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More Than Half of Title VI-funded Middle East Studies Centers Directors Have Pledged Support for an Academic Boycott of Israel or Engaged in Boycott Behaviors, Recent Acts Have Raised Alarm Bells

These Centers Receive Millions in Federal Taxpayer Dollars

Contact: Nicole Rosen

Santa Cruz, CA, December 4, 2019 – Noting that directors and affiliated faculty at federally-funded Middle East Studies programs who support an academic boycott of Israel have attempted to implement that boycott in ways that directly violate the legislative intent of Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, 88 education, civil rights and religious organizations today called on U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to prevent this abuse.

“Recent incidents have demonstrated the willingness of faculty across the country to implement the academic boycott of Israel on their campuses. Last September, a University of Michigan professor who supports the academic boycott of Israel refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wanting to study at Tel Aviv University. In November, the entire faculty body at Pitzer College voted to suspend the school’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa, in compliance with the academic boycott of Israel. And in March of this year, New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis passed a resolution of non-cooperation with the university’s school in Israel,” wrote the groups in the letter organized by AMCHA Initiative and sent today.

“It is of particular concern that more than half the directors of currently Title VI-funded Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs) have pledged support for an academic boycott of Israel or engaged in boycott-compliant behavior, including attempts to shut down their universities’ study abroad programs in Israel, as have these centers’ affiliated faculty. In fact, two events recently hosted by NRCs at the University of Michigan and New York University each defended the right of faculty to implement an academic boycott of Israel. Nor do these appear to be isolated occurrences. A study of more than 100 Middle East Studies programs across the country, including all 15 NRCs, found that departments with one or more faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel were 5 times more likely to sponsor events with boycott-supporting speakers than departments with no faculty boycotters, and departments with academic boycott-supporting chairs or directors were 3.5 times more likely to sponsor such events,” added the groups.

Department of Education-designated Middle East Studies NRCs receive millions of taxpayer dollars to promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages with overseas institutions. 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.

In stark contrast, note the groups in their letter, an academic boycott calls for cutting off linkages with educational institutions in the boycotted country and unavoidably impairs the ability of students to travel to or study about the country or its language, and the ability of faculty to write, teach, and pursue scholarly research in this region of the world. In particular, the academic boycott of Israel urges faculty to work towards shutting down study abroad programs in Israel and refusing to write letters of recommendation for students who want to study there; sabotaging colleague’s research collaborations with Israeli institutions and scholars; and blocking or canceling campus events and educational activities that promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy.

“While acknowledging that a faculty member’s right to express support for an academic boycott of Israel is protected by academic freedom, were the director or affiliated faculty of an NRC to implement an academic boycott of Israel or any other country within their center’s purview, it would explicitly contravene the purposes of Title VI and the will of Congress. It is unacceptable that federal funds could be used to implement an academic boycott that directly contravenes the purposes for which these funds have been granted. Area studies programs whose directors or affiliated faculty engage in such behavior should be ineligible to receive or renew Title VI funding,” added the groups.

Noting the failure of a recent legislative attempt to address this loophole in federal law, the organizations called on the Department of Education to take action now until Congress can permanently fix this problem. Specifically, they asked DeVos to:

  • 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 Title VI funding.
  • Require area studies program directors applying for or renewing NRC or FLAS funding 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 monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. The organization has recorded more than 3,000 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses since 2015. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.

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