OPRA Bill and Rutgers-Tel Aviv University Ties

Read Rutgers-TAU MoU at FightBackBetter

OPRA is dead. On June 5th, 2024, Gov. Murphy signed the now-infamous OPRA revisions into New Jersey state law. Quick to condemn the decision were rights groups such as the NJ ACLU and Rutgers AAUP-AFT, as well as the Green Party of NJ– and rightfully so. Not only are these revisions of OPRA historically unpopular, with one poll finding that 81% of New Jerseyans opposed them. They are also a severe attack on an already degrading form of democracy in New Jersey: government transparency. 

But, in all the commotion over these new revisions, which will limit or block access to otherwise valid open public records in several key ways, there has been a lack of media coverage regarding the specific (and important) records requests that may now be impossible for the public to view. 

I filed an OPRA request with Rutgers University on May 12th, 2024. It was received by Rutgers on May 16th, 2024:

These records are extremely pertinent. At the same time as the request was filed, the solidarity encampment at Rutgers-Newark was well underway. Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza is continuing to unfold. This request was expected to be denied, but not in the way one may have anticipated. 

Indeed, an unusually long delay to release just one responsive record appeared to center around the New Jersey primaries and Gov. Murphy’s signing of the OPRA revisions. The record was delayed until June 3rd, 2024 due to “staffing issues.” New Jersey’s primaries were to be held on June 4th, so when June 3rd came and went with no records yet released and no response from Rutgers, I followed up with the request. 

The record was finally released on June 5th, just hours before Gov. Murphy’s signature: 

Rutgers-TAU MoU

Importantly, this was the only record deemed by Rutgers to be responsive to the request. And the OPRA-gutting bill that Gov. Murphy signed makes it nearly impossible to obtain the records that were included in the initial request: communications between Rutgers and TAU officials. Considering Rutgers Pres. Holloway’s decision to invite the FBI to investigate Rutgers student protestors, it seems entirely implausible that communication between the two universities did not occur between January and May of 2024. 

The investigations of an exclusive article published in The Guardian on June 24th revealed Israel’s power over colleges campuses in America. We now know that an Israeli Knesset hearing proclaimed that its campus Hillel chapters report directly to the Israeli government. The Knesset hearing also indicated that Israeli emissaries have been actively engaged with conversations with nearly all US universities. This directly contradicts the response to my OPRA request. The Rutgers Director of Ethics and Public records stated, “We are not aware of any transcripts of official communications between Rutgers University and Tel Aviv University in 2024, therefore that portion of your request is denied as no responsive records exist.”

However, the MoU provided does reveal one critical detail regarding Rutgers University’s program with TAU. The grant program described, which provides $30,000 for collaborative projects between Rutgers and Tel Aviv, was open to, “All full-time faculty in all schools and disciplines.” This necessarily includes the Rutgers IC CAE program, or the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Success. 

So, we must continue to put pressure on the State University of New Jersey to disclose its contracts with Tel Aviv. Many questions are left unanswered. Which projects were awarded the $30,000 grants? What disciplines were involved between both schools? Was the Tel Aviv-affiliated INSS (Institute for National Security Studies) involved with this program? And, most importantly, to what extent has Rutgers facilitated Israel’s genocide against Palestine?

These questions must be answered. Gov. Murphy and Rutgers Pres. Holloway may very well be engaging in a bombshell cover-up.