Several groups supportive of Israel are urging Congress to overhaul a federal grant program to keep funds from going to programs in Middle East studies that show an anti-Israel bias.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, the groups argue that Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which provides funds to international-studies and foreign-language centers to educate the public and train security specialists, is being misused “to support biased, politicized, and imbalanced programs of Middle East studies.”
“These programs fail to satisfy Title VI’s intended purpose, flout Congressional intent, and thwart American national-security and foreign-policy interests,” the statement says. In the absence of adequate Congressional oversight, it says, the programs “often disseminate anti-American and anti-Israel falsehoods,” and maintain learning environments that suppress the academic freedom of students and faculty members with different views.
The statement alleges that such abuses continue despite amendments to the Higher Education Act, enacted in 2008, that require programs receiving Title VI funds to reflect diverse perspectives. It urges Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to require recipients of Title VI funds to establish grievance procedures to handle complaints that their programs do not reflect a wide range of views. It also urges Congress to require the Education Department to establish a formal process to resolve complaints about the programs.
Reports attempting to document abuses of Title VI funds were issued by two of the statement’s signatories: the Amcha Initiative and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The other groups that signed the statement include Accuracy in Academia, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the Middle East Forum, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and the Zionist Organization of America.
Amy W. Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association, on Wednesday replied in a statement saying her organization “resolutely opposes all forms of hate speech and discrimination, including anti-Semitism,” but “is concerned that some of the reports issued by partisan political groups based outside academia may actually weaken efforts to combat anti-Semitism by portraying all criticism of Israeli policies as a form of anti-Semitism or as ‘anti-Israel.’”
“Their real goal,” her statement continues, “seems to be to shut down open discussion of issues of public concern by demonizing academic and other critics of Israel, Zionism, and U.S. policy in the Middle East, in many cases by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism.”
“Such politically motivated attacks on scholars and academic institutions, too often accompanied by quotations wrenched out of context, spurious data, and false assertions, should be vigorously rejected and combated,” Ms. Newhall’s statement says. It alleges that such attacks threaten academic freedom and free speech, and “may undermine this country’s ability to adequately understand a region of the world in which it is deeply involved.”