Israel Security Still Concern For U.S. Universities
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Israel Security Still Concern For U.S. Universities

Even as cease-fire takes hold, colleges continue to suspend fall study-abroad programs.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

At the height of the Gaza conflict this summer, several U.S. colleges evacuated students from the region, citing safety concerns and the Federal Aviation Administration’s temporary suspension of U.S. flights to Israel. Now, as the academic year kicks off, many university study abroad programs remain suspended, despite the open-ended cease-fire agreement that took hold last week.

“We have to remain vigilant in terms of security concerns, even as we look optimistically towards the future,” said New York University spokesman Philip Lentz. NYU has suspended its fall study abroad program in Tel Aviv due to “withstanding security concerns,” said Lentz.

To be sure, the situation in Israel has not caused all American universities to suspend programming. Last week, Cleveland State University and the University of Haifa signed an agreement to develop joint programming in natural sciences, Middle Eastern studies and educational leadership.

“CSU and the University of Haifa share many similarities as urban universities with diverse students and a commitment to providing a global experience,” said CSU President Ronald Berkman in a statement. “Cleveland also includes a large and engaged Jewish community. Our students and faculty will gain access to a university deeply rooted in Israel’s innovation-driven economy, and we offer access to exceptional resources in business, urban affairs, natural sciences, health care and biotechnology.”

Additionally, Brandeis University will continue its study abroad programs in Israel without changes, said a university representative.

Still, along with NYU, many large universities remain hesitant.

“We hope the program will start up again in January,” said Lentz, who noted that students interested in the program can continue high-level Hebrew lessons during the fall semester. The 10 students who did have to cancel their plans for the fall semester in Tel Aviv “will have another chance to participate in the near future,” he said.

Michigan State University (MSU), which sponsors study abroad programs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, has put all programs on hold for now, said university spokesperson Jason Cody. All the programs are “pending review by our risk and security advisory committee,” which, he said, would begin shortly. MSU prides itself on its overseas programs for students he said; during the previous academic year, 275 programs operated in 60 countries.

“Pulling our students out of Israel was not something we were happy about doing, and we hope to restart those programs as soon as possible,” said Cody.

George Mason University and University of Massachusetts Amherst, both of which evacuated students from the region over the summer, have continued to suspend programs for the fall semester.

“There have been no plans to make changes as of yet, but we remain cautiously optimistic that future programs will continue as planned in 2015,” said Yehuda Lukacs, director of George Mason’s Center for Global Education.

According to Lukacs, the university’s spring break program is Israel is still slated to proceed. The program travels throughout the region, making stops in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tiberias, Haifa and Jordan. “We’re registering students and faculty right now — we hope the security situation stays stable,” Lukacs said.

Ann E. Killebrew, co-director of Pennsylvania State University’s Tel Akko Total Archaeology project, is unsure if the large-scale excavation will continue. The site, just miles away from Gaza, evacuated Penn State students after the FAA flight ban was issued.

“It’s difficult to know what will happen,” said Killebrew, who herself lived in Israel for 26 years. “The main issue is one of insurance and liability — insurance companies do not want to deal with the fallout of having American students in risky areas.”

Still, Killebrew is hopeful that the Israel study-abroad program she is scheduled to lead during the winter break will go on as planned.

“I’m optimistic that legal concerns will subside,” she said. “At this point, it should be clear that the conflict has more or less abated. Students shouldn’t lose out.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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