In spite of the State Dept.’s continuing travel warnings, students and a state senator have increased their efforts to end the University of California Education Abroad Program’s five-year freeze on studies in Israel.
The EAP study abroad program in the Middle Eastern country has remained “on hold” since the State Dept. posted a “Travel Warning” on its Web site, www.travel.state.gov, in Sept. 2002 advising American visitors to take caution and heed the continuing threats to U.S. interests when in Israel. The most recent Travel Warning cites suicide bombings in 2006 and 2007, rockets from the Gaza Strip and intelligence that terrorists may see American interests as targets.
However, California State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) proposed a Senate Resolution on Jan. 17 that states that the UC should revise its study abroad policies and lift the suspension of EAP programs in Israel. The resolution also states that EAP should reinstate travel to the Philippines, which has remained “on hold” since Spring 2005, and investigate adding new locations for study, including Kenya and Nepal, which both have State Dept. Travel Warnings.
Additionally, a movement to reinstate the Israel program has gained momentum across the UC system. According to the resolution, SR-18, the Associated Students of UC San Diego and UC Berkeley each passed resolutions to restart the program in the Middle Eastern nation, and an online petition started by UCSB students has garnered over 700 signatures.
The resolution will go before a public hearing at the end of the month, according to Migden.
However, UC EAP Director of Communications Bruce Hanna said the program follows State Dept. security warnings, which differentiate between severe and less dangerous advisories.
“It is important to understand that the level of severity, as noted by the State Dept., becomes operative when the exact phrase ‘Travel Warning’ is used,” Hanna said. “In this case, terminology is very important.”
If only a “Travel Advisory” is in effect, Hanna said, then EAP continues to allow students to study abroad in the country, but once it becomes a “Travel Warning,” the UC takes further action and puts the country’s program on hold.
Currently, the EAP Web site provides information for students who wish to study abroad in the countries where programs are on hold, but states that it “is not recommending, approving or endorsing travel or study to Israel or the Philippines.” Students who choose to study in these countries must consult with campus officials regarding issues of transfer credits, financial aid and taking a leave of absence.
Despite the State Dept. and EAP’s warnings, some UCSB students have gone to great lengths to study in Israel. Fourth-year Middle East studies major Danny Fleischer said his time in Israel was rewarding.
“I had to apply through another program to study there my freshman year,” Fleischer said. “It would have been a lot easier if I could have gone through EAP, but it was still well worth it. It was definitely an amazing experience, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
American Students for Israel UCSB chapter President Eli Levine said the situation in Israel is much different now than it was in 2002, and that the country’s current circumstances should influence the study abroad options available to students.
“Suicide bombings were a legitimate concern in daily life back in 2002,” Levine said. “People should still be cautious, but it is nowhere near the same threat that it used to be. If I were in Israel right now, I can’t say I’d be worried for my safety.”
However, the State Dept. Web site states that U.S. citizens should “remain vigilant while traveling throughout Jerusalem,” and also warns against participating in large gatherings in Tel Aviv, due to the potential threat of violence to Americans in Israel.
According to Levine, a third-year political science major, four students from UCSB are currently taking a leave of absence to study in Israel though other programs.
“Where the large universities are located – in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa – daily life has basically returned to normal,” Levine said.