Study abroad to Israel in question

It doesn’t matter that just 10 years ago, a bomb struck the very school where Iolaus Lee wants to study this spring in Israel.

The interdisciplinary studies in social science senior said being in the midst of the recently escalated Israeli-Palestinian conflict and experiencing diversity are the main reasons he wants to participate in a study abroad program this spring in Israel.

“I would like to get a different view (of the U.S.),” he said. “We see America as a free country. What do they see?”

But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict motivating Lee to visit Israel hasn’t been appealing to the Office of Study Abroad.

Cindy Chalou, the Office of Study Abroad’s associate director for operations, said of four programs in Israel this spring, one has been suspended because of its proximity to the Gaza Strip.

Seven summer programs in Israel also could be in jeopardy if the conflict worsens, said Ken Waltzer, director of the Jewish Studies Program.

Every two or three years, Waltzer said study abroad program leaders write a petition to receive waivers to travel to countries with travel warnings by the U.S. Department of State.

The waivers are sent to MSU’s Study Abroad Risk and Security Assessment Committee. Waltzer said he submitted a petition to the committee in November for programs in Israel. The committee decided to delay the decision to renew the waiver for Israel’s summer 2013 programs to see if the cease-fire continues. The committee will revisit the petition in January 2013, Waltzer said.

“It’s likely the cease-fire will continue, although not without problems,” he said. “I think it’s likely that diplomacy will take care of the Iranian nuclear defense, but if the cease-fire comes open, that would be one worrisome (problem).”

This isn’t the first time study abroad programs have been in danger of being canceled.

In March, a study abroad program in Mali was canceled for summer 2012 because of a “civil conflict” in the country, said Stephen Esquith, dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. The conflict was so severe that the State Department recommended U.S. citizens not to travel to the African country, Esquith said.

Unlike Israel, summer 2013 programs in Mali already have been canceled, Esquith said. He said Mali’s dangerous areas are more unpredictable and widespread than the areas in Israel where conflict could arise.

“(We) were hopeful things might change during the fall to offer the program, but as of October and November, we haven’t seen that kind of progress,” Esquith said. “In Israel, I think there’s been a heightened level of violence recently, but the general geographic (areas of safety) haven’t changed.”

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