U.C. pulls students in Israel

After issuing warnings since January that it was considering canceling its study abroad programs in Israel, the nine-campus University of California system did just that on Tuesday.

On the same day the U.S. State Department warned Americans to defer travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, U.C. became the latest university to pull students out of Israel, and place next fall's programs "on hold."

This term, which the U.C. Education Abroad Program prefers to "canceled," indicates that Israeli programs are scheduled to not take place this year, but could be restarted should the situation in the Mideast improve.

Currently, 27 U.C. students — eight from U.C. Berkeley — are studying in Israel, down from 55 at the beginning of the semester. Dozens more were slated to study there next semester, including 11 from U.C. Berkeley.

"I feel awful," said Jackie Bliss, a U.C. Berkeley sophomore who had hoped to study in Jerusalem. "It's not so much that I can't go, but it's a tragedy that it's reached a point where they have to cancel the program. That's my biggest concern."

Several individual U.C. students have also expressed a desire to finish out the term in Israel.

Students returning from Israel will finish out their academic courses during independent study in the United States, and most should complete a full semester's credits.

Those wishing to stay past the Israeli program's official April 11 suspension date will have to surmount a number of procedural hurdles.

Students will have to officially withdraw from the Education Abroad Program — which is tantamount to withdrawing from the U.C. system.

Students would then have to apply to the Israeli institutions they are currently studying at and, upon return, reapply to their U.C. campus and arrange for the transfer of credits.

Hanan Eisenman, a U.C. spokesperson, said the system will make this endeavor as "easy as possible" for students who opt to stay in Israel, but he could not guarantee that a student who withdraws from a U.C. school to stay in Israel will be readmitted.

"I can't guarantee it because it hasn't happened yet," he said. "We feel it won't be a problem. We feel they're going to be readmitted."

The U.C. system joins the University of Washington and the University of Colorado, which placed their academic programs on hold more than a year ago when Mideast violence first started to surge, according to the Associated Press. The private University of Southern California took a similar course of action in August.

Brandeis University, however, said it had no plans to recall its eight students studying in Israel, AP reported.

The U.C. system's suspension of its Israeli programs is not without precedent.

U.C. programs were temporarily shut down in China following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Israeli programs were suspended during the 1991 Gulf War, and Lebanese programs were canceled back in 1975.

Programs in Indonesia and Thailand were recently suspended, with Thai programs set to restart next year. Programs in the Indian cities of Delhi and Hyderabad were also recently canceled due to military escalations between India and Pakistan.

Eisenman stressed that the U.C. system was not "abandoning" Israel.

"It's the opposite of that," he said. "This is for safety reasons only. We're leaving in place our infrastructure and staff to prepare for U.C. students' return."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.