Open letter to Rutgers’ President McCormick

Dear President McCormick:

The cancellation of the study abroad program with Israel resembles a cultural boycott, similar to the academic boycott of Israel that you rightly opposed in July 2007.

You wrote in an op-ed column that, “any intrusion on the free flow of information and academic exchange to serve a political agenda is a violation of the principles we hold as institutions of higher learning.” I could not agree more.

The State Department issued one of their travel warnings about Israel this month that may have precipitated the decision to cancel the program. However, serious danger to Americans is forewarned in other countries where Rutgers maintains programs, such as Morocco and Ghana, and yet that those programs continue.

According to State.gov, “The potential for terrorist violence against American interests and citizens remains high in Morocco.”

Violence against women in Ghana is a massive problem according to human rights groups, and yet there is no prohibition for female students from Rutgers studying there.

Terror attacks by separatist and Islamic terror groups occur in major European cities where you maintain programs. The EU reports that 500 such attacks took place in 2006 alone. Still the programs continue.

In other words, there is neither consistency nor logic in the attempt to protect the welfare of Rutgers students.

Studying in Israel is no more dangerous that studying at Rutgers, Morocco, Ghana or in Europe. It’s probably safer.

The recent war in Gaza did not affect daily life for students at major Israeli universities, except for Ben Gurion University in Beersheba. Yet, Rutgers has canceled all programs to Israel out of “security concerns.”

It seems more likely that staff at Rutgers are angry with Israel for the war on Hamas, and want to pursue a boycott of Israel, under the guise of protecting their students.

Or perhaps the Rutgers staff was influenced by the perception of Israel as portrayed on the nightly news during the conflict with Hamas.

This would be ironic given that the Rutgers Study Abroad website tells students not judge the safety of a country by watching CNN, using the example of the perception of the U.S. abroad, “We have been told by many people abroad that the U.S. seems like a very violent country. How our perceptions of other places are shaped by the media is worthy of reflection.”

Please rescind the cancellation. Students must be allowed to study in Israel on the Study Abroad program and be informed of the risks as with any study abroad program.

Don’t let Rutgers become hijacked by the anti-Israel craze sweeping academia that you so boldly opposed two years ago.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Campus Rabbi, Long Beach Hillel
Associate Rabbi, UC Irvine Interfaith Center
Director, Jewlicious Festivals

Feel free to voice your own concerns in a civil manner to President McCormickTelephone: 732-932-7454 • Fax: 732-932-8060.

11 Comments

  1. Jillian C. York

    1/25/2009 at 1:33 am

    And yet despite what state.gov says, Israel is statistically much less safe than Morocco. State.gov’s warnings against Morocco are inflammatory, and based mostly on one incident in 2003. Americans are perfectly safe there.

  2. themiddle

    1/25/2009 at 2:35 am

    And what are the stats on American visitors getting hurt in Israel? I believe Israel hosts 2-3 million tourists a year. How many of those are hurt in any way?

  3. xisnotx

    1/25/2009 at 4:52 am

    I’m skeptical that this could be some kind of stealth academic boycott as Yonah intimates.

  4. Barry

    1/25/2009 at 8:36 am

    It amounts to the same thing as a boycott, even if that isn’t the intention. To me it doesn’t seem like something malicious, just a horribly misguided overreaction. But it’s a poor decision by Rutgers nonetheless.

  5. Modern Girl

    1/25/2009 at 10:20 am

    Did anyone see the stats about how many Canadians and Americans get injured and killed in Mexico recently? It’s pretty high. Yet university students go partying in Cancun every year…

    But to play devil’s advocate, there is military action going on near Israel’s borders. The school is likely concerned that the military activity could expand and spread throughout Israel.

    My personal feelings are to avoid areas which are currently experiencing military activity, so if I was a student at that school, I would have personally backed out of the trip anyway.

  6. Grand Muffti

    1/25/2009 at 12:03 pm

    Muffti protests on behalf of his graduate school. Muffti can tell you that this letter is sheer paranoia with next to no evidence to back it up.

  7. Rabbi Yonah

    1/26/2009 at 11:07 am

    Paranoia? With Academic boycott movements around the world, and the level of anti-Israel rhetoric on college campuses I fight the categorization of my letter being paranoid.

    The School selected Israel out of many other places.

    Perhaps your college is a bastion of fairness on the Israel-Palestinian issue and you have been protected from the anti-Israel fervor that reverberates around the rest of the system?

  8. Tom Morrissey

    1/26/2009 at 12:41 pm

    Rutgers isn’t singling out Israel. It’s also advised students to avoid travel to Newark.

  9. xisnotx

    1/26/2009 at 12:54 pm

    while we are on the subject:

    Israel Boycott Movement Comes to U.S.
    insidehighered...

  10. xisnotx

    1/26/2009 at 12:59 pm

    Yonah:

    “The School selected Israel out of many other places.”

    all they had to do was turn on CNN, see explosions & get freaked out.

    Have you written to Rutgers and asked them what the deal is? Are you in touch with the Hillel there?

  11. Chutzpah

    1/28/2009 at 7:06 am

    While I don’t think the Universities should cancel their Israel study-abroad programs, unless they are not profitable, I hope my daughter will not chose one. I’m sorry, I was in Jerusalem in 1990-91 when they were telling us to go home and having us pick up gas masks for the remainder of our trips and I don’t want to pay money for my daughter to go through that.

    A failure of the Universities to provide proper information on the current security threats in Israel would put them on the same VERY LOW LEVEL of responsibility as the Yeshiva High School Administrations where it’s business as usual with the “Hashem will protect” and “NYC and Newark are just as dangerous ” rhetoric. These Administrations brainwash their students into thinking it is their holy duty to travel to Israel to keep it safe with the Superpowers of their innocent prayers. The peer pressure to go is tremendous. Students who choose not to go are labeled “NOT SO FRUM”, the worst label a Yeshiva student who wants to find the right shidduch can be branded with. Parents who discourage the year in Israel are seen as “chickens”, or worse: “ye of little faith”.

    Parents who have lost children in Israel would gladly wear those labels to have their children back or have the had the opportunity to stop them from getting on that plane for the last time.

    Push comes to shove, it is not “just as dangerous” on campus in the U.S. The worst a co-ed gets into here is a classmate’s pants, not a scud attack.

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