Combating the anti-Semitism radiating from U.S. college campuses will require work on many fronts. Some of the drivers could take enormous effort to uproot—for example, the DEI culture that has reshaped K–12 and postsecondary institutions. A less frequently discussed factor is easier to address: U.S. universities should stop letting foreign entities shape campus intellectual life.

Centers dedicated to the study of the Middle East, many receiving lavish foreign financial support, do more to promote anti-Zionist and pro-Hamas narratives than virtually any other force on campus. Even a small number of biased faculty can have an outsize influence because the dominant intersectional ideologies leave students primed to embrace anti-Semitic attitudes.

In effect, U.S. campuses have been importing anti-Semitic propaganda for almost 50 years. As the New York Times reported in 1978, “Oil wealth from the Middle East is starting to flow onto college and university campuses throughout the country, bringing a bonanza of endowed chairs and new programs.” That initial flood of money—and specific concerns about gifts to Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies—led to the establishment of foreign gift-reporting requirements in 1986. To this day, Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires universities to report foreign gifts above $250,000.

Unfortunately, weak enforcement by the Department of Education allowed many universities to ignore the requirement. That changed in 2019, when Secretary Betsy DeVos initiated noncompliance investigations at several top schools. In 2023 congressional testimony, Paul Moore, chief investigative counsel at the Department of Education during the Trump administration, described the sea change that followed: “enhanced enforcement . . . produced dramatic results,” including the “disclosure of more than $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign gifts and contributions.” The Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), which analyzed the updated disclosures for 2014–19, found that over $2.7 billion in gifts came from Qatari sources, $1.2 billion from Chinese entities, and over $1 billion originated in Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration, pressured by the higher-education lobby, closed outstanding Section 117 investigations in August 2022. Later the same year, the Department of Education moved enforcement from the Office of the General Counsel to the Office of Federal Student Aid. Disclosures have dwindled since.

Foreign entities invest in U.S. universities for many reasons, including to gain access to sensitive technology and to exert influence over cutting-edge researchers. When it comes to shaping the campus marketplace of ideas, gifts to Middle East studies centers have paid off. A 2022 report by the National Association of Scholars, Hijacked, looked at more than 50 such centers and concluded that they produce “biased material that promotes the political interests of the donors.” A 2020 Education Department study noted that Saudi Arabia has advanced “Islamic ideology . . . through multimillion-dollar donations to elite Western institutions” since 9/11.

These centers are ground zero for Jew-hatred in the academy today. An AMCHA Initiative study of anti-Zionist and BDS-supporting faculty found that 70 percent are associated with ethnic, gender, or Middle East studies departments. (These departments sponsor almost 90 percent of events containing anti-Zionist or pro-BDS rhetoric.) Through their research, teaching, and the speakers they host, the centers demonize Israel and make anti-Semitic attitudes seem permissible, even respectable, to impressionable students.

The presence of anti-Zionist faculty, in turn, is associated with significantly higher levels of student-on-student harassment involving Jews, including “incidents that target Jewish students for harm.” The NCRI study reached the same conclusion, finding “a correlation between the existence of undocumented funding and incidents of targeted anti-Semitism.”

What can be done? The recent success in closing Confucius Institutes—funded by the Chinese government to spread propaganda on American campuses—proves that public and political pressure can force colleges to reject foreign money. Universities should refuse all gifts from entities with interests antithetical to this country’s, especially gifts related to academic programs. Programs built on foreign donations should be dismantled unless they are obviously worth supporting from the general fund. State lawmakers can pass legislation to forbid, or at least carefully scrutinize, partnerships and contracts at public institutions with countries of concern.

Federal policymakers can also act. The next administration should aggressively enforce foreign gift-reporting requirements. And Congress should consider new legislation that would lower the reporting threshold for foreign gifts and prohibit certain partnerships with entities of concern.

Photo: Jason Alden/Bloomberg Creative Photos via Getty Images


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