| DECEMBER 19, 2023
To better understand why so many US university presidents give a big shrug of their shoulders to battling anti-Semitism and can’t even identify the phenomenon and call it out, just follow the money trail.
That’s precisely what the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) has been laser-focused on since 2012, when it issued its first “Follow the Money” report examining the illicit funding universities receive from foreign entities that promote anti-Semitic, anti-democratic ideologies. ISGAP released its latest update two weeks ago, focusing on Qatar, whose ruling family established a foundation in 2006 that has funneled close to $3 billion to more than 40 elite universities, including Ivy League schools.
While universities are allowed to accept foreign donations, the funding becomes illicit when they fail to report foreign gifts or contracts as required by Section 117 of the Higher Education Act. In a July 2021 article in the Medium blog, Daniel Currell, a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute at George Mason University, singled out Yale, writing that they “apparently forgot to do any reporting for four consecutive years,” even though they received between $50 million and $150 million during that period.
ISGAP’s latest report cites a ten-year, $1 billion agreement between the Qatar Foundation and Texas A&M, one of the nation’s top aerospace and engineering schools, to establish a campus in Qatar that “appears to grant Qatar ultimate control over academic standards, faculty, students, curriculum, and budgets — thus subordinating educational priorities to Qatar’s national interests and severely compromising institutional autonomy.”
Taking that one step further, Judicial Watch, a Washington–based watchdog that describes itself as a conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation, noted “discrepancies” between what Texas A&M reported in donations from Qatar from 2013 to 2018 ($69,844) and the US Department of Education’s database, which recorded more than $47 million for the same period.
While Qatar has played a constructive role in mediating the release of more than 100 Israelis and foreigners taken hostage in the 10/7 terror attacks in Israel and is also home to America’s largest Middle Eastern military installation, their negative influences far outweigh the positives.
Qatar, an oil-rich peninsula about the size of Connecticut, juts into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia’s eastern coast. It’s ruled by a royal family with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban. Qatar is a haven for Hamas’s top leadership. ISGAP estimates Qatar has accumulated a war chest of between $500 billion and $1 trillion, which it spends judiciously to gain a stake in diversified US industries, including hotels and real estate, energy, food and beverage, and media.
The Qatar-run Al Jazeera media network delivers news and a virulent dose of anti-Israel propaganda 24/7 to some 430 million homes in more than 150 countries.
While Qatar may be the leading offender, US colleges and universities have pocketed an estimated $27 billion in funding from more than 70 countries in the last decade. While many of these are clean deals that support legitimate student exchange programs and research and development, transparency has been sorely lacking.
The House of Representatives took a step in the right direction two weeks ago, voting 246–170 to beef up enforcement of a key provision of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act. Known as the DETERRENT Act and introduced by Rep. Michelle Steele (R–CA), the bill will require institutions of higher education to file an annual report on any gifts they receive from a “foreign country or entity of concern” (e.g. , China or Russia), or any contract from a foreign source valued at more than $50,000. Until now, only gifts or contracts above $250,000 were reportable.
The bill heads to the Senate, which won’t take it up until lawmakers return to Washington after the year-end holiday break.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said that a 2019 Senate report showed that up to 70% of all colleges and universities have failed to comply with reporting requirements. The new amendment to Section 117 is intended to close the loopholes in the law that have enabled institutions to evade reporting. In some cases, it may require universities to obtain advance permission from the US Department of Education before accepting donations from certain countries and entities. Repeated violations of the bill could result in colleges losing access to federal funding.
Tillis said that foreign funding of universities also serves as a footstool for regimes to steal American research and information technologies. He blamed President Biden for crippling enforcement efforts and allowing billions of dollars to enter the country undetected.
Where Does Biden Stand?
If we were fact-checking, we would rate Senator Tillis’s statement as true.
In his last year in office, President Trump began a crackdown on colleges that hosted Confucius Institutes. China’s Ministry of Education developed the institutes to promote Chinese culture on campuses, but Trump accused them of being smokescreens for Beijing’s propaganda.
Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, had begun investigating high-profile foreign gifts and started tying their federal money to compliance with the law.
Six days after taking office in January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order reversing Trump’s crackdown. It was one of 24 Trump-era executive orders that Biden reversed in the opening days of his administration, and the fact that he did it in week one shows that it was a high Biden priority. Pressure might have come from progressive Democrats such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–WA), who criticized the current House legislation, saying it “effectively weaponizes the Department of Education.” It might also have come from the American Council on Education, the nation’s top higher education lobby, whose president, Ted Mitchell, told Congress the bill’s provisions would lead to the “collection of an ocean of data, much of it trivial and inconsequential.”
Or perhaps Biden just owed China a favor. For now, let’s leave that one to House Republicans, who have opened impeachment proceedings against Biden and will be looking for evidence that could connect the president to his son’s business dealings with China.
Even if the DETERRENT Act passes the Senate with a few votes from its Democratic majority, it’s not clear that President Biden would sign it into law. Trump, on the other hand, repeated his pledge at a campaign rally in Durham, New Hampshire, over the weekend to cancel tax advantages for universities that discriminate against conservatives, Christians, and Jews, and for schools that “attack free speech.”
This may end up being one more contentious issue in a 2024 presidential campaign that’s replete with them. Even if it does pass under Biden, or in the next administration — whoever heads it — it could take years before enforcement makes an impact.
That’s an eternity for Jewish students who feel increasingly unsafe on college campuses. While it’s been encouraging to see Jewish donors and others with moral clarity pulling their support from universities, their donations are often just a drop in the bucket compared to the flow of foreign money that university presidents have become addicted to and blinded by.