In April 2002, the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) in Israel was suspended because of a State Dept. travel warning. Many students were forced to return home and do independent study work (since it was in the middle of the quarter). Some decided to stay regardless, with the possibility that they might not even receive credits. Students who decided to stay in Israel were forced to withdraw from the UC, apply to a university in Israel, and reapply to the UC after the semester ended. Does this make any sense? No, for many reasons.
EAP programs have been shut down before – in China following the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, in the Middle East during the Gulf War in 1991 and in Indonesia after riots in 1999. But these are all extraordinary circumstances, incomparable to the busy but normal life that exists in Israel.
If the threat of terrorism is sufficient to terminate a study abroad program, then why does EAP still operate in Egypt, France, India, Philippines, Russia, Spain and Turkey – countries that have all suffered terrorist violence in recent years? If security is the problem, we should remember that students readily travel to Brazil and South Africa – countries with some of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping, rape and murder.
The State Dept.’s travel warning is itself misguided. It lumps Israel together in a bizarre way with the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, this is ridiculous; they are far different places. Statistically, you have a greater chance of being killed in a car accident than in a terrorist attack in Israel – a fact to which the peopled streets and guarded cafes of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv attest. No, being in Israel is safe – the same, however, is not true for the West Bank and Gaza, especially for Americans.
Cancelled study abroad programs to Israel have been reinstated at other schools. Last year, the University of Pennsylvania decided that the benefits of studying in Israel, combined with a commendable determination to deny terrorism the right to limit educational opportunities, overrode the State Dept.’s travel warning. If students want to study in Israel, it should be up to the student, but with the requirement that they sign a release with the UC. EAP students in India are told that Kashmir is a “no-go zone,” and the same can be true for the West Bank and Gaza.
The reasons for prohibiting students from studying in Israel are wrong and groundless. That terrorism already possesses such frightful influence in our world is bad enough. But allowing terrorism to shut down a world-class, multimillion-dollar international exchange program – an exchange of cultures and students that is perhaps the closest example of what peaceful coexistence looks like – is the wrong response. This, after all, is why terrorism is so effective: It makes us afraid of doing the things we want to do.
Adam Tartakovsky is a junior political science and environmental studies major.