U.S. Orders Duke and U.N.C. to Recast Tone in Mideast Studies

“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,” the university said in a statement. “In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the consortium is committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.”

To advocacy groups enmeshed in academic battles over Israel, the new investigation was not surprising.

Last year, the department reopened a case into anti-Jewish bias at Rutgers University that the Obama administration had closed with no finding of wrongdoing. In reconsidering the case, Mr. Marcus said the Education Department would be using a State Department definition of anti-Semitism that, among other things, labels “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” anti-Jewish bigotry, suggesting that it had been adopted by his office. The Education Department has not adopted that definition.

In June, Ms. DeVos said she had ordered an investigation into whether the Duke-U.N.C. consortium had misused any of the $235,000 it received in Title VI grants, including to sponsor an event in March called “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” Representative George Holding, Republican of North Carolina, had requested that Ms. DeVos investigate whether federal funding was used to host the conference, which constituents had said was rife with “radical anti-Israel bias.”

Mr. Holding said the conference featured active members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — known as B.D.S. — and featured panelists who “distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza.” He said a video shown at the conference featured a performer who sang a “brazenly anti-Semitic song.”

But some groups came to the defense of the Middle East studies consortium. Tallie Ben Daniel, the research and education manager at Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal group that advocates Palestinian rights, said the investigation was the latest attempt by the Trump administration “to enforce a neoconservative agenda onto spaces of academic inquiry and exploration.” She called the consortium’s curriculum “rich and diverse.”

To critics like Ms. Daniel, the targeting of the U.N.C.-Duke program appeared to be a continuation of efforts that predated the Trump administration. A group founded by Mr. Marcus, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has pressed Education Department and Congress for years to crack down on Middle East studies programs that the center claimed promoted an anti-Israel bias.

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