Dear Secretary Betsy DeVos,

We, the undersigned Jewish student groups, centers, departments, and Jewish academics, are deeply disturbed by your office’s recent attempt to censor the Consortium for Middle East Studies run by Duke University and the University of North Carolina. In particular, we take issue with how your letter to Duke and UNC justified its investigation by exploiting Jewish fears of anti-Semitism. This move fits within a clear pattern of the Trump administration using Jews and our concerns over anti-Semitism in order to try and justify repressive policies. We take great offense at this cynical weaponization of our historical trauma, particularly as anti-Semitic attacks on Jews have skyrocketed since Trump came into office. We demand that your office reverse itself immediately and continue to fund the Duke/UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, ending its unfounded and anti-democratic campaign of intimidation against Duke and UNC. We also wish to state our full support of the Duke/UNC Middle East studies program, as part of our belief in scholarly and critical work on Israel-Palestine and the wider Middle East.

Though your letter to Duke and UNC on September 17th did not mention the event explicitly, we understand that your office identified the universities’ Middle East studies program as a target for potential investigation following their conference this past March, entitled, “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities.” Self-styled “pro-Israel” advocates in Congress and on campus had attacked the conference for its supposed “anti-Israel” bias. U.S. Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., called on your department to investigate the conference, and you complied.

However, rather than fostering free discourse on this issue, your department appears to be trying to shut it down. Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, spoke at the conference and said it stayed within the bounds of appropriate discourse on the issue. Friedman, a self-identified liberal Zionist, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the conference included criticism of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, as well as of U.S. policy on Gaza. “It was within the norms and bounds of reasonable discourse on this issue,” she said. “There was nothing in the discourse here that isn’t heard in any discussion on Israel-Palestine.”

Under your leadership, the Department of Education has led a crusade against anyone on college campuses who dares to criticize Israeli human rights violations. Indeed, your designated “civil rights chief” Kenneth Marcus has made a career of attacking critics of the 52-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. For years Marcus has sought to delegitimize and defund Middle East studies programs that allow students and faculty to criticize the government of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people. Marcus’s tenure makes clear that his concern is not with fostering free speech and open academic inquiry, but stifling it.

We must also note the shocking Islamophobia running throughout your September 17th letter. Your office criticized the Duke/UNC Middle East studies program for placing “a considerable emphasis…on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam” [sic]. Ostensibly, you leveled this critique in order to promote greater study and understanding of the “positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.” Indeed, interested students and faculty should pursue such scholarly endeavors , and we would support such a call if we believed it to be in good faith. However, given the Trump administration’s profound hostility towards Muslims, and your track record of advancing Christian supremacy, we hear this statement as dog-whistle Islamophobia.

There are clear parallels between your department’s recent censorial action and the authoritarian tendencies of other governments in the world today. In Hungary, the right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s administration recently banned gender studies courses and forced its Central European University to suspend an education program for refugees and asylum seekers after passing a 25% tax on activities supporting immigration. (Notably, Orbán’s government also repeatedly trafficks in anti-semitic imagery and tropes.) In Turkey, President Erdogan has gutted the Turkish academies of dissident intellectuals, imprisoning those who criticize his administration’s criminal conduct. This Department of Education “investigation” into the Duke/UNC program will chill incisive academic inquiry while promoting fear and self-censorship. Such a policy is unbecoming of a U.S. administration that claims to advance human rights at home and abroad.

Furthermore, free, open, and critical discourse is not only an American and liberal-democratic value. It is, in our view, a deeply-held Jewish value. Argumentation, textual study, and the play of ideas defines much of our people’s religious and cultural tradition. Cracking down on an academic center’s supposed biases stifles the kind of generative exchanges that lead to greater understanding and the attainment of higher knowledge. Such state censorship reminds us of some of the darkest periods in our people’s history.

The Department of Education’s letter to Duke/UNC’s program cynically deploys accusations of anti-semitism to stifle critical discussion about Palestine/Israel, promotes thinly-cloaked Islamophobia, and presents a gross threat to academic freedom. We urge the Department of Education to cease its unfounded assault on the Duke/UNC Middle East Studies Consortium and ensure the program’s ongoing funding.

Signed,

Ethan Ackelsberg, PhD Candidate, Mathematics, Ohio State University
Elisabeth Anker, Associate Professor, American Studies, George Washington University
The Arab Culturalist
David Attewell, PhD Student, Political Science, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Miriam Attia, PhD Student, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
David Auerbach, Emeritus Assistant Professor, Philosophy & Religious Studies, North Carolina State University
Elsa Auerbach, Professor Emerita, English, University of Massachusetts Boston
Joseph Auslander, Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, University of Maryland
Samuel Bagenstos, Frank G. Millard Professor of Law, Law School, University of Michigan
Benjamin Balthasar, Professor of Multi-Ethnic US Literature, Department of English, Indiana University at South Bend
Orel Beilinson, PhD Student, History, Yale University
Joel Beinin, Donald J McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University
Elizabeth Bentley, Doctoral Candidate, English, University of Arizona
Dan Berger, Associate Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell
Andrew Stuart Bergerson, Professor, History, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Lila Corwin Berman, Professor, History, Temple University
Martin Bidney, Professor Emeritus, English & Comparative Literature, Binghamton University
Michael Bien
Miriam Bilsker, Doctoral Student, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
Jessica Blatt, Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Politics and Human Rights, Marymount Manhattan College
Ashley Bohrer, Assistant Professor, Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame
Daniel Boscov-Ellen, PhD Student, Philosophy, The New School for Social Research
Shamma Boyarin, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Victoria
Betsey Behr Brada, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Reed College
Zachary Braiterman, Professor, Department of Religion and Jewish Studies Program, Syracuse University
Jordan Bridges, Student, Philosophy, University of Virginia
Megan Briggs, Graduate Student
Ben Bromberg
Jamie Bronstein, Professor, History, New Mexico State University
Rachel Brown, Assistant Professor, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Washington University in St. Louis
Denise Bruskin-Gambrell
Maria Bucur, John V. Hill Professor, History and Gender Studies, Indiana University
Rachel Ida Buff, Professor, History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Comparative Literature, University of California Berkeley
Vincent Calabrese, Doctoral Student, Department for the Study of Religion, Centre for Jewish Studies, The University of Toronto
Karen Caplan, Associate Professor, History, Rutgers University Newark
Kristen Hanley Cardozo, PhD Candidate, English, University of California Davis
Daniel Carnie, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, University of California Irvine
Wendy Carson
Noam Chomsky, Professor, Linguistics, University of Arizona
Aslan Cohen Mizrahi, Doctoral Student, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
Steve Cohn, Professor, Economics, Knox College
Amy Cooper, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, Saint Louis University
Molly Crabapple, Spring 2019 Artist-in-Residence, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, NYU
Leslie Crosbie
Michael Cucher, Assistant Professor, English, College of General Studies, University of Puerto Rico
Joyce Dalsheim, Associate Professor, Global Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Linda Dittmar, Professor Emerita, English, University of Massachusetts Boston
Michael Drexler, Professor, English, Bucknell University
Charles Driker-Ohren, Doctoral Student, Philosophy, Stony Brook University
Anna Aline Mehlman Dumont, PhD Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University
Nancy Eberhardt, Professor, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, Knox College
Shimon Edelman, Professor, Psychology, Cornell University
John Ehrenberg, Senior Professor, Political Science, Long Island University
Hester Eisenstein, Professor, Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY)
Rebecca J. Epstein-Levi, Mellon Assistant Professor, Jewish Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, Vanderbilt University
James C. Faris, Emeritus Director, University of Connecticut Program in Middle East Languages and Area Studies
Marjorie Feld, Professor, History, Babson College
Keith P. Feldman, Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies, University of California Berkeley
Gordon Fellman, Professor, Sociology, Brandeis University
Judith Ferster, Professor Emerita, English, North Carolina State University
Eric M. Fink, Associate Professor, School of Law, Elon University
Anne Gray Fischer, Assistant Professor, History, The University of Texas at Dallas
Amir Fleischmann, Doctoral Student, Political Science, University of Michigan
Judith Frank, Professor, English, Amherst College
Sarah Friedland, Director of the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute, Skidmore College
Joshua Friedman, Lecturer, Sociology & Anthropology, North Carolina State University
Zack Furness, Associate Professor, Communications, Penn State University, Greater Allegheny
Anne Galvin, Associate Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, St. John’s University
Sophie Geffros, PhD Candidate, School of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University
Ilana Gershon, Ruth N. Hall Professor, Anthropology, Indiana University
Terri Ginsberg, Assistant Professor of Film, Department of the Arts, The American University in Cairo
Shai Ginsburg, Associate Professor, Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University
Rebecca Glade, PhD Student, History, Columbia University
Faye Gleisser, Assistant Professor, Art History, Indiana University
Susannah Glickman, PhD Student, History, Columbia University
Ruby Gold
Michael Goldberg, Graduate Student, Sociology, The New School for Social Research
AJ Goldman, PhD Student, Religion, Harvard University
Micah Goldwater, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, University of Sydney
Daisy Goodman, DNP, MPH, CNM, Assistant Professor, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College
Dana Grabelsky, Doctoral Student, Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center
Judith Grabiner, Professor Emerita, Mathematics, Pitzer College
Jonathan Graubart, Professor, Political Science, San Diego State University
Michael Greenberger, PhD Student, Political Science, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Cara Greene, PhD Student, Philosophy, University of New Mexico
Samantha Guz, Doctoral Student, School of Social Services Administration, The University of Chicago
Susan Gzesh, Senior Lecturer & Executive Director, Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, The University of Chicago
Richard Handler, Professor, Anthropology, University of Virginia
Nicholas Harriman
Andrea Haverkamp, PhD Candidate, Environmental Engineering, Oregon State University
Elizabeth Heineman, Professor, History, University of Iowa
Maya Herman, PhD Student, Sociology, The New School for Social Research
Judy Hoffman, Professor, Cinema and Media Studies, The University of Chicago
Eliza Hollingsworth, Student, Global Studies, University of California Berkeley
Daniel Horowitz, Mary Huggins Gamble Foundation Chair and Professor of American Studies Emeritus, Smith College
Ivan Huber, Professor Emeritus, Biology, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Zebulon Hurst, Graduate Student, Pacific School of Religion
Curtis Hutt, Associate Professor, Religious Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Tobias Huttner, PhD Candidate, English, Johns Hopkins University
IfNotNow University of Chicago
IfNotNow University of Michigan
Liz Jacobs, Doctoral Student, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania
Aaron Jaffe, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Liberal Arts, The Juilliard School
Lynne Joyrich, Professor, Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Rico K C, MD/PhD candidate, Media Studies & Medicine, University of Illinois
Elena Blumencweig Kaczorowski
Nancy Kalow, Lecturing Fellow, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University
Louis Kampf, Professor Emeritus, Literature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Hayden Kantor, Lecturer, Program in Writing & Rhetoric, Stanford University
Aidan Kaplan, Lecturer, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, The University of Chicago
Steve Kassel
Gary Kates, Professor, History, Pomona College
Kimberly Katz, Professor, History, Towson University
Marion Katz, Professor, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, NYU
Marie Kennedy, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Boston
Hannah Kessler-Jones, Doctoral Student, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
Carla Klausner, Curator’s Professor Emeritus, History, University of Missouri Kansas City
Jordan Klein, PhD Student, Demography, Princeton University
Irena Klepfisz, Associate Professor (Retired), Women’s Studies, Barnard College
Jacob Kline, Student, Political Science, University of California Davis
Hilah Kohen
Andrew Konove, Associate Professor, History, University of Texas at San Antonio
Anna Kornbluh, Associate Professor, English, University of Illinois at Chicago
Dennis Kortheuer, Emeritus, History, California State University Long Beach
Ethel Kosminsky, Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, São Paulo State University-Marilia
Stephanie Kraver, Doctoral Student, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago
Ivan Kreilkamp, Professor, English, Indiana University
Lara Kriegel, Associate Professor, History and English, Indiana University
Stefan H. Krieger, Richard J. Cardali Distinguished Professor in Trial Advocacy, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University
Jacob Ari Labendz, Clayman Assistant Professor & Director, Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, Youngstown State University
Ross Lerner, Assistant Professor, English, Occidental College
Eve Levin, Professor and Chair, History, University of Kansas
Irina Levin, Associate Director, Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, Arizona State University
Miriam Libicki, Instructor, Critical Studies, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Eli Lichtenstein, PhD Candidate, Philosophy, Northwestern University
Felice Lifshitz, Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies & Religious Studies, University of Alberta
Marion I. Lipshutz
Julia E. Liss, Professor, History, Scripps College
Miriam Lowi, Professor, Political Science, The College of New Jersey
Lorraine H. Malcoe, Associate Professor, Joseph J Zilber School of Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Charles Manekin, Professor, Philosophy, University of Maryland
Abigail Levinson Marks
Elana Anne Mayer
Joshua Mayer, PhD Student, Anthropology, UCLA
Charles A. McDonald, Samuel W. and Goldye Marian Spain Postdoctoral Fellow, Jewish Studies, Rice University
Clea McNeely, Research Professor, College of Nursing, University of Tennessee Knoxville
Joe McReynolds, Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, Keio University
Linda McVay
Jodi L. Melamed, Associate Professor, English, Marquette University
Jeffrey Melnick, Professor, American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston
Paul R. Mendes-Flohr, Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor Emeritus of Modern Jewish History and Thought, Divinity School & Department of History, The University of Chicago; also Professor Emeritus, Jewish Thought, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Andrea C. Mensch, Senior Lecturer, Retired, English, North Carolina State University
Paula Michaels, Associate Professor, History, Monash University
Elana Michelson, Professor Emerita, Cultural Studies, State University of New York-Empire State College
Allison Mickel, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, Lehigh University
Isaac Ginsberg Miller, PhD Student, African American Studies, Northwestern University
Kenneth Miller, Professor, Neuroscience, Columbia University
Sarah Anne Minkin
Shana Minkin, Associate Professor and Co-Chair, International and Global Studies, Sewanee: the University of the South
Paul Mishler, Associate Professor, Labor Studies, Indiana University
Warren Montag, Louis M. Brown Family Professor in Literature in English, Occidental College
Matt Morgenstern, Masters Student, Library and Cultural Studies, University of Cincinatti
Robert Moriarty, Graduate Student, Educational Psychology, University of Southern Maine
Lawrence Moss, Professor, Mathematics, Indiana University
Roman Nassar
Maya Navabi, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
R. R. Neis, Associate Professor, History & Judaic Studies, University of Michigan
Schneur Newfield, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Borough of Manhattan Community College
Richard Jeffrey Newman, Professor, English & Creative Writing, Nassau Community College
Stuart Newman, Professor, Cell Biology & Anatomy, New York Medical College
Jesse Njus, Adjunct Professor, Theatre, Virginia Commonwealth University
Suzanne Nobel, Graduate Student, Hispanic Studies, McGill University
Atalia Omer, Associate Professor, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame
Ranen Omer-Sherman, Endowed Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Louisville
Emily Oppenheimer, George Washington University
Dara Orenstein, Associate Professor, American Studies, George Washington University
Avi Parsha, Architecture and Urban Planning, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Yoav Peled, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Tel Aviv University
Michael Peshkin, Professor, Engineering, Northwestern University
Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Political Science, Hunter College & Graduate Center, City University of NY
Lucy Peterson, Doctoral Student, Political Science, University of Michigan
Brett Pogostin, PhD Student, Bioengineering, Rice University
Kenneth Pomeranz, Professor, History, The University of Chicago
Pat Porter
Stephen Portuges, New Center for Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles
Sonya Posmentier, Associate Professor, English, New York University
Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor Emerita, American Studies, University of Minnesota
Isaac Rabbani, PhD Candidate, Economics, University of Pennsylvania
Ben Ratskoff, Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Literature, UCLA
Timothy J. Reiss, Professor Emeritus, Comparative Literature & English, New York University, and Visiting Scholar, University of Hawai’i-Manoa
Jacob Remes, Clinical Associate Professor, History, NYU-Gallatin
Lisa Rofel, Professor, Anthropology, University of California Santa Cruz
Robert C. Rose, Professor, English, William Paterson University
Charlotte E. Rosen, Graduate Student, History, Northwestern University
Philip Rosen, Professor Emeritus, Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Bruce Rosenstock, Professor, Religion, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lawrence Rosenwald, Professor, English & Jewish Studies, Wellesley College
Penny Rosenwasser, Co-Instructor of Anti-Semitism/Anti-Arabism Class, City College of San Francisco
Ken Ross, Emeritus Professor, Political Science, Adrian College
Michael Rothberg, 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies, Department of English, UCLA
Alice Rothchild, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Retired, Medical School, Harvard University
Zachary Rouah, Student, Trinity University
Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
Nora Rubel, Jane and Alan Batkin Chair of Jewish Studies, Religion and Classics, University of Rochester
Jonah Rubin, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Knox College
David Rubinstein, Doctoral Student, Mathematics, University of California Santa Cruz
Kathleen Ryan
Jonathan Sadowsky, Castele Professor of Medical History, Case Western Reserve University
Jane Saffitz, Assistnat Professor, Anthropology, Denison University
Gabriel Salgado, PhD Candidate, Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Emma Saltzberg, Graduate Student, Politics, The New School for Social Research
Matan Sandler, PhD Candidate, Mathematics, Ben Gurion Institute for Israeli Studies, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Maia Scarpetta, Masters of Public Health Student, College of Population Health, University of New Mexico
Martin Christopher Schilde
Naomi Schiller, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Brooklyn College CUNY
Robert A. Schneider, Professor, History, Indiana University Bloomington
Martha Schoolman, Associate Professor, English, Florida International University
Abby M. Schrader, Professor, History, Franklin & Marshall College
Jason Schulman, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Political Science, Lehman College CUNY
Jesse Schwartz, Associate Professor, English, The City University of New York (CUNY)
Daniel Segal, Professor, History & Anthropology, Pitzer College
Gershon Shafir, Distinguished Professor, Sociology, University of California San Diego
Stephen R. Shalom, Professor, Political Science, William Paterson University
Cindy B. Shamban
Greg Siegel, Student, Nursing, Stony Brook University
Jeremy Siegman, Lecturer, Social Studies, Harvard University
Todd P. Silverstein, Professor Emeritus, Chemistry, Willamette University
Miranda Sklaroff, PhD Student, Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey Skoller, Associate Professor, Film & Media, University of California Berkeley
Thomas Slater, Lecturer, International Studies, PSU
Peter Slezak, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of New South Wales
Daniel Smolkin, Postdoc, Mathematics, University of Oklahoma
Stephen Soldz, Professor, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Abba A. Solomon
Matthew Specter, Lecturer, International and Area Studies, University of California Berkeley
Michael Staub, Professor, English, Baruch College CUNY
David Stein, UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, African American Studies, UCLA
Mark L. Stein, Associate Professor, History, Muhlenberg College
Rebecca L. Stein, Associate Professor, Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
Ted Steinberg, Davee Distinguished Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University
Nancy Stern, Associate Professor, Leadership and Human Development, The City College of New York (CUNY)
Laurie Stoff, Principal Lecturer and Honors Faculty Fellow, Arizona State University
Dara Strolovitch, Professor, Gender and Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, and Department of Politics, Princeton University
Rebecca Subar, Adjunct Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies, West Chester University
David Suchoff, Professor, English, Colby College
Joel Swanson, Doctoral Student, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
Marius Taba
Aparecida S. Takigawa
Noah Tamarkin, Assistant Professor, Comparative Studies, Ohio State University
Laura Tanenbaum, Professor, English, LaGuardia Community College and the City University of New York
Kevin Tarlow, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Hampton University
Mark Tessler, Professor, Political Science, University of Michigan
Paul A. Thomas
Ruth Tsoffar, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan
Irene Tucker, Professor, English, University of California Irvine
Sharon Ullman, Professor, History, Bryn Mawr College
Chris Van Fleet, Universal Mind Institute
Richard Wark, Professor, Retired, University of Maryland University College
Melissa F. Weiner, Associate Professor, Sociology, College of the Holy Cross
Brad Weiss, Professor, Anthropology, College of William & Mary
Sarah Willen, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Connecticut
Gabriel Winant, Assistant Professor, History, The University of Chicago
Johanna Winant, Assistant Professor, English, West Virginia University
Anne Winkler-Morey, Community Faculty, History, Metropolitan State University
Sebastian Wogenstein, Associate Professor, German Studies, University of Connecticut
Asher Wycoff, Doctoral Student, Political Science, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Oren Yirmiya, PhD Student, Near Eastern Studies, University of California Berkeley
Aura Young, Assistant Director of Professional Development and Doctoral Support, Center for Graduate Life, University of North Carolina Charlotte
Orian Zakai, Assistant Professor, Hebrew, George Washington University
Mikaela Ziegler, Masters Student, Department of Public Policy, University of Minnesota
Philip Zuckerman, Professor, Sociology and Secular Studies, Pitzer College

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