Studying in Israel poses challenge

Travel Warning List inhibits the University from adding Israel as a study abroad option.

Israel isn’t always associated with education, but some students and faculty are trying to change that.

The Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution Jan. 29 requesting that the University offer a study abroad program to Israel.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Web site, the University does not currently offer a program because the nation is part of the department’s Travel Warning List because of Gaza and West Bank area violence.

Former Diversity Education Fund Grants chairwoman Julia Krieger authored the resolution.

“We’re closing our doors to a very rich research opportunity that could benefit students from all fields of study,” she said.

University students have the option to go to Israel, but they must first go through a complicated petition process, Krieger said.

The petition process includes recommendations from several professors, writing a dissertation and presenting before a committee.

Israel has programs ranging from archaeology and history to technology and business.

Seven of 11 Big Ten schools currently offer educational programs in Israel despite it being a location of concern.

Al Balkcum, director of the University Learning Abroad Center, said the reason no program is offered isn’t just because of the travel warning, but also because there hasn’t been a lot of student interest expressed.

But Andrea Berlin, a classical and Near Eastern studies professor, said that a study abroad program could provide students with an opportunity to demystify Israel.

“Time spent in Israel provides the opportunity to compare the reality of daily life with the more sensational images and accounts from news and other media,” she said.

Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said he’s spent many days walking down the streets in Israel, and that he feels much safer there than in other areas of the world.

“At this point, I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than north Minneapolis,” he said, adding that Jerusalem’s Hebrew University was “like a fortress.”

Despite all of the support in favor of offering a program in Israel, there is something to be said for the concerns surrounding the country, Berlin said.

“Precautions are important, but so is teaching students to become informed global citizens,” she said. “Starting out scared and closing off options is not the lesson I’d choose to send.”

It’s important to note that the majority of Israel is a safe place, Berlin said.

If the travel warning is lifted, the University might look into organizing a program to Israel, Balkcum said.

Feinstein said he urges students to speak up about this issue, otherwise things won’t change.

“It’s a nonissue unless students bring it up,” he said. “I think around here you have to shake people up a little bit before they acknowledge it.”

The next step for Krieger and other interested students is to take this to the University Senate and then the Board of Regents to gain official approval.