columnSchools & Higher Education

Yes, Arab funding can have a nefarious impact on campus

The battle over Israel in academia is lopsided.

Aerial view of Brown University in Providence, R.I. Credit: Inning Club via Wikimedia Commons.
Aerial view of Brown University in Providence, R.I. Credit: Inning Club via Wikimedia Commons.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

As I wrote last week and in my report, Arab Funding of American Universities: Donors, Recipients, and Impact, it is challenging to link Arab funding to universities with the toxic atmosphere on campus for Jews. It is not impossible, however, as evident from the example of Brown University.

Out of 12,342 contributions the Department of Education (DoE) recorded, only one had a clear political purpose: establishing a professorship in Palestinian Studies at Brown within the prestigious Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs.

According to DoE’s report on donations through Feb. 13, 2024, Brown received nearly $2 million for the position. Like much of the DoE’s data, its accuracy is questionable.

The report says England was the source of two donations of $271,876 made on the same day in 2020. Is this a duplication? Who in England would make such a contribution? Because DoE acceded to universities’ wishes to conceal information about donors, we don’t know.

The United Arab Emirates was the source of two donations of $67,969 on the same day in 2022. Again, they could be duplicates; no specific donor information is provided.

One contribution (past reports said two on the same day) of $643,300 was made in 2020 from the “Palestinian territories.” I’m not sure I deserve it, but I’d like to take credit for the DoE changing its language regarding donations from this area. In the past, it used either “Palestine, State of” or “Palestinian Territory, Occupied.” I wrote in the past that both designations were improper—the first because the United States recognizes no such state and the second because it inaccurately refers to disputed territories as “occupied,” and the donors were most likely to live in the Palestinian Authority.

Brown was resistant to revealing the sources of the chair’s funding. Still, I found out that the source of the Palestinian donation was the Nablus-based Munib and Angela Masri Foundation. Munib Masri is a wealthy Palestinian supporter of the BDS movement who also contributed to Columbia’s Edward Said Chair in Middle Eastern Studies, which former PLO spokesperson Rashid Khalidi holds.

When I first wrote about the position, it was unclear whether it would be a platform for advocating a political agenda. A.J. Caschetta speculated, “Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, its Center for Middle East Studies, and its New Directions in Palestinian Studies research initiative will now collaborate in a synergistic venture, spending money and hiring teachers to indoctrinate students and ‘inform the community’ about the evils of Israeli colonialism, while stamping its imprimatur on the virtues of the Palestinian cause.”

Caschetta proved prophetic. The first person hired as the Mahmoud Darwish Chair in Palestinian Studies (named after the Palestinian poet) was Beshara Doumani, a supporter of the antisemitic BDS campaign. He also served as president of Birzeit University, which is known for the activism of students associated with terror groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

A report by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) documented troubling elements in courses taught by Doumani. “Palestine versus the Palestinians” was essentially a disinformation course in which he asserted: “The settler-colonial paradigm frames the destruction of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 as yet another tragic example of a global phenomenon of European capitalist expansion and imperialist conquest that has devastated indigenous populations … .”

This is a statement of pure propaganda. Specious references to Israel as a “settler-colonial” state have become a staple of anti-Israel propaganda and antisemitic attacks on the Jewish state, as have false accusations of “ethnic cleansing.” The establishment of Israel had nothing to do with “capitalist expansion and imperialist conquest.” Jews are indigenous to the land and were the ones attacked in 1948 when the Arab states launched an attack to drive them into the sea.

Doumani launched the New Directions program, which enjoys a relationship with the University of California Press, a problematic “academic” publisher. The press publishes books under this rubric, such as Nakba and Survival: The Story of Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956 and Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition.

Before Oct. 7, Doumani also joined the Middle East “scholars” and librarians who demonized Israel with the usual specious claims about massacres and other human-rights violations. It called for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, misrepresenting U.N. Resolution 194, and a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

After the massacre, Doumani signed a statement attacking the news media for—I can hardly write this with a straight face—anti-Palestinian bias. The statement, for example, criticized the press for parroting “unsubstantiated allegations or tendentious framings” of U.S. and Israeli officials.

He also signed onto a call for a ceasefire by Brown faculty that demonized Israel’s conduct in Gaza and claimed “a constitutional right to free speech, activism and scholarship when it comes to Israel-Palestine.” Put differently, it was a demand that administrators continue to tolerate antisemitism at Brown.

The funding battle over Israel in academia is lopsided. Arab funding dwarfs that of Jews (Israel does not fund professorships in Israel Studies). Furthermore, when the Palestinian Studies chair was created, it was an absolute certainty that the person hired would be anti-Israel if not outright antisemitic. Some critics argue that Jews are funding positions for advocates of Israel in Israel Studies. A position in Israeli or Jewish history, however, could easily go to someone who is a vitriolic critic of Israel. Just look at the list of people who signed the “Elephant in the Room” statement demonizing Israel with all the epithets used by the antisemites. It included Derek Penslar, the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard; Dov Waxman, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair of Israel Studies at UCLA; and Arie M. Dubnov, Max Ticktin Professor of Israel Studies and History at George Washington University. In just the last couple of weeks, the University of Minnesota astonishingly offered the job of heading its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies to someone who accused Israel of engaging in genocide in Gaza. Thankfully, after the stupidity of that appointment was exposed, it was withdrawn.

In my study, I documented some other examples of how Arab funding has had a negative impact on campus, but they were derived from sources other than the DoE. If the DoE and universities are forced to be transparent about donors and the use of their contributions, more cases besides Brown may be found. It’s time for Congress to legislate such a requirement because it is clear the administration will do everything possible to prevent the public from learning the truth about Arab funders.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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