Campus antisemitism shows it's time to track the foreign cash flowing into US universities

POLITICS: Campus antisemitism shows it’s time to track the foreign cash flowing into US universities

It should be common sense that no one gives away $11 billion without expecting something in return.

Why, then, are so few questions asked about the rivers of money flowing into American universities from foreign donors?

It has become painfully obvious what they are buying: the hearts and minds of young Americans.

The spectacle playing out on campuses today has shocked Americans of all political persuasions: antisemitic threats projected onto buildings, Jews huddled in the library to escape a mob, university administrators eager to contextualize terrorism.

This is not your garden-variety wokeism, like squabbling over pronouns or safe spaces. This is something else.

But where is it coming from?

The answer can be found, as always, by following the money.

Since 1986, US universities have received at least $11 billion from Arab states, not to mention billions more from China, and they have largely hidden this funding from the public.

There is much to criticize about the university leaders who lap these funds up, but most of us had little faith in them to begin with.

More surprising is the lack of scrutiny from the US government, which is bound by law to review and assess these sources of foreign influence.  

The Higher Education Act of 1965, for one, mandates that schools report twice each year any foreign gifts and contracts of $250,000 or more, yet universities mostly ignore the obligation, and the Department of Education fails to enforce it.

A new Network Contagion Research Institute report finds that at least 200 American colleges and universities illegally withheld information on approximately $13 billion in undisclosed contributions from foreign regimes, many of which are antisemitic or authoritarian.

In 2020, the Trump administration forced the DoE to investigate these funds.

The final report noted countries hostile to the United States “are targeting their investments” to “project soft power, steal sensitive and proprietary research, and spread propaganda.”

It concluded, “There is very real reason for concern that foreign money buys influence or control over teaching and research.”

Indeed, the latest research shows universities that accept money from Middle Eastern donors have, on average, 300% more antisemitic incidents than those that do not.

Whatever concern the government had about this under Donald Trump seems to have vanished under President Biden.

Yet understanding and mitigating this influence is the government’s responsibility by law and not just at the DoE.

The Department of Justice is also legally bound to “promote transparency with respect to foreign influence” on “American public opinion, policy, and laws” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

That law requires those acting as agents of foreign entities to register publicly so the American public can properly scrutinize their words and actions.

It’s time to apply FARA to the American universities under the influence of foreign cash.  

FARA dates back to 1938, when the government sought to counter Nazi propaganda.

Imagine if that propaganda had wormed its way into the minds of America’s youth, who formed the bulk of our fighting force.

It would have crippled our war effort.

Under FARA, the government required proliferators of that propaganda to register as foreign agents.

Today, universities accepting foreign funds should register too — and not just in relation to anti-Israel influence.

China is also infiltrating our top schools with the purpose of stealing technology and cutting-edge research and limiting what American students learn about the Chinese Communist Party.

The dangers are not hard to imagine. Republicans and Democrats agree that China is the greatest military threat to the United States this century.

Unlike the Chinese and the antisemites, American universities are not known for playing the long game.

They’ll take the money today without asking what it means for tomorrow.

Now we are staring the consequences in the face, and they are ugly indeed.

Washington must not trust the universities to hold themselves accountable.

It should require them to report foreign funding sources and register under FARA if they are unduly influenced.

Americans have a right to know which countries are buying the next generation’s support — and which universities are selling it.

Philip Levine is a former two-term mayor of Miami Beach and onetime Democratic candidate for Florida governor.

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