Some U.S. colleges are pulling students from their overseas study programs in Israel, pointing to the Gaza war as the reason, even though the programs are not located anywhere near the immediate battle areas, AP reports.
The colleges cite security as their major concern, according to AP, based on U.S. State Department advisories about hazardous travel, and notes from insurance companies covering students for health, accidents, security and a possible evacuation.
Kind of makes you think of that 1974 scene of American helicopters evacuating South Vietnamese loyalists from Saigon rooftops…
said Yehuda Lukacs, director of the Center for Global Education at George Mason University in Virginia argued that “on the one hand, we want to introduce students to the dimensions of conflict. But this was too much because their safety and security were challenged.”
Israeli-American educational programs are not the only victims of un-sympathizing actuarial calculators. The University of Massachusetts Amherst suspended programs in Syria, and St. Lawrence University in New York called off its program in Kenya, citing a State Department travel advisory.
Suhaib Khan, a George Mason senior who worked in Ramallah in the West Bank in a program helping to promote Palestinian businesses, said he was “incredibly disappointed” that he was forced to leave prematurely. He arrived June 6 and left July 9, about a month early.
“As an adult, I could have made my own decisions, ” said Khan, 21.
At least seven U.S. schools suspended programs in Israel or the West Bank, AP reports. In addition to George Mason, these include Claremont McKenna College in California, UMass Amherst, the University of Iowa, Trinity College in Hartford, Michigan State and Penn State.
UMass Amherst and New York University have also suspended their fall programs.
The schools’ officials in Israel have told AP they were not concerned about the war even after Israel had begun its ground assault on Gaza. What changed everything was the Federal Aviation Administration’s July 22 temporary ban on U.S. airlines landing in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv after a rocket exploded nearby.
“With an airport closed for more than 24 hours, we don’t want students stuck, ” said Lisa Sapolis, director of Trinity’s Office of Study Away.
Of course, the airport continued to function unscathed, and European flights continued to land and take off. But one doesn’t always wish to be confused with the facts.
Jonathan Sarna, president of the Association for Jewish Studies, thinks the universities have overreacted, seeing as Israel defended itself nicely against Hamas rockets with its Iron Dome air.
“There are huge gaps between perceptions of safety and reality, ” said Sarna, also a professor at Brandeis University near Boston, which did not suspend its summer program in Israel.