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These Pro-Israel Groups Want to Stifle Academic Freedom

by Josh Ruebner, Policy Director
November 17th, 2014

Take Action: Protest Attempts to Monitor, Defund Middle East Studies on Campus



Take action: Tell the Dept. of Education & Congress you support academic freedom.

Ten years ago, Campus Watch, a pro-Israel organization attempting to blacklist professors sympathetic to Palestinian rights, pushed legislation to install a government-appointed advisory board to weed out criticism of Israel in campus Middle East Studies Programs receiving federal government funds.

Back then, we formed a coalition of 100 groups and successfully beat back this McCarthyite effort.

But similar groups, such as the Brandeis Center and the AMCHA Initiative, are at it again, this time pressing the Department of Education to monitor the content of these educational programs and defund those that don’t have “diverse perspectives.”

Through sketchy methodology, bogus Congressional quotes, and an erroneous conflation of legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism, these groups falsely claim that Middle East Studies Programs receiving government funding are laced with anti-Israel bias and even anti-Semitism, and should therefore be defunded for lacking “diverse perspectives.” 

It’s urgent that we mobilize again to defeat this latest attempt of the pro-Israel “thought police” to shred academic freedom and banish any and all criticism of Israel from campus.

Please take a minute to write Education Secretary Arne Duncan and your Members of Congress to state your support for academic freedom in federally-funded Middle East Studies Programs and your opposition to the government monitoring and passing judgment on the content of university education.

We’d laugh off the Brandeis Center and AMCHA Initiatives reports, which are debunked in this excellent FAQ published by member group Middle East Research and Information Project, if it weren’t for the fact that Members of Congress are using them to advance the effort to stifle criticism of Israel on campus.

In fact, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), an ardent supporter of Israel, parroted the false claims in these reports, insisting to Duncan that Middle East Studies Programs are “disproportionately focused on and are biased against Israel,” could “engender anti-Semitism,” and should be defunded.

Members of Congress such as Lowey may even attempt to write this “thought policing” into law by amending Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which funds language and area studies at universities, when it comes up for reauthorization soon.

That’s why we urgently need you to help head off this effort before it gathers any more momentum. Click here to send a letter to Secretary Duncan and your Members of Congress.

Let’s be real. The last thing these pro-Israel groups want is “diverse perspectives” on campus. What they want to do is quash all academic criticism of Israel, as evidenced by recent witch hunts against Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi and Prof. Steven Salaita. What they aim to accomplish is to stamp out all student activism in support of Palestinian rights, as evidenced by unwarranted repression against Students for Justice in Palestine chapters on campuses such as Florida Atlantic University, Northeastern University, Loyola University and many others.

Make no mistake about it: these efforts by pro-Israel groups to stifle voices and smother campus activism are tactics of desperation, persuasive evidence that even these groups admit that Israel can no longer be defended.

But, of course, these groups still enjoy much clout, which is why we need you today to help us push back on this effort to monitor and defund Middle East Studies Programs.

Thanks for taking action to support academic freedom!

Sincerely,


Josh Ruebner, 
Policy Director


PS:
UCLA, one of the universities targeted by these reports, responds that they are based on "incomplete statistical evidence, take snippets of talks given by invited speakers and present them out of context, and use ad hominem attacks against respected scholars that verge on the libelous." Read UCLA's take down here.