As violence rises, US colleges suspend programs in Israel

As violence in and around Israel became more severe in recent weeks, American universities that sponsor study-abroad programs there found themselves walking a fine line between educating and protecting students.

In 1999-2000, 49 US universities and colleges provided Israel-abroad study programs, involving nearly 3,900 students, according to the Institute of International Education in New York.

Those numbers may have fallen since the World Trade Center attack, after which some students decided to study closer to home and a few schools suspended programs. But data for this school year aren't available.

Now, however, Israel-abroad programs are being hit again, with several high-profile schools announcing suspensions following recent State Department travel warnings.

Early last month, the 10-campus University of California system suspended programs involving 27 students. But even though UC called all students home, 16 decided to stay on, and a number of them prepared to continue at host universities in Israel.

California State University, the nation's largest university system, with 22 campuses, also suspended its fledgling program. It involved only two students, both of whom were also reportedly staying and continuing classes in Israel.

Some universities, however, have decided to leave the decision with students and their families.

Boston University and Brandeis University, for example, reaffirmed that their programs would continue.

"The university is not going to decide for you whether your child should remain in Israel or not," wrote Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis, in an April 2 letter to parents of students who are studying in Israel.

"I believe that this is an individual decision that should be made between parents and their children," President Reinharz said.

Schools that decided to suspend programs, such as the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., have drawn some criticism from those who thought the universities should have made it easier for the students to stay in Israel and continue their studies in other programs.

Hanan Alexander, a University of Haifa professor who is currently on a book tour in the the US, criticized the University of California system for "kicking [those students who remained] out of school."

A UC spokesman, Hanan Eisenman,says that students will indeed have to reapply for admission and arrange to transfer their credits from Israeli universities, but the reapplication is a mere formality.

"We understand what the situation is over there and that this is an inconvenience," Mr. Eisenman says.

"There's not going to be any problem with readmission."

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