(November 13, 2018 / JNS) In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, 69 organizations asked for assurances that taxpayer dollars will not be used towards supporting the BDS movement.
The letter was prompted by two pro-BDS events recently hosted by academic departments at the University of Michigan and New York University that are part of the Department of Education-designated Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs).
The event sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at Michigan was held 48 hours after a gunman shot and killed 11 Jews in Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, leaving six others injured, including four law-enforcement officers.
In an email sent to that department’s faculty and students on Tuesday, department director Samer Mahdy Ali said the event, which was organized “on short order in response to the current crisis,” featured a 45-minute-long “teach-in” portion that “is decidedly pro-BDS.”
Speakers included Anna Baltzer, director of organizing and advocacy at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement—both professional BDS advocates.
NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies hosted an event titled “The Assault on the Right to Boycott” that was “explicitly intended to support faculty members’ right to implement an academic boycott of Israel at NYU and elsewhere,” according to the letter.
Additionally, a BDS resolution was introduced last week in the NYU student government.
NRCs obtain millions of taxpayer dollars to “promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages with overseas institutions.”
The letter notes: “NRCs 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 federal legislation providing these NRCs with millions of taxpayer dollars stipulates that the funding is specifically intended ‘to promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages with overseas institutions.’”
“We want to emphasize that we do not intend in any way to impede or suppress a faculty member’s freedom of speech or right to engage in a personal boycott,” adds the letter. “But were a faculty member to take steps to obstruct or prevent others from accessing opportunities to engage with overseas institutions through research or training, it would clearly violate the stated purpose of the law.”
Finally, the letter stated that “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.”