Friday, November 20, 2020

  • Friday, November 20, 2020
  • Elder of Ziyon
Here is a review of two US-sponsored video conferences, by RealJerusalemStreets.

Oh what a media event it was, the trilateral summit meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer held in Ben Gurion Airport on October 20, 2020, However, two online conferences from Washington, D.C. got lost on newsfeeds and missed public attention in the lead up to the November 3rd election. 

I. Report on Foreign Funding under the U.S. Department of Education

Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal gave money to Georgetown University to establish the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.  The Center proclaimed to promote Islam’s image in the United States, publish findings through scholarship, and hold academic events.  However, it brewed controversy from its inception. Congressman Frank R. Wolf wrote a letter to Georgetown’s President, Dr. John J. DeGioia, expressing concern that the Center could advance Islamic ideology in a fashion that belittles opposition, threatens academic integrity, and improperly influences future civil servants. It would exercise “soft power” in political science terms.

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 requires American colleges and universities to publicly disclose, each year, foreign gifts and contracts valuing $250,000 or more. The United States Department of Education on October 20, 2020, reported findings concerning Section 117. During an online webinar conference from Washington, DC, open for public viewing, it was revealed that $6.5 billion of foreign money was previously unreported by leading American universities. Lack of transparency of foreign funding has dangerous consequences for academic integrity, national security, and human rights. 

In 1986, Congress first required U.S. institutions of higher education to publicly report their foreign gifts and contracts to the U.S. Department of Education.  At the time, donations from Arab countries were building a Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, a project which strongly motivated the drafting of the statute.  Post 9/11 donations to Middle Eastern studies centers increased concerns, and a Senate committee directed the Department to ensure “the integrity of the reporting requirements” and confirm “donations are reported and categorized correctly.”  Beginning in 2009, the increased flow of foreign money, especially from the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and China was notable.

During the Department of Education broadcast in the conference, its Chief Investigative Counsel Paul Moore and Senior Counsel for Information and Technology Bucky Methfessel discussed the report and its findings. Dr. Charles Small, Executive Director of ISGAP, who has done extensive research on the link between foreign funding and rising antisemitism and has presented at the Department of Justice on the topic in the past, also participated.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, who chairs the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Cybercrime and Intellectual Property and is on the steering committee for the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, discussed his efforts at the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the vulnerabilities of American universities to nefarious foreign influences. Since 2012, institutions reported anonymous donations from China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia totaling more than $1.14 billion.  It was reported that less than 300 of the approximately 6,000 U.S. institutions self-report foreign money each year. Most foreign funds flow to a relatively small number of large institutions.

Included in the report in 2018, the Justice Department charged nine Iranians affiliated with a Tehran-based company called the Mabna Institute for hacking into 144 American universities to steal sensitive data and intellectual property on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. First, the Iranians conducted online reconnaissance of university professors. Second, the Iranians sent “spear phishing” emails. Third, the conspirators used stolen account credentials to obtain unauthorized access to victim professor accounts, through which they then exfiltrated intellectual property, research, and other academic data and documents from the systems of compromised universities, including, among other things, academic journals, theses, dissertations, and electronic books. The defendants targeted data across all fields of research and academic disciplines, including science and technology, engineering, social sciences, medical, and other professional fields. At least approximately 31.5 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from compromised universities were stolen and exfiltrated to servers under Iranian control. (Indictment, United States v. Rafatnejad et al., No. 18-cr-00094 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2018).

Since June 28, 2019, the Department of Educaion has initiated 12 civil investigations to ensure institutional compliance with Section 117.  The named institutions were Georgetown University, Texas A&M University, Rutgers University, Cornell University, University of Maryland, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and most recently, Harvard University, Yale University, University of Texas, Case Western Reserve University, Fordham University, and Stanford University. 

The Department’s review shines a spotlight on previously unknown foreign gifts and contributions, their prevalence and magnitude, and the consequences of porous or nonexistent institutional oversight and lax federal enforcement. Stanford University, for example, has reported over $64 million in unidentified, anonymous Chinese donations since May 2010.  Demonstrating foreign financial involvement with top U.S. research institutions, Harvard University alone has received over $1 billion of foreign funding since 2012.

2. Conference of Internet Antisemitism: Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium 

The following day, the Conference of Internet Antisemitism: Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium, was hosted by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.  He delivered opening remarks during the first-ever U.S. Government conference focused on combatting online anti-Semitism.  Organized by the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, led by Elan S. Carr, the virtual pre-recorded conference aimed to explore the threats posed by anti-Semitism on the internet and social media and to consider practical responses for governments and civil society.

The following summarizes a number of sessions from the October 21 and 22, 2020  conference shown virtually and posted on the State Department website

"An essential part of solving any problem is defining it." stated Sen. James Lankford, Co-chair Senate Bipartisan Taskforce Combatting Antisemitism on the importance of IHRA. "We will examine the absolute sea change in understanding exactly what antisemitism is, and what antisemitism looks like, that has come as a result of the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of anti-Semitism by nations and institutions, known in short as IHRA.  The U.S. Department of State has been using the IHRA definition since 2010, and President Donald Trump’s Executive Order Combatting Anti-Semitism of December 2019 adopted the IHRA Definition for all U.S. Executive Agencies as well:"  

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dan Ariely were among the featured speakers.  Notably, in the opening session British MP Michael Gove emphasized "antisemitism is a threat to us all" as he spoke for bringing nations together to call out the hatred of antisemitism. 

While antisemitism is viewed as vile and hateful, for some, it can be life-changing.  Called to describe her personal experiences was former Member of Parliament from the British Labour Party Luciana Berger who was harassed and attacked on social media.

As the two-day conference was nearing conclusion Rabbi Abraham Cooper led an interfaith panel with Rev Sam Rodriquez noting social media is a source of information and hate, and Muslim Salim Mansur decrying the perversion of Islam and "closing of American minds." 

"We are living in historic times. We recently witnessed the first Middle East peace deal in 26 years brokered by President Trump with Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain, and between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. We felt that coming so soon after these historic events it is important for all of us to hear from a prominent Arab leader, and indeed we are so proud to be joined by His Excellency Dr.  Ali Al Nuaimi of the United Arab Emirates" and with that Elan Carr closed the conference on antisemitism.

Conclusion - Effective Section 117 enforcement is one part of a collaboration between the Department of Education and other federal agencies. The facts discovered drive home the need for an integrated Federal approach to the national problems posed by the theft of intellectual property, espionage, propaganda, and foreign influence operations on U.S. campuses. U.S. institutions are technological treasure troves of leading and internationally competitive fields, such as nanoscience. For too long, these institutions have provided an unprecedented level of access to foreign governments and their instrumentalities in an environment lacking transparency and oversight by the industry, the Department, and partner agencies.

Rising antisemitism on U.S. college campuses and streets, and on social media has been established as fact. The influence of foreign money and "soft power" is a theory at this time. Whoever heads U.S. Federal Departments would be well advised to follow the money and have major gifts to universities by foreign governments reported as is required by law.

Perhaps worth noting, at the end of the online summary of the conference on modern antisemitism was the statement: "The views expressed in the conference are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the State Department." 

Interesting, neither the Department of Education or the Department of State conference received attention in mainstream or Jewish media. 

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