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Press Release: 69 Orgs Call On Department of Education Secretary DeVos to Ensure Taxpayer Money Not Used to Implement Academic Boycott

Nearly 70 Orgs Call on Dept of Education Secretary DeVos to Ensure Taxpayer $ Will Not Be Used to Implement a Boycott of Israel

Santa Cruz, CA, November 13, 2018 – Sixty-nine organizations wrote to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today demanding guarantees that taxpayer dollars will not be used to implement an academic boycott of Israel.

Two events hosted last month by departments at New York University (NYU) and the University of Michigan (U-M) to encourage and defend the right of faculty to implement an academic boycott of Israel are what prompted the groups’ concern. The U-M event was a direct response to disciplinary action against two faculty members who refused to write letters of recommendation for students wishing to study in Israel. The NYU event was explicitly intended to support faculty members’ right to implement an academic boycott of Israel at NYU and elsewhere.

The Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at U-M and the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU, which hosted the events, are Department of Education-designated Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs). NRCs receive millions of taxpayer dollars to specifically “promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages with overseas institution.” They were established by Title VI of the Higher Education Act in order to equip university students and faculty with a full and unbiased understanding of regions and countries vital to U.S. security.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, however, which the U-M and NYU directors, as well as several other NRC directors and many NRC-affiliated faculty have endorsed, urges faculty to shut down study abroad programs in Israel; refuse to write letters of recommendation for students who wish to study in Israel; scuttle colleagues’ research collaborations with Israeli universities and scholars; and cancel or shutdown student- and faculty-organized education activities about Israel or featuring Israeli scholars or leaders. All of these boycott-compliant activities directly subvert the purpose for which these Centers received federal funding.

An academic boycott “seeks to deny access to research, training and education in and about the targeted country, and to break linkages with the targeted country’s educational institutions,” noted the concerned groups, in the letter organized by AMCHA Initiative. “And while faculty members certainly have the right to express support for BDS, including an academic boycott of Israel, were these NRC directors or any of their fellow faculty to implement the academic boycott at their centers, in such a way as to restrict or limit the academic opportunities of their students or colleagues, their behavior would contravene the explicitly stated purpose of their federal funding.”

During the application process, many of these Centers boast about their numerous educational and research opportunities to study in and about Israel and the Hebrew language, as well as their linkages with Israeli educational institutions. However, after receiving the federal dollars, they fund speakers and organize events, such as those at U-M and NYU, which encourage boycotting Israeli academics, Israeli exchange programs and Israeli institutions. For example, a 2016 study of the 15 Middle East Studies NRCs, found that those directors who had endorsed an academic boycott of Israel were more than twice as likely to host federally-funded outreach events with pro-boycott speakers, and a 2017 study found that American Middle East studies departments with one or more faculty members who had endorsed an academic boycott of Israel were five times more likely to sponsor public outreach events with pro-boycott speakers. In addition, in 2014, the directors of six Title VI-funded Middle East Studies NRCs, who had all previously submitted federal grant applications touting their Middle East Studies programs’ linkages with Israeli academic institutions, signed a letter stating, “…we pledge not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.”

“We want to emphasize that we do not intend in any way to suppress a faculty member’s freedom of speech or right to engage in a personal boycott,” the groups stated. “But were a faculty member to take steps to obstruct or prevent others from accessing opportunities to engage with overseas institutions through research and training, it would clearly violate the stated purpose of the law.”

The organizations argued, “No area studies program should receive federal funding if its director or faculty members engage in behavior that thwarts the very purpose of that funding.” They called on the Department of Education to (1) “issue a statement warning NRC directors and affiliated faculty that implementing an academic boycott of one of the countries in the NRC’s purview would be a direct subversion of the stated purpose of the Title VI funding” and (2) require NRC directors to “sign a statement affirming that neither they nor any of their program’s affiliated faculty will, as part of their academic responsibilities, implement an academic boycott of any of the countries within the purview of their program in such a way as to restrict or limit the academic opportunities of their students or colleagues.”

AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.

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