NOTE: The policy reported, is true, is particularly dumb-ass, IMHO. Having the student sign a waver absolving the university of liabiity, plus some written material to the parents about possible dangers, should be more than sufficient to protect. If the USA is going to be attacked over our Mid-East policies, surely MORE students studying there, rather than fewer, is what would best help us understand the situation.
U.S. schools pressed to alter policy on studies in Israel
By Amiram Barkat and Daphna Berman
North American Jewish organizations have launched a new campaign aimed at convincing universities in the United States to change their policy on study in Israel.
According to the organizers of the campaign, schools have been imposing unjust limitations on students who express an interest in studying in Israel because of exaggerated fears for the students' personal safety. Jewish students who have studied here say that in addition to administrative constraints, they are also forced to deal with cool responses from their family and friends.
Until the outbreak of the second intifada in October 2000, thousands of American Jewish students participated in short study programs here. Almost all of these programs, which were run in conjunction with American universities, were canceled, however, once violence flared.
Then, after the terror attack on a cafeteria at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, in August 2002, and the adding of Israel to the State Department's list of dangerous areas, most universities decided to go one step further, and imposed restrictions on study here, in an attempt to deter students from coming.
In the 2002-2003 academic year, slightly more than 100 students came here, compared to 4,000 in 2000-2001.
One student who was deterred from coming here is Jennifer Kraus, from Indiana. When she learned that the University of Indiana, where she is a public affairs management major, bars students from participating in study programs in Israel, she decided to come here without telling anyone from the university. In the end, she simply withdrew from the university, thereby forfeiting access to student services like her sorority, her university email account, and, most significantly perhaps, her financial aid package. She spent the Spring semester studying at Hebrew University.
When she returned to the United States, the authorities at her university told her she would have to begin her degree course from scratch. Kraus, currently in Israel as part of a group of visiting Jewish students, says she has no regrets about her decision.
"I knew that it was imperative for me to spend an extended period of time in Israel so that I could promote Israel from my own experience," Kraus says. "I would have liked to stay for a whole year, but I couldn't take the chance because there was no way of ensuring that my credit would transfer."
After some intensive lobbying, and a great deal of luck, the University of Indiana agreed to cancel the punishment and accept Kraus back into the program.
U.S. Jewish groups are convinced that the universities' policy is not motivated by anti-Israel sentiment, but by fear of being sued should something happen to one of their students.
"Universities aren't doing this out of anti-Israel animus," says Wayne Firestone, executive director of the Israel Campus Coalition (ICC), an umbrella organization that represents some 40 Jewish student bodies. "It stems out of concern and a certain amount of misinformation."
Aaron Goldberg, associate director of the ICC, says that each university has formulated its own policy, based on the advice of its attorneys. Some universities have stopped short of imposing a ban, preferring instead to issue a travel warning and refusing to recognize study in Israel as part of a degree course. Other universities have informed students wishing to travel to Israel that they would have to drop out of their course. Some schools even banned organizations that promote travel to Israel, such as birthright, from holding activities on campus.
At the start of the current semester, ICC launched a nationwide campaign to try to persuade the universities to change their policy. According to Goldberg, the decision to begin campaigning was only taken of late because "there is a recognition that the situation that many people thought would continue for a year or two, might continue indefinitely."
The campaign - "Let Our Students Go" - is sponsored by the ICC and enjoys the full financial and structural support of the Jewish community, including, among other organizations, the United Jewish Communities (UJC), AIPAC, Hillel, and the Conference of Presidents.
Those behind the campaign are encouraging groups of Jewish students to actively lobby their respective universities to allow them to travel to Israel, since they believe that "pressure from below" has proved to be a most effective method of bringing about change. At this point, the ICC isn't even pushing for a resumption of the universities' formal programs and is hoping to simply create a possibility whereby students who sign a legal waiver can study here "at their own risk" without having to battle their college bureaucracies and forfeit their student status.
One of the campaign's first successes was at Michigan State, where student activist Jen Bloom got unofficial word that the university had overturned its ban - a report that the university would not confirm.
Sanctions on the part of the universities are only part of the pressures that these students face. Social pressure can be just as taxing, say some who have already been here. Of the estimated 300,000 Jewish students in American universities, the vast majority has no interest in studying in Israel. Many who have been here say that their peers do not understand or accept their desire to study in Israel. Jennifer Kraus' best friend cut off all contact when she learned that Kraus was planning to come to Israel, while the father of another student vehemently objected to her going to study in Be'er Sheva.
"He only agreed when I explained to him that the alternatives were much more dangerous," Kraus says.