Some 88 education, civil-rights and religious organizations called on U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday to prevent federal funds from being used by higher-education Middle East Studies programs that support an academic boycott of Israel.

The groups, led by the AMCHA Initiative, cited examples, including a University of Michigan professor who supports boycotting Israel denying to write a letter of recommendation for a student wanting to study at Tel Aviv University; the Pitzer College entire faculty body voting in November to suspend the school’s study-abroad program at the University of Haifa; and New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis passing a resolution of non-cooperation in May with the university’s school in Israel.

“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,” stated the letter.

Title VI under the Higher Education Act of 1965 provides federal funds for international-studies and foreign-language centers at U.S. universities.

“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,” stated the groups.

“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.”

The groups 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, and 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.

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