analysisSchools & Higher Education

Who is paying for the American campus protests?

There has been an undeniable influx of money from overseas into the most prestigious universities in the United States.

A pro-Hamas protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
A pro-Hamas protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Shimon Sherman

Over the past few weeks, dramatic scenes of mob action have unfolded across dozens of campuses across the United States.

Large groups of students, faculty and professional agitators have taken over major swaths of quads and other areas to voice support for the Hamas terror organization and to intimidate pro-Israeli and Jewish students. These protests have often taken the form of encampments in central locations on university grounds, which have prevented Jewish students from accessing classes and other facilities.

In several cases, the catatonic response of the university administration has encouraged these protesters to escalate their tactics, including the destruction of property, physical violence against students, seizure of buildings and even holding university staff against their will. Chants in support of Hamas, the Houthis, Iran, bombing Israel and general terrorist action have been the consistent soundtrack in the background of all these protests.

The synchronized eruption of these protests, the use of common talking points and well-oiled logistics surrounding the supply of sleeping arrangements, food, water and medical support for the protesters have raised red flags surrounding the organization and funding for this spontaneous phenomenon.

“What we are seeing is not a random emotional response but the fruition of 20 years of groundwork and preparation by several anti-Israeli, pro-terror groups,” Gerald Steinberg, head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor organization, told JNS. A closer look into the organizational structure of these mob actions reveals a complex web of student groups, NGOs, nonprofits and even foreign governments.

On the surface level, there is a series of student groups that are organizing these protests—the most prominent among them being Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Within Our Lifetime (WOL). “SJP has no U.S. revenue service (IRS) status and most of the money sources are hidden, which raises major concerns,” Steinberg said. “There is simply no transparency about who is funding them.”

Hatem Bazian, the founder of SJP, is one of the clearest links between these protests and terror organizations. Bazian was previously a major fundraiser for the Ohio-based nonprofit Kindhearts, which was censured in 2006 by the U.S. Treasury Department for giving money to Hamas. Kindhearts settled with the Treasury Department and was dissolved in 2012 over the 2006 case.

Bazian was also a prominent advocate and speaker for the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which shut down after it was found liable in civil court in 2004 for its support of Hamas. “Hatem Bazian, the head of SJP, has clear connections to various terror organizations,” Steinberg told JNS.

A recent report by the New York-based Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) shed some light on the source of SJP’s funding. ISGAP found the central donors to be Westchester People’s Action Coalition (WESPAC); Tides Foundation; American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), its parent organization Americans for Justice in Palestine (AJP); and JVP.

Bazian is also a co-founder of AMP. AMP is currently under investigation by the Virginia Attorney General after being accused of being a reincarnation of the IAP. Its former executive director, Abdelbaset Hamayel, and its current one, Osama Abuirshaid, were IAP board members and directors, respectively.

AMP has denied any links to Hamas but confirmed that the charity gives grants of between $500 and $2,000 to pro-Palestinian student groups. AMP’s national board member Salah Sarsour was also a major fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation, which was designated a terrorist group in 2001 for funneling more than $12 million to Hamas.

According to ISGAP, Bazian is also deeply involved with JVP, which throws into question how Jewish the “largest Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world” truly is. In May 2023, Bazian tweeted “@JakeTapper, your reporting on Rashida Tlaib’s Nakba 75 event was racist and anti-Palestinian. As Jews who believe in human rights and justice, we demand you do better,” ostensibly thinking that he was posting from the JVP account and not his own. JVP has since denied that Bazian runs their Twitter account.

JVP’s support of the student protests has been used to deflect the claims of antisemitism that have gone hand in hand with the demonstrations. “It’s being presented as a peace movement, that there are Jews involved, that it’s not antisemitic. But when people chant ‘globalize the intifada,’ it’s very clear,” said ISGAP director Charles Small.

Another major financial backer of the student protests has been the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, which according to NGO monitor is “closely linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).” PFLP is recognized as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, the European Union, Israel and others.

According to the Israeli National Bureau for Counter-Terror Financing, Samidoun plays a leading role in the PFLP’s anti-Israel propaganda efforts, fundraising and recruiting activists. Several members of Samidoun are also members of the PFLP, including the chief coordinator of Samidoun, Khaled Barakat, and the organization’s international coordinator, Charlotte Kates.

Overall, ISGAP has tracked “over $3 million a year going to various pro-Palestinian student groups” from “a constellation of terror-affiliated organizations” to Columbia University.

‘Campaigns led by Palestinian organizations’

Investigating the funding structure for the parent companies backing student groups like SJP and WOL, several prominent backers come up, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the George Soros-backed Open Society Foundations.

According to the New York Post, both of these organizations have contributed millions of dollars to the JVP, WOL and other pro-Palestinian groups. U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) is one of the primary recipients of their donations. USCPR provides up to $7,800 for its community-based fellows, and between $2,880 and $3,660 for its campus-based “fellows” in return for spending eight hours a week organizing “campaigns led by Palestinian organizations.”

These paid agitators have emerged in multiple university protests as the most aggressive and intense rioters. They have often been instigators of escalatory action by the student protesters. In January, a paid USCPR fellow was detained for blocking the route of U.S. President Joe Biden’s motorcade. At Yale, USCPR’s fellow Craig Birckhead-Morton was arrested on Monday and charged with first-degree trespassing for occupying the school’s Beinecke Plaza. Another USCPR fellow named Malak Afaneh, also a fellow at CAIR-SFBA (Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area) rose to prominence for disrupting a dinner for third-year law students at the home of Erwin Chemerinsky, the Jewish dean of Berkeley Law School, to stage an anti-Israel protest.

However, some experts believe that the Soros and Rockefeller links are overblown and not critical in the face of the much clearer connections that student groups have with terrorist organizations. “I think that the Soros connection is much less clear than people want it to be,” Steinberg said. “The relation is certainly not direct and very muddled by political interests.”

The final source of financial support for pro-Palestinian activism on campus is foreign governments. The nature of this support is much less direct than what is seen with various NGOs, and no direct paper trail between specific protests and foreign interests has been reported.

That being said, there has been an undeniable influx of money from overseas into the most prestigious universities in America, which may explain both the radicalization of the student body and the soft response from the administration. For almost 20 years, a central player in this development has been Qatar.

In 2019, a coalition of Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, boycotted Qatar due to its unwillingness to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood terror group. As part of their effort to undermine Qatar, Arab specialists began uncovering and reporting on a long-term Qatari project to infiltrate the U.S. higher education system.

In 2020, Najat Al-Saied, a researcher from the UAE, published a report on Alhurra, a U.S. government-owned Arabic-language satellite TV channel, titled “Qatar and the Funding of American Universities.” According to Al-Saied, Qatar sought to ally the Muslim Brotherhood ideology with the progressive left movement on campuses by adopting several commonplace slogans like “political correctness” and “racist thinking,” to signal political alignment.

By 2012, Qatar had spent more than $1.5 billion to finance education initiatives in 28 universities across America and became the largest external funder of education in the United States. As of 2019, Qatar regularly spends $405 million a year to finance activities at six American universities with branches in Doha.

In 2020, American author and translator Raymond Ibrahim published a report showing that Qatar had invested $5.6 billion in 81 American universities since 2007, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Stanford. Ibrahim further showed that Qatar used its influence at the schools to promote Islamic studies and to specifically suppress the study of other Middle Eastern minorities including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds and Druze.

Al-Saied gave two central interests for Qatar in funding U.S. higher education. One was a desire to spread Islamic thought into the West and inculcate the American student body in Islamic theology, proselytizing being a core tenant of Wahabi Islam. The other interest was political, which was to alienate the United States from the Arab coalition of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Bahrain.

The after-effects of this approach can be seen today as the progressive wing of the Democratic Party seeks to shift Washington from its traditional alliance with the Sunni Gulf States.

The Qatari government has openly denied any connection to the student protests on American campuses. Its ambassador recently posted on X that “Qatar does not influence these universities, and we have nothing to do with anything that happens on their home campuses in the U.S.”

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