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Trump Administration Threatens to Slash Funds to Duke, UNC Over Anti-Israel Bias

09-23-2019
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Duke University and the University of North Carolina have run out of time to meet the Trump administration's demands to revise their jointly-run Middle East studies program after the federal government accused the schools of misusing federal funds to advance anti-Israel bias and unfairly promote the "positive aspects of Islam" while virtually ignoring Christianity and Judaism.

The Department of Education sent an August 29 letter to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies threatening to cut funding to the program if the universities do not revise the curriculum by Sept. 22. 

The government offers grants to several universities to help foreign language instruction and international education. According to Education Department data, the consortium received $235,000 from the federal government last year.

Among other complaints, the Education Department alleges the program unfairly focuses on the benefits of Islam while leaving out Judaism and Christianity.

"There is a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East," according to the letter.

The department also accuses the program of failing to meet the federal grants' foreign language requirements.

"The teacher-training activities hosted by the Duke-UNC CMES lack lawful focus on language development and instead advance narrow, particularized views of American social issues," the letter said. "It seems clear foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken 'a back seat' to other priorities at the Duke-UNC CMES."

To qualify for future funds, the Education Department gave the schools until Sept. 22 to respond to the letter with a plan for revising the program. The Department of Education is requiring  Duke-UNC CMES to send a full schedule of its activities for the next year, including justifications for how each activity promotes "national security interests and economic stability."

A UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson told ABC News the Consortium will work with the Education Department but has yet to confirm if it revised the curriculum by the Sept. 22 deadline.

"The Consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program. In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the Consortium is committed to working with the Department to provide more information about its programs," the spokesperson said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos launched an investigation into the program in June after Republican North Carolina Representative George Holding complained that the Duke-UNC CMES hosted a taxpayer-funded conference with "severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric."

Holding said in an April 15 letter that the conference, titled "Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities," included a rapper who performed an openly anti-Semitic song.

"According to first-hand accounts, the conference had a radical anti-Israeli bias," wrote Holding in the letter. "Reportedly, speakers and panelists distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza. A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly anti-Semitic song."

"Honest academic debate featuring diverse perspectives and a wide range of views is critical in a democratic society and a central tenet of American's educational system," wrote Holding. "However, it is irresponsible, immoral and unproductive for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy under the guise of academic discourse."

In response, DeVos said she was "troubled" by Holding's letter and would investigate the program.

The probe is part of a broader Education Department effort to find and confront anti-Semitism at US universities.

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