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Burgess Owens backs elite university into corner over alleged connections to Hamas: ‘disturbing’

Republican Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah is calling on the president of Northwestern University to sever the school’s ties with the news organization Al Jazeera after repeated reports it has ties to the terrorist organization Hamas, Fox News Digital has learned.

“Al Jazeera has proven to be not only a platform for anti-Israel, pro-terrorist propaganda, but also a haven for Hamas supporters,” Owens said in comments to Fox News Digital.

“It is unacceptable that an American university, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding each year, should partner with an organization that has terrorists among its members and whose reporting incites terror on behalf of Hamas. President Sill testified before Congress that Northwestern is considering a formal affiliation with Al Jazeera. In light of these disturbing reports, I demand immediate answers and action to ensure that this corruption never touches American students.”

Owens, along with Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, Andy Ogles of Tennessee and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, sent a letter to Northwestern University President Michael Schill on Friday seeking an explanation for the university’s ties to Al Jazeera, which receives funding from the government of Qatar. According to Northwestern’s website, the university has a satellite campus in Qatar and has partnered with Al Jazeera to give its students “regular access to leading professionals in the media industry.”

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Utah Republican Rep. Burgess Owens appeared at a hearing with Northwestern University President Michael Schill. (Education Workforce Commission/Youtube)

Earlier this month, reports emerged that a former Al Jazeera contributor had held three Jews hostage in his home before being killed by Israeli forces. The New York Post reported that the journalist was not a formal employee of the outlet, but had signed contracts with it and other media outlets in Gaza.

Citing the journalist, Owens’ letter also demands an explanation for the school’s ties to Qatar-backed media outlets.

“On Saturday, June 8, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted a daring raid against Hamas to rescue Israeli hostages kidnapped in the horrific incident on October 7. During the raid, the IDF discovered that three of the rescued hostages were being held captive in the home of Abdullah al-Jamal in Nuseira. Al-Jamal, who was killed during the rescue, was a journalist who has published articles for Al Jazeera and his information can be found on the Al Jazeera website,” the letter to Shill read.

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Northwestern University President Michael Schill

Northwestern University President Michael H. Sill is pictured here on Jan. 1, 2020, while he was president of the University of Oregon. (Sean M. Hafey/Getty Images)

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time Al Jazeera has had ties to terrorists or terrorist organizations. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Al Jazeera and its reporters had ties to Hamas throughout the Israel-Hamas war. For example, a Palestinian journalist named Mohammed Wisha who worked for Al Jazeera turned out to be the commander of Hamas’ anti-tank missile unit, later worked in Hamas research and development, and posted photos of himself with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on social media,” the letter continues.

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Hamas fighters wearing camouflage and balaclavas and carrying guns

On July 19, 2023, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, Hamas terrorists took part in a military parade marking the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel. (REUTERS/Ibrahim Abu Mustafa/File Photo)

The lawmakers cited other reports linking Al Jazeera to Hamas, including a correspondent accused by the IDF of working as a “deputy platoon commander” for Hamas, and two Al Jazeera journalists accused by Israel of “operating a drone that posed a threat to Israeli soldiers” before being killed in an airstrike.

“The fact that Northwestern University is partnering with Al Jazeera despite evidence that many of its journalists are active members and even leaders of Hamas and spread propaganda for Hamas is deeply disturbing. It is unacceptable for an American university, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding each year, to partner with an organization that has terrorists among its members and whose reporting spreads propaganda for a terrorist organization,” the lawmakers said in their letter to Cyr.

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“This is antithetical to the American way of life and to our education system, which seeks to change people’s minds through persuasion and dialogue, not violence.”

Burgess-Owens Hearings

Rep. Burgess Owens attended a House committee hearing in the Rayburn Building on February 1, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

During a heated House hearing last month, Owens grilled Cyr about the staggering amount of donations the prestigious school reportedly received from Qatar.

“Do you think it’s a good idea for Northwestern to partner with a government that harbors the terrorist Hamas and Iranian agents who fund terrorism? Are you for it or against it?” Owens asked Cyr, sitting in front of a large billboard check depicting a $600 million donation from Qatar to Northwestern.

“I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Mr. Cyr responded.

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“Obviously you don’t have a problem with that,” Owens said. “The Northwestern University journalism school…” Owens continued, but was cut off by Sill.

“I’m really upset that you dictated my opinion,” Mr. Sill interjected.

Anti-Israel sign at Northwestern University campground

Students and residents camped outside Northwestern University during an anti-Israel protest in Evanston, Illinois, on April 27. (Jacek Bocharski/Anadolu via Getty Images)

“Did you know that Northwestern University’s School of Journalism has a formal partnership with Al Jazeera?” Owens is The university president responded that he only found out about the partnership recently.

“Actually, I found out about it last week,” he replied.

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“So, I’ll let you know. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has asked the Qatari Prime Minister to refrain from Al Jazeera’s anti-Israel incitement because of its pro-Hamas reporting. And because Al Jazeera is a pro-Hamas mouthpiece, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt block Al Jazeera. As I understand it, you have a contract with the Qatar Foundation that expires at the end of the 2027-2028 fiscal year. Now that you know about Qatar, are you going to renew that contract?” he asked.

At a hearing held by the House Education and Labor Committee, Shill, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testified about their response to anti-Semitism on campuses last year, following widespread protests, tent cities and schools calling for them to divest from Israel.

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Northwestern University President Michael Schill, Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway, and UCLA President Gene Block. (University of Oregon/Rutgers/Getty)

“We have concerns about the agreement” with Al Jazeera, Mr. Cyr told the committee at the hearing, adding that “we will look into it.”

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The letter, sent on Friday, demanded an update by July 19 on Sill’s investigation into his ties to Al Jazeera, and called on the rector to “take immediate action” to end Qatar University’s affiliation with Al Jazeera.

Weber Arch on the Northwestern University campus

Northwestern University’s Weber Arch in Evanston, Illinois, November 13, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“Congressman Cyr, at a congressional hearing on May 23, you expressed concerns about Northwestern University’s affiliation with Al Jazeera in Qatar. You committed at that hearing to investigating that affiliation. In light of these reports, we urge Northwestern University to take immediate action to end Northwestern University’s existing affiliation with Al Jazeera in Qatar. We ask that you respond to this letter by noon ET on Friday, July 19,” the lawmakers wrote.

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Fox News Digital reached out to Northwestern University on Monday afternoon but did not immediately receive a response.