Cali Students listen up! State moves toward resuming study abroad in Israel

The California State University (CSU) system plans to resume system-wide opportunities for students to study abroad in Israel. The office of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed informed the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) and California State Assembly member Bob Blumenfield that CSU plans to allow students at CSU system schools to travel to Israel for academic programs beginning in the fall of 2012.

CSU suspended its Israel study opportunities in 2002 in the wake of the second intifada, when the US State Department issued a travel warning for American citizens visiting Israel. The warning remains in effect, but many schools have found ways to reinstate study abroad programs in Israel.

CSU – the largest university system in the US, with 23 campuses and over 400,000 students – now joins the ranks of many other schools that have reinstated study abroad programs in Israel.

“This excites me so much,” said San Francisco State University sophomore Matthew Horowitz, who already is beginning to explore his options for study in Israel. “We heard about the decision today, and it’s fantastic.”

According to CSU System Director of International Programs Leo Van Cleve, the decision sets in motion a review process aimed at assessing the risk involved in study in Israel. By December, CSU will issue a policy statement outlining guidelines for students who wish to study in Israel despite the continuing State Department advisory, and the first CSU students will enroll in Israeli classes in fall 2012.

“Health, safety and security are the big issues for any university operating a study abroad program,” Van Cleve told Israel Campus Beat. “The restriction about sending students to Israel was never about stopping students from going to Israel. It was about our sponsorship of programs in places with health, safety or security concerns.”

He noted that CSU has suspended its programs in other places that did not meet the university’s criteria; next year no CSU students will study in Mexico.

“Our goal is to be sure we are satisfied that our students can go [to Israel] and be healthy, safe and secure,” Van Cleve added.

The ICC applauded the CSU decision. “We congratulate Chancellor Charles Reed and his outstanding staff in deciding to embark on resuming study abroad in Israel for Cal State students,” said Stephen Kuperberg, ICC Executive Director. “Cal State is a leader in providing excellent educational opportunities to the people of California and in helping its students achieve their goals. We encourage them as they begin the planning process to turn this vision into practical reality and we stand ready to support them however we can.”

Yochai Shavit, the Israel Fellow at San Francisco Hillel, also praised the decision. “I admire the CSU system’s concern for their students’ safety, but this was the right decision,” he said. “It will have tremendous impact on the Jewish identity and education of Jewish CSU students.”

Shavit added that he hopes non-Jewish students will study in Israel along with Jewish students. “Students of all backgrounds will have the opportunity to see firsthand a reality they have only seen through the media and on campus. Now they can go, see and draw their own conclusions.”

This academic year, ICC’s “Let Our Students Go!” study abroad task force set as a goal to help CSU resume its Israel study abroad program. ICC representatives met with CSU officials and worked with a coalition of interested parties, including San Francisco Hillel, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC), the Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), and a range of local and global community members to help CSU to re-examine and reach the decision to resume CSU’s study abroad program in Israel. Delegations from the Israeli Consulates in Los Angeles and San Francisco also met separately with CSU officials to offer perspective and information.

Shavit said there will be little time to celebrate the decision because recruiting students to study in Israel will take a lot of work. “Everybody who cares about Israel on CSU campuses has to show the university that they made the right decision,” he said.

Horowitz, the SFSU sophomore, participated in a Birthright trip last summer, and he already is planning his study abroad experience.

By the time he can enroll in an Israeli program, he will be a senior. He may need to delay his graduation in order to take advantage of the opportunity, but that has not deterred him. “I won’t mind studying for a fifth year if I need to,” he said enthusiastically.