When al Qaeda and Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised America’s pro-Hamas students, they were applauding something larger than collegiate intramural hate teams. They were relishing the results of a multibillion-dollar scheme that began before Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel — one that will likely continue long after the last campus encampment is cleared.

The Iranian regime and al Qaeda are both well aware of something they would prefer Americans ignore: anti-Israel countries have pumped billions of dollars into elite U.S. colleges. Money buys influence, and that influence poisons campus culture.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait spent a combined $10.3 billion on American higher education between 1986 and 2020, according to transparency nonprofit organization Open the Books. More than $5 billion of that money came from Qatar, the nation that harbors Hamas leaders. Harvard and Brown, among others, claim to have received money from sources in the “State of Palestine,” which the U.S. does not, and has never, officially recognized.

And yet college leaders who eagerly blamed “outside agitators” for unrest at the encampments said nothing about the influential outsiders who remain thousands of miles away. These funders are effectively invisible, and colleges like it that way.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is making it even easier for colleges with foreign donors to escape the scrutiny they deserve. 

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires colleges to report to the Department of Education any transactions of more than $250,000 that come from the same foreign source within one calendar year. The department then makes these reports public, allowing students, parents, and taxpayers to see where colleges are getting their money. 

In reality, colleges have often neglected their reporting responsibilities. Between June 2019 and October 2020, then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos opened investigations into 21 universities for potential underreporting of their foreign gifts and contracts. These investigations triggered the disclosure of $6.5 billion of previously unreported foreign funds.

The current administration has shown little to no interest in continuing to enforce the law. Biden recently moved enforcement responsibility from the department’s Office of the General Counsel to the Office of Federal Student Aid.

This lack of transparency and accountability shields conflicts of interest. Nearly every college is supported by taxpayer dollars, and yet they all have a financial incentive to keep their donors happy. And when those donors are antisemites, Jewish students suffer. The Network Contagion Research Institute found that, “From 2015-2020, institutions that accepted funding from Middle Eastern donors had, on average, 300% more antisemitic incidents than those institutions that did not.”

At best, foreign money in higher education can foster mutually beneficial academic exchange with America’s allies. At worst, it fosters ignorance and hate on campus that benefits our enemies.  

Reversing the decay of campus culture will require the aggressive enforcement of existing law. Right now, colleges face few, if any, consequences for hiding their foreign financial ties. An administration that truly cared about civil rights, tolerance, and academic freedom would investigate schools that fail to disclose funds received from foreign sources, particularly hostile governments and their proxies. 

To that end, the DETERRENT Act, passed by the House of Representatives, would allow the Department of Education to cut off Title IV funding to colleges that fail to fulfill their reporting requirements.

Too many institutions of higher education have sold to the highest bidder. College leaders should not be surprised when the antisemitic sentiment favored by their foreign donors and incubated in classrooms ends up spilling out onto the quad, with help from pro-Hamas groups that correctly identified the college campus as an easy mark for unrest. 

Campus antisemitism has grown on American soil, but it was watered by a steady stream of funding from foreign countries and interests that are no friends of Israel or the U.S.