“Never underestimate the power of ideas. Philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilization” – Heinrich Heine
Among the manifestations of contemporary anti-Semitism are its ubiquitous nature, and its emergence in some of the least expected places. One might expect it, perhaps, in a working-class bar where uneducated patrons might utter racial stereotypes. However, today’s anti-Semitism has received its most pernicious endorsement in academia, where professors give anti-Semitism an insidious, but powerful intellectual veneer, which has made it tolerated in higher echelons of polite society.
The etiology of all of this is innocent enough. After the Soviet Union launched “Sputnik” into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, Americans began to feel that the Soviets were providing their children with a superior education, and our students were woefully unable to compete with the Soviet threat in the fields of math, science, foreign languages and cultures. Congress responded by passing the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) on Sept. 2, 1958. The act’s major intention was to create graduates who would best serve the national defense interests of the United States.
Part of the original legislative purpose of the NDEA, which later became folded into Title VI of the Higher Education Act, was to give students fluency in area studies, such as Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern Studies, and languages so that we could compete with the Soviet threat. Taxpayer funds were allocated to universities to establish departments in these fields.
Then, in 1978, Edward Said, professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, published a book entitled Orientalism, questioning the legitimacy of any scholarship by an area specialist not from the Middle East. “Orientalism” was used in the same way one would use “racism,” “sexism,” or “anti-Semitism.” Said’s theory was a post-colonial one, and he wrote that anyone other than a native of the region, (i.e. an Arab), was inextricably tied to Western, imperialist societies. Scholarship by such “orientalists” was looked upon as less than authentic.
This rather simplistic theory caught on like wildfire and revolutionized the teaching of Middle East studies. Suddenly, excellent scholars, including Bernard Lewis and Efraim Karsh, were eliminated from curricula, and their books removed from university library shelves or simply ignored.
Edward Said became the much-beloved doyen of Middle East studies. He begot disciples in universities throughout the country. At this point, a cannon of research has developed in which Said’s “post-colonial” specialists refer to each other, quoting and footnoting like-minded colleagues, giving their deep hatred of Israel and Jewish people, stimulated by Said’s anti-Zionist “Palestinianism,” the veneer of serious scholarship.
Today, Rashid Khalidi occupies the Edward Said Chair of Middle East Studies at Columbia University. He is also dean of Columbia’s School of International Studies. It doesn’t seem to faze anyone at Columbia that Khalidi served as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization when the PLO was one of the world’s leading terrorist organizations.
Khalidi has led the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement at Columbia. He has made statements to the press, including one to Chicago’s National Public Radio station in January 2017, using Nazi-like allusions to Jews, saying “supporters of Israel in the Trump administration infest the U.S. government.”
Prof. Joseph Massad, in his convoluted logic, has called Zionism “anti-Semitic.” The 2004 film Columbia Unbecoming, exposed Massad’s academic malpractice, telling a Jewish student in his class who tried to defend Israel she has “no bone in this fight” because she has “green eyes” and is not a “true Semite.”
Hamid Dabashi is yet another Columbia professor. Dabashi teaches Iranian studies and comparative literature. He wrote two Facebook posts on May 8, 2018 defaming Israel and Zionists. In one, he calls Israel a “key actor” in “every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.” He also criticizes “diehard Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interests of Americans.”
Columbia University, which has long been a recipient of Title VI funding, has been a particularly prominent defender of unapologetic promoters of anti-Semitism, hiding under the guise of academic free speech. In September 2019, the university hosted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has called Jews “hook-nosed people who rule the world by proxy.” In 2007, Columbia rolled out its red carpet for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously said that the Holocaust was “a myth” and that “Israel should be wiped off the map.”
Of course, Columbia would not apply such a standard of academic freedom and free speech to faculty or speakers bigoted against black people, women, Latinos, or homosexuals.
Beyond Colombia University
Looking across the country, we see similar anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in practically every Title VI-funded Middle East center.
UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) is another Title VI-funded school. There is now an active complaint filed against it with the Department of Education under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The investigation revolves around a guest lecture given by Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Program at San Francisco State University. Abdulhadi claimed that “supporters of Israel are white supremacists.” A courageous Jewish student who tried to challenge her was rebuked with the words, “That’s your opinion, but you’re wrong. I stand with Jews who do not support Israel and I hope that Jews will disalign [sic.] themselves from white supremacy.”
Georgetown University is the home of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding; Prof. John Esposito is the founding director. His tweets are replete with classic anti-Semitic rants against Jewish control of Washington, and “the Jewish lobby.” Esposito leads the BDS movement at Georgetown. His case goes deeper, however.
Esposito has been closely associated with terrorist organizations and individuals implicated in terrorism. He has been involved with three organizations directly tied to terrorism: the “Palestine Committee,” which is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood; the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, unindicted co-conspirator in a 2009 federal money laundering trial in which five men were convicted of sending more than $12 million to Hamas, the terrorist Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement; and The United Association of Ongoing Issues in the Middle East, which was founded by Mousa Abu Marzook, who was the director of the Hamas political bureau and arrested in 1995 in New York. In 1997, Marzook was extradited to Jordan, and went from there to Syria where he headed Hamas in Syria.
In congressional testimony in 2000, Esposito claimed that Hamas and Hezbollah were “legitimate political parties, with whom the United States should negotiate.” In a 2006 article in the Harvard International Review, Esposito criticized the United States and Europe for condemning Hamas. He wrote, “despite Hamas’ free and democratic elections, the United States and Europe failed to give the party full recognition and support.” (As if the one 2004 Palestinian legislative council election a democracy makes.)
He also has written in passionate defense of convicted terrorist Sami al-Arian, who in 2006 pled guilty to conspiring to provide goods and services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In 2008, Esposito wrote a letter to the judge, calling al-Arian, “an extraordinarily bright and articulate scholar and intellectual-activist.”
For American university students to be under the influence of intellectually dishonest and academically intolerant professors, including some closely linked to terrorists, is reprehensible.
“Universities’ Foreign Payroll”
Perhaps part of the reason Georgetown University is willing to overlook academics with terrorist ties on its payroll, is that the school has received an extraordinary amount of money from Qatar, an ally of Iran and a hub for Hamas, among other terrorist entities.
Georgetown received a $20 million gift in 1996 from the Saudis. According to a report from the Project on Government Oversight, entitled “Universities on the Foreign Payroll,” since 2011, Georgetown University has received $330 million from the Qatar Foundation.
Can objective research or instruction about Israel and the Middle East be expected to generate such significant funding?
A provision of the Higher Education Act demands that universities must report any foreign donation of $250,000 or more. It often is ignored. So, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have spread like an epidemic through institutions of higher learning.
“Diversity of Perspectives”
In 2008, the organization that I founded, EMET—Endowment for Middle East Truth—successfully pushed Congress to make several amendments to Title VI of the HEA. The most significant called for “a diversity of perspectives” and “wide range of viewpoints.” They were signed into law by President George W. Bush.
It was a rather pyrrhic victory. The reality was that in the ensuing years the universities wholly ignored this federal requirement. In an effort to make the Department of Education (DoE) aware of this, I met twice with department officials during the Obama administration. It became obvious that they hadn’t even read the law, and said, “We have our own regulations.” To which I responded, “Oh. Do agency regulations trump federal law?” “No,” they acknowledged, “federal law trumps agency regulations.”
During the second meeting, I was again accompanied by representatives of several other concerned organizations.Education Department officials said, “When we read the ‘diversity of perspectives’ requirement in the law, we felt some of the readers of the grant application should be white, some should be black, some should be old, some should be young, etc.”
I responded, “It is obvious from the legislative intent that this refers to the grantees, recipients of the funding, the universities, and what is being taught in the classroom; not to the grant readers in the Department of Education.”
We now have met several times with Education officials under President Trump. As a result of those meetings, the department has added to the application a requirement for an essay in which universities are asked to explain “how they encourage a diversity of perspectives and wide range of viewpoints.” But the requirement never mentions the word “Israel.”
Yet, obviously universities applying for grants realized where they were vulnerable. Each university wrote about “an exchange of professors with Israel” or “a junior year abroad in Israel.” All the essays were signed by department chairmen.
BDS and Academic Boycotts
However, Tammi Benjamin, of the Amcha Initiative in California, found that out of 15 chairmen of Middle East Studies departments who received Education Department grants this cycle, eight either personally signed a statement supporting BDS or their current directors signed a statement saying that they will shut down their Israel-abroad programs. They therefore got the funding under fraudulent terms.
Moreover, Title VI of the Higher Education Act stipulates that the federal funding “promote access to research and training overseas, including through links to overseas institutions.” An academic boycott actually calls for the exact opposite. As Benjamin argues, “It seeks to deny access to research, training and education in and about the targeted country. For example, the official guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel urge faculty to shut down study abroad programs in Israel; refuse to write recommendations for students who want to attend them; scuttle their colleagues’ research collaborations with Israeli universities and scholars; and cancel or shut down educational events featuring Israeli scholars or seeking to ‘normalize’ Israel by presenting it in anything but a negative light.”
Reaching into K-12 Education
All of these boycott-compliant activities directly subvert the purpose for which these Title VI-funded centers received their federal grants. Even more pernicious, however, is that in order to get the funding, the suspect professors, overtly biased against Israel, are required to do teacher training workshops for teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade. This constitutes nothing more than “trickle down propaganda.”
The curriculum guide they use is “The Arab World Studies Notebook,” edited by Audrey Shabbas The book is produced by the Middle East Policy Council, which receives its funding directly from Saudi Arabia, and AWAIR, which receives its funding from the Saudi Aramco oil company. Its content is aimed at having classroom teachers embrace and teach Islam, as well as the political views of Saudi Arabia.
Among the guide’s many non-truths is that Palestine became an independent nation which the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize such an entity in 1988, and that Yasser Arafat was its president. Even more insidious are the emotionally manipulative essays and poetry within the notebook. America’s most impressionable, young students are asked to read poems such as “Identity Card” by the anti-Israel writer Mahmoud Darwish. It includes a stanza reading:
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left us with those rocks
So, will the state take them
As it has been said?
On Dec. 11, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order giving Jewish students the same rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that members of other minority groups have. It uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, with examples that include, among other things, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self- determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
This means that finally, Jewish students will have the right to sue universities for discrimination.
Virtually every single Middle East studies program in the United States engages in what easily qualifies as anti-Semitism according to the IHRA definition. So, we must ask: Where does one possibly begin to clean up this morass of mis-education? Yet begin we must, because the hearts and minds of future generations of Americans depend on us to do so.
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).