University student can't study in Israel

Drew U's policy doesn't let students go to countries with travel warnings.

jeremy dery 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy dery 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jeremy Dery is every Jewish educator's dream. He is the president of Hillel on his university campus, his concentration is in Judaic and Middle Eastern Studies, and after visiting Israel on a birthright israel program last summer, Dery applied to spend the coming spring semester at Tel Aviv University. It wasn't until Dery applied to study abroad through Drew University in New Jersey, where he is a second year student, that problems emerged. Dery was surprised to learn that Drew had rejected his application. He was told that in October the university cancelled a program that allows students to study in Israel due to safety concerns. The university claims its policy does not allow students to travel to countries that have State Department travel warnings, which currently include Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Though Dery's family was willing to sign a waiver of liability which agreed not to hold the school responsible for his safety in Israel, the university said it would not suffice. Additionally, Drew would not allow any of Dery's financial aid package to be used to finance a semester abroad in Tel Aviv, and stated further that if Dery chose to go to TAU as an "individual," taking a semester's leave, it would not accept any credits earned in Israel. "I feel this is a grave injustice," said Dery. "Israel is no more dangerous than any other major city in the world and recently has benefited from a long period of peace within its borders." In response to complaints filed by Dery, the university agreed to establish a committee that will meet at the end of the month to discuss its Israel abroad policy. "The president (of Drew) thought Dery raised some good points, and we will take a look at the policy to see if there is a way in which we might be able to offer flexibility to students while continuing to ensure their safety," said David Muha, Chief Communications Officer at Drew. "We're really just concerned about the safety of students, but we are looking at ways we can introduce flexibility, and whether there are other sources of info we can consult." By accepting credits from TAU, Drew would be seen as endorsing Dery's decision to attend the university, said Muha. Following the first and second intifada, Drew's policy would not have been unique. At the time, many universities across the country closed their study abroad programs to Israel due to safety concerns. But since then the situation has shifted. Today universities vary widely in terms of their policies, said David Harris, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, which has been targeting this issue for the last four years. Some have programs that are ongoing and expanding, others have insurance waivers students need to sign, while some have a design-your-own program where students take a gamble on whether their credits will be recognized. "There is no simple answer; it's not an easily observable trend," said Harris. "But we have our work cut out for us." A survey conducted by the ICC in 2006, following the Second Lebanon War, revealed that almost half of the 130 surveyed schools did not change their Israel abroad policies, one in three increased barriers to study in Israel, and one out of five reduced barriers to study in Israel. Overall, the study showed that 41 percent of surveyed schools still had "significant barriers." In a a conversation with The Jerusalem Post, Shimon Lipsky, vice provost of the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, raised the case of Drew University before any mention of the subject of this article. "Drew University has been giving us some problems (but) that's the only example I can think of in the past half a year," Lipsky said. "We're trying to use our connections behind the scenes." In general, Lipsky said the trend of sending students to Israel was on the upswing. "The trend is that the universities are withdrawing their ban, including the big systems," said Lipsky. "The only one which hasn't yet returned is the California system. They used to send 50 a year, so it's a big hit for us." There were more cases during the height of the second intifada where obstacles were put up by universities, but "those who fought it succeeded," said Lipsky. "I heard of one case where our credits weren't accepted by the home university, but that's rare," he said. Most students can get around the legal issues by signing creative releases or withdrawing for the year or a variety of options that have been developed over the years, he told the Post. "If we have a connection to the university's board, we'll try and use it." Meanwhile, Dery and his family are doing everything they can to ensure he will be able to attend TAU next semester. "This is a very unfortunate situation at Drew and I am completely dismayed by the lack of sensitivity the school administration is showing in my son's regard as well as to the larger principle at hand regarding studying in Israel," said his mother Ann Dery in a letter to the media. "I am an exasperated Jewish parent who is very upset, not only by the treatment my son has experienced while patiently waiting out this decision process, but by the current state of affairs at such a renowned university."