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Five weeks after Rutgers University suspended the New Brunswick campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on Dec. 11 for violating several university policies, the school reversed its decision and reinstated the pro-Hamas group. In celebration, SJP members filmed a video in the classic Palestinian terrorist style: faces covered in kaffiyehs, reading a communique which, following a diatribe against the Zionists, made a list of demands that the school must meet if it wished to wipe the stain of its complicity in genocide.
Since October, American cities and college campuses have been transformed into stages for this kind of Middle Eastern performance theater in support of Hamas and its murder, torture, and rape of Jews. Performances have ranged from vicarious partaking in the Oct. 7 pogrom, like the tearing down of posters of kidnapped Israelis, to calls for “globalizing” Palestinian terrorism “from New York to Gaza,” to outright expressions of support for Hamas and the extermination of Jews “from the river to the sea”—“by any means necessary,” lest there be any confusion. “There is nothing, nothing more honorable than dying for a noble cause, for justice,” a high-profile organizer of a rally at Columbia shouted into a bullhorn in a thick Arabic accent.
There’s also no confusion about the fact that these rallies feature Arab and Muslim students who eagerly support terrorism—often by denying that Hamas or its actions of Oct. 7 constitute “terrorism” at all. Equally evident is that many of the students leading, organizing, and participating in these protests and expressions of antisemitism and support for Hamas on college campuses are not Americans—meaning that they are not American citizens or even green card holders. Rather, they are foreign passport holders, including from Arab and Muslim countries, who have decided to avail themselves of U.S. educational infrastructure while importing the passions and prejudices of their home countries to American campuses.
Indeed, the universities have acknowledged the obvious fact that many of the campus protest leaders are foreign students, here on limited educational visas, in the manner with which they have chosen to handle the Gaza protests. Early on, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cautioned students who occupied lecture halls, prevented other students from going to class, and otherwise violated school policies and guidelines, that they could face suspension for their behavior. But it quickly became clear there would be no serious consequences for noncompliance. When the students pressed on, MIT only suspended a handful of them “from non-academic campus activities.” The explanation MIT President Sally Kornbluth gave for her decision was unambiguous: “serious concerns about collateral consequences for the students, such as visa issues.”
Plainly put, what Kornbluth said is that foreign students have been violating school policy, but academic suspension or expulsion would terminate their ability to remain in the country. MIT therefore refrained from disciplining these students in order to keep them enrolled.
Kornbluth’s concerns were well-founded. There are laws on the books that apply to foreign students and other nonresident aliens in the United States who support terrorist organizations like Hamas. Since October, leading Republican lawmakers have reminded everyone of the existence of these laws. Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., led 17 other Republican House representatives in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “to request information regarding the potentially unlawful presence on U.S. soil of non-immigrant foreign nationals who have endorsed terrorist activity.” The letter explained the relevant law:
Student visa applicants, like all non-immigrant visa applicants, must qualify under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to be approved for a visa. They are subject to a wide range of ineligibilities in Section 212(a) of the INA.
Section 212(a)(3)(B)(i)(VII) of the INA states that, “any alien - who endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or support a terrorist organization … is inadmissible.”
If a visa “was issued before DHS uncovers evidence of a visa-holder’s ineligibility under INA s.212(a)(3)B),” the legislators added, “the individual in question should immediately have their visa revoked and face expedited deportation proceedings.”
You could argue there are ideological reasons for the schools not to take action against foreign students. “Palestine,” after all, has found its place at the heart of progressive “intersectionality.” But there’s also a strong material incentive for the universities’ failure to obey the law.
The average share of international students in Ivy League schools who enrolled in the fall of 2023 is about 15%. The overall international share is higher. A quarter of Harvard’s student body is now international. At MIT, it’s nearly a third.
The scheme by which U.S. taxpayers pay to give 25% or more of the places at America’s most prestigious universities to foreign students is a recent innovation—one that took shape between 2004 and 2014, and has helped make the universities’ DEI rhetoric cost-free. The international share of freshmen at Georgetown nearly quadrupled from 3% in 2004 to 11% a decade later, with similar numbers at Berkeley and Yale. The growth in undergraduate enrollment at Yale during that decade was fueled almost entirely by foreigners. In that same period, the number of incoming foreign students at Ivy League schools rose by 46%.
Behind this increase lies the simple reality that only a comparatively small number of Americans can afford the mind-numbingly high fees that American universities extort from their captive domestic market. Foreign students, the overwhelming majority of whom are either the children of wealthy foreign elites or directly sponsored by their governments, represent a serious source of funding for American colleges, public and private alike. These students often pay full or near-full tuition and board, and help public universities balance the books in the face of budget cuts. More broadly, they augment revenue by helping to fill federally funded programs that are based on racial and ethnic quotas.
Depending on how you look at it, American universities have made either an exceedingly clever or else exceedingly reprehensible bargain: Quota-filling at a profit. While this practice is generally covered with asinine bureaucratic language such as “promoting diversity” and “fostering a cosmopolitan culture” for a “global community,” it is in fact a racket by which universities take slots presumably intended for members of groups that are held to be economically and culturally deprived—and on which the universities would be obligated to take a loss—and instead sell them at a profit to the families of some of the more privileged people on Earth, while also continuing to sell identity-politics platitudes as institutional ideology.
It seems obvious enough that foreign students who can afford the cost of full tuition and board without financial aid often come from the elite segment of their societies, which in authoritarian countries often translates into overlap with the ruling regimes. When it comes to the Middle East especially—though hardly exclusively—this privileged class is both outwardly “Westernized” and soaked in the antisemitism prevalent in their home societies.
What should universities do in response? Well, one move might be to hold seminars for incoming foreign students explaining that the group hatreds and conspiracy theories that fuel political discourse in their home countries are in fact poisonous—and according to U.S. law could easily get them expelled. Or, universities can pretend that these views are normal—and encourage home-grown professors to serve as faculty advisers and active sympathizers—so as not to disturb their cash cow.
And it’s not just tuition money that schools are milking. Foreign governments also write big checks to ensure that their students—and their politics—are given red-carpet treatment at big-name universities. According to the National Association of Scholars, since 2001 Qatar has given around $5 billion to American universities, more than any other foreign government. Between 2014 and 2019, American colleges and universities received $2.7 billion in Qatari funding without any public acknowledgment of the source of those funds. Given that Qatar hosts the leadership of Hamas, one can see how cracking down on Hamas-sympathizing students might seem like a bad idea for university presidents who cash Qatari checks.
The political and financial incentives for the universities, therefore, are straightforward. But here’s the thing: It’s not just the students who are breaking the law. The schools are actively doing so, too. Universities did not simply refrain from expelling foreign students who violated the terms of their visas by espousing and endorsing terrorist activity. They took extra steps to protect foreign students from the legal repercussions of their actions, which in some cases would appear to make the universities themselves accessories to the crime of facilitating terror-supporting activity.
In November of last year, for example, the presidents of Columbia University and Barnard College announced the establishment of the “Doxing Resource Group” in response to “Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students,” who participated in the rallies cheering terrorism and the murder of Jews, having their names and photos publicized “by third parties.” This was doxing, according to the presidents: “a dangerous form of intimidation” that is “unacceptable.” For this initiative, Columbia and Barnard “have retained experts in the field of digital threat investigation and privacy scrubbing to support our impacted community members.”
That is, the schools hired people—who will work with the Offices of General Counsel, the Offices of the Provost, and Barnard College Information Technology—to erase whatever damning footprint their foreign students may have left online, which could be used as grounds for visa revocation and deportation. It should be noted that foreign students are not merely exercising their rights to free speech, whether determined by the First Amendment or university administrators: Foreign students are not U.S. citizens, and their entry and presence in this country are strictly conditional. Once these conditions are violated, the violators have no right to stay or exercise rights that belong to citizens.
The schools, in other words, know the law. They know that what their international students did violates the terms of their legal status in the U.S. and is therefore subject to legal sanction. Nevertheless, they took steps toward being actively complicit in their students’ illegal conduct.
But what the schools also know is that they have political cover from the Biden administration to violate the country’s visa and terrorism laws. On Nov. 1, three weeks after the Oct. 7 pogrom and the eruption of antisemitic, pro-Hamas street action in U.S. cities, the White House unveiled “the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia in the United States.” The initiative, with its inversion of reality, gave a green light to pro-Hamas protesters while telegraphing to the university administrators that the former were members of a protected class—rather than a danger to public safety.
University administrators were hardly the only ones to get the message. In Massachusetts, for example, the top-down imperative to protect student demonstrators from the legal consequences of supporting terrorist groups led to a wholesale change in police functioning that under any other circumstances would be excoriated by the left as evidence of incipient fascism.
“Under Massachusetts law,” the University of Massachusetts Amherst explained in a statement, “daily police logs, including the names and addresses of arrestees, must be made public ‘without charge to the public during regular business hours and at all other reasonable times.’ For several years, the University of Massachusetts Police Department (UMPD) has posted these logs online to ensure compliance with state law. Beginning in December 2023, UMPD police logs will no longer be available on the UMPD website. UMPD logs will, however, remain available to the public at no charge at the UMPD lobby at 585 East Pleasant Street in Amherst.”
The real victims, you see, are the brave students chanting genocidal slogans in public; the villains are the people who attempt to “dox” them by posting footage of their noxious statements and behavior online.
Instead of this kind of dangerous moral inversion, universities and the state and federal authorities that govern their behavior would be better served by obeying the law. Deporting foreign students who support and aid terror groups that kill Americans and hold them hostage seems like a first step toward sanity at American universities whose desire to have their sectarian DEI cake and get even fatter by eating it has led them into a moral abyss.
Tony Badran is Tablet’s news editor and Levant analyst.