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Rutgers closes Israel study program

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rutgers University disbanded its study abroad program in Israel due to the Gaza conflict.

The nine students who were affected by the New Jersey university’s change of heart received letters alerting them to the decision.

“The instability in the Gaza area, now compounded by the missiles coming into northern Israel from Lebanon, indicate that the safety of our students cannot be reasonably assured,” wrote Dr. Barry Qualls, the university’s vice president of undergraduate education. “We have thus decided to close our programs in Israel for Spring 2009.”

Andrew Getraer, executive director of the Rutgers Hillel, said the school may have come to a different decision if it had “a more in-depth understanding” of the region. He also worried that because Rutgers has one of the largest Jewish populations of any university in the country, the move could set a precedent.

Rutgers was “if not the first, one of the first universities in the country to suspend the program this spring, and it sets an example that we fear other universities will follow,” Getraer said. If “the world disengages from Israel based on fear, it’s a loss for Israel and it’s a loss for us as well.”

Some of the affected students are continuing with their study plans despite Rutgers’ unease. Joshua Barer, a third-year Jewish studies major enrolled at the University of Haifa, was dismissive about the security risks his school perceives.

“If I was concerned about safety I would have picked Switzerland or something,” Barer said.

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