BOSTON – The University of Massachusetts Amherst canceled its study abroad programs in Israel for the fall semester.
The school, the flagship of the UMass system, cited a July 21 recommendation from the U.S. State Department that U.S. citizens defer “nonessential travel” to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in response to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Two undergraduates will be affected by the decision made by the school’s international risk management committee. One was to begin a program at Tel Aviv University this week, which prompted the timing of the cancellation, according to a statement issued by the university.
“It was a difficult decision,” Jack Ahern, the university’s vice provost for international programs, told the Boston Globe. “But we take our responsibility to ensure students’ safety strongly.”
A spokesman for UMass Amherst told JTA that the school’s deliberations are ongoing and will be reassessed. None of the school’s other study abroad programs have been similarly affected at this time.
The decision does not affect faculty and graduate students who travel to Israel or undergraduates who have personal travel plans.
Last month, the university evacuated six students and one faculty member who were in Israel completing an archaeological dig program.
While a handful of summer programs in Israel were cut short or canceled, such as a six-week archaeological program from the University of Iowa, several directors of Judaic studies departments reached by JTA were surprised by the announcement.
“The question that universities need to ask is not whether Israel is totally safe — no country is — but whether Israel is as safe as other countries that students are permitted to study at,” Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University American Jewish history professor and president of the Association for Jewish Studies, wrote in an email.
Sarna said he was not aware of any other canceled study abroad programs in Israel.