The boycotts attempt against Israel by the American Studies Association is just the latest obstacle faced by Pro-Israel activists on college campuses in the states. There is always the issues of Apartheid week, Anti-Israeli professors educating false propaganda against Israel, and the rallies on campuses against Israel, which most Pro-Israel organizations and students have to deal with in regards to obstacles faced at various universities. I would like to share my personal story to inspire hope and optimism for every college student who feels outnumbered or hopeless in the face of growing challenges against Israel and pro Israel activists. Remember, anyone and everyone can make a difference. It takes only one brave soul to fight back and show people the truth about Israel through words and actions.
My personal struggle for Israel came about during my second year at Drew University located in New Jersey, where I majored in political science with a minor in Jewish studies. After a Taglit Birthright trip in 2006 which was my first visit to Israel, I decided to spend a spring semester at Tel Aviv University.
Drew rejected my application due to the requirements of its insurance carrier that ruled that Tel Aviv would not be a safe place for me to study, and even clarified that if I went without Drew’s support, I would not receive any credits for my study in Israel. Also, there was a fear that since Drew University belongs to the Methodist Church movement; their anti-Israel stance was based on unethical standards since the Methodist movement is known for divesting from Israel.
Administration officials said so long as Israel remains on the State Department’s list of “travel warnings,” it could not approve study abroad programs there. According to the State Department Web site, travel warnings are issued when the State Department recommends “that Americans avoid a certain country.”
My mother helped me a lot during my struggle. She works as a travel manager at Teva Pharmaceutical. She checked an on-line advisory service which provides multinational organizations with travel risk assessments. She said that on the Web site’s scale of one to five, Israel shared a “three” rating with New York, Paris, and London, while Iraq and Afghanistan are rated a five as the most risky.
In addition, I was willing to sign “any waiver form” the university requires to resolve the insurance issue. University officials answered that there was no guarantee that such a form would hold up in court.
Therefore, I fought back, enlisting the support of the media and leaders in the MetroWest Jewish community, the Israeli consulate, Jewish leaders like rabbis, journalists, anti-defamation league, and pro-Israel groups, including the governor of New Jersey. In the end, I eventually won to the extent that the whole university’s policy was changed. Administrators were persuaded to liberalize Drew’s travel policies and give me the credit for my study in Israel.
In the end, I was able to spend not one but two semesters in Tel Aviv.
After returning from my studies in Israel, I decided to turn a challenge for Israel into an opportunity to help students understand what it means to be in Israel. I organized a program called “Operation Magic Carpet,” an intercollegiate effort to promote study, travel, and internships in Israel. The event was held at Drew University. There were representatives from 20 Jewish organizations attending and offered information about their study and travel programs, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Birthright Israel, and all of the major universities in Israel, and El Al airlines. The evening included Israeli food, music, dancing, and comedy show sponsored by Taglit. In the end, around 300 students attended the event and were more than willing to come and visit this beautiful country.
Never give up hope fighting for Israel on college campuses no matter how hard or challenging the struggle can be. All of you can make a difference and help to educate your fellow college students in a positive way for Israel. There will always be new challenges and obstacles but when there is a will, there is a way.