability and economic vitality of the United States in a complex global era … ” and produce “American experts in and citizens knowledgeable about world regions, foreign languages and international affairs … .” As Clifford Smith of the Middle East Forum’s (MEF) Campus Watch has pointed out, this legislation was written during the Cold War era to “ensure [that] the U.S. had sufficient experts in foreign languages and foreign affairs in order to compete with its geopolitical rivals.”
The implications of this are straightforward: academic departments should use taxpayer-funded Title VI grants to bolster programs that advance the interests of the United States.
Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that some of the most prestigious such departments in the United States are misappropriating Title VI grants. Rigid Anti-American and anti-Israel doctrinaire that downplays the threat of radical Islamic terrorism has become ubiquitous in the field, compromising objective academic inquiry in favor of the proliferation of one worldview—one that hardly helps the country “compete with its geopolitical rivals.” Of particular concern are the Duke/UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies and Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, both castigated by U.S. representatives George Holding (R-N.C.) and Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) for possible Title VI violations.
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The congressmen’s concerns are justified. In late March 2019, CMES co-sponsored a conference titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” As expected, it quickly devolved into an anti-Zionist hate fest, rife with false accusations that Israel is a “settler-colonial” entity, speakers who downplayed Palestinian terrorism and even anti-Semitic musical performances. As Rep. Holding observed in an April 15, 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Education, CMES receives Title VI funding; if any of these grants were used for political advocacy masquerading as an academic conference, it would constitute a major breach in Title VI stipulations. Indeed, a follow-up to Rep. Holding’s letter by the Department of Education alleged that misuse of federal funds runs amok within CMES.
Similar concerns have arisen regarding Georgetown University. Citing an MEF exposé detailing ideological uniformity within the school’s Middle East Studies department, Rep. Denver Riggleman submitted a letter to the Department of Education expressing concern over the department faculty’s possible misappropriation of Title VI funds. The main reason for this concern is a widespread departmental support for the anti-Semitic BDS campaign to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Multiple CCAS faculty members have signed a pledge to “…boycott Israeli academic institutions, and… not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences and other events at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.”
The event that prompted this crusade? Israel’s 2014 “assault” on the Gaza strip, which was triggered by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenage boys by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group. But these details are absent from the pledge signed by the Georgetown “experts.” More to the point, because Title VI mandates that recipients “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education,” advocacy for such discriminatory behavior enters precarious territory.
It’s possible that inquiries by members of Congress and the Department of Education are a sign of further federal action to come. Such a development would be an important step in ensuring that professors specializing in the Middle East do not use taxpayer funds to indoctrinate students with biased, one-sided narratives. Partisan instruction does not foster expertise in this academic field, nor does it produce “citizens knowledgeable about world regions, foreign languages and international affairs.” Rather, it arms future political activists with the tools they need to advance ideological causes. Any “academic” event that maligns Israel while ignoring historical Jewish connections to the land, fosters the genocidal fulminations of its enemies or advocates for a boycott of its academic institutions is not true scholarship. And, perhaps most obviously, obsessive denigration of one of our closest allies in the war on terrorism does not advance our interests.
This is not, as some insinuate, an issue of “academic freedom.” Educators are able to instruct however they please, but they are not free to squander Title VI funds on activities outside of the legislation’s specific requirements. Middle East faculty across the country should abide by the rules; our future leaders deserve nothing less.
Zac Schildcrout is a CAMERA Campus advisor and online editor.