LOS ANGELES – The University of California has decided to pull its students out of Israel, becoming the latest university to reevaluate its study abroad programs as violence escalates in the Middle East.
The 10-campus California system said Tuesday it will arrange for its 27 students still studying in Israel to return home. Another 28 students who started the semester there already have left, said Hanan Eisenman, a university spokesman.
The announcement came the same day the State Department warned Americans to defer travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza because "the potential for further terrorist acts remains high."
The university joins the University of Washington and the University of Colorado, which placed their academic programs on hold more than a year ago when the violence first began to escalate. The private University of Southern California took similar action in August.
"Our top priority for students studying abroad in all programs is student safety," Eisenman said. "In light of the escalating violence in Israel and the region, we decided that the best decision would be to suspend the current programs and bring the students home."
Despite the risks and warning, some study programs in Israel are continuing.
Officials at Brandeis University near Boston, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college in the country, said Tuesday they had no plans to remove the school's eight students studying this semester in Israel.
The school's president, Jehuda Reinharz, "feels that it's a decision that an individual or family should make," said school spokesman Michael Regunberg. "The university shouldn't be telling people where to go or where not to go."
Students at the University of Pennsylvania stopped applying for many study-abroad programs in the region about 18 months ago when the violence began to increase, said Nubar Hovsepian, associate director of the university's Middle East Center. None of the university's programs have been terminated due to the conflict, Hovsepian said.
The move by universities and students to avoid the region reflects a trend shared by other travelers, said Evelyne-Valerie Darnal, a Los Angeles travel agent who has been specializing in Israeli travel for 20 years.
"The ones refraining from going are the organizations that have a mission there," said Darnal, an agent with The TravelStore in Brentwood. "If it is a promotional group or a study program, they are canceling trips because of the travel warning."
The Israeli program at the University of California is being suspended for the fall semester and its students in Israel will be allowed to engage in independent study for the rest of the academic year.
Reinstating the program would require improvement of the situation in the Middle East, Eisenman said. University officials stressed that they are not abandoning Israel programs and will leave staff in place.
The move to suspend the program is not without precedent. The UC school system, which has 2,850 students enrolled in its study abroad program, temporarily halted its activities in China following the 1989 showdown between Chinese protesters and troops in Beijing.
It also suspended its Israeli programs after Iraq fired Scud missiles into Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Its Indonesia program has been suspended since 1999 due to civil unrest in the country.