As of next fall, students in America’s largest university system will once again
have the opportunity to study abroad in Israel. Last month, the California State
University (CSU) system reinstated its Israel study abroad program, nearly a
decade after suspending it in 2002 due to safety concerns.
The Cal State
system, with 23 campuses and 427,000 students, had acted in sync with the
University of California (UC) system and many other US universities when it
suspended Israel study programs after the US State Department issued a travel
warning for Israel early in the last decade. But when UC reinstated the program
in 2009, CSU did not follow suit, as had been expected.
thought the CSU system would reinstate their Israel program shortly after the UC
system reinstated theirs,” said Yochai Shavit, the JAFI Israel fellow, San
Francisco Hillel who works at San Francisco State University. “But CSU didn’t
want to reinstate study abroad for countries on the travel warning list, and
they didn’t make any exceptions for Israel.”
With support from a several
national organizations, activists like Shavit on CSU campuses worked hard to
propel the reinstatement.
“Throughout the last year, together with
Hillel, the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Israeli Consulate, JCRC and the
Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, we worked toward understanding
the barriers toward reinstating the program and removing them,” Shavit said. “We
also tried to get CSU to understand that there is a very good reason for
creating an exception in the case of Israel, as they had previously done for
Other organizations that helped promote CSU’s reinstatement of
the Israel study option include the Jewish Federations of Los Angeles and San
Francisco and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
these community groups for laboring tirelessly to mobilize the Jewish and CSU
As the CSU SF Israel fellow, Shavit focused on gaining
support on campus from students and faculty.
“We wanted to get the
message from them up to the international programs office – go from the bottom
up,” Shavit said. “We sent letters from faculty and students to the head of CSU
and met with CSU study abroad professionals.”
Shavit was impressed with
what he termed “CSU’s genuine concern for students’ safety and security, as well
as the academic value of the study abroad program in Israel. It was clear that
these were genuine concerns and it wasn’t a political situation in the CSU
While it became clear last year that CSU intended to reinstate
the program, efforts continued until the official announcement came on December
13 that the program would be reinstated for the 2012-13 academic
The decision – which initially allows study only at Haifa
University – came too late for most students who might have wanted to study in
Israel next year. While CSU extended the application deadline to January 15,
Shavit said that did not leave enough time for students to make
“Only a few students applied for 2012-2013,” he said. “That’s why
the efforts that we will put toward study abroad are aimed toward promoting the
program for the fall semester of 2013-2014.”
At CSU Long Beach, only two
students applied for the 2012-13 program according to CSULB Hillel’s programming
associate Phyllis Kenigsberg.
Nonetheless, she thinks that the
reinstatement of an Israel study program has had a positive impact on the
general student population.
“The reinstatement has put the idea of
studying in Israel on students’ minds,” Kenigsberg said. “They were largely
unaware of it before.”
A lack of awareness seems to be the biggest
deterrent to Israel study programs, even outside of the CSU system.
University of California, Riverside, Highlanders for Israel (HiFI) are hosting a
week of Israel programming that promotes studying abroad in Israel.
only reason people would not study abroad is that they don’t know how or don’t
know it is actually available,” UCR junior and HiFI vice president Danny
Leserman said. “So we provide awareness about how easy and beneficial it is to
study abroad in Israel.”
Guy Herschmann, a University of California,
Santa Cruz senior and Northern California campus coordinator for StandWithUs,
agreed that publicizing study abroad in Israel programs is a vital step in
securing the success of such opportunities. He hopes that information sessions
and cultural programming will help boost the number of California students who
choose to spend a year abroad in Israel.
“By making Israel a more visible
option for students, we hope that demand for these programs goes up,” Herschmann
said. “Many students choose study abroad locations based on their
He said the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee (SCIAC) is
working to “showcase the truly outstanding academic opportunities and highlight
Israel’s complex and multicultural society,” two aspects that he and the SCIAC
crew hope will convince more UCSC students to study in Israel.
that this translates into continued and increased support for UC study abroad
programs in Israel,” he continud said.
Now that both major California
public university systems have reinstated Israel study abroad programs, the
challenge is to ensure that the programs succeed.
“Convincing both Jewish
and non- Jewish students to study in Haifa is definitely a challenge to
overcome, since people don’t really know anything about Haifa,” said
He hopes that Haifa’s under-theradar qualities can be an
“We can brand it as whatever we want to brand it as,” he said.
“We designed a program called ‘Hypeup Haifa’ to brand it as a cool and unique
place to spend the year, kind of the San Francisco of the Middle
The San Franciscans aren’t the only ones to market familiarity. At
Cal State Long Beach, study abroad Israel promotion programming includes a
beach-style get-together including food and music.
“We are highlighting
the aspects of Haifa that students at CSULB can identify with and appreciate,”
Kenigsberg said. “CSULB is nicknamed ‘The Beach,’ so we’re having a Haifa Pool
Party and educating students about the beaches and water sports available in
Despite the effort being devoted to rebuilding the study in
Israel program, Shavit acknowledged that it will take time for it to grow and
said he is pleased with the level of interest.
“While all of our students
are excited about the fact that the program in Israel is reinstated, the
decision to live abroad for a year is not something that students take lightly,”
he said. “We’re trying to be realistic in our expectations of how many students
will end up going.”
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