Georgetown administrators are considering changes in the university’s study abroad policies that would allow some undergraduates to attend universities in Israel and other nations with U.S. State Department security warnings. Currently, credits from universities in countries with State Department security warnings are not accepted for main campus students.

“There is no change in policy,” Michael Vande Berg, director of the Office of International Programs, said. “What is being considered is a procedure that would allow students to petition to study abroad in countries with travel warnings. We’re waiting for a preliminary approval for a process.”

The Georgetown study abroad program in Israel was suspended in 2000 due to an increase in violence in the region after the end of the Oslo peace process, chair of the executive committee of the Program for Jewish Civilization Robert Lieber said.

“The university doesn’t want to see students go abroad in the face of particular danger,” Lieber said. “The fallacy of that argument is that at least 50 other peer institutions have concluded that they will maintain or renew their programs to Israel.”

Vande Berg said that this matter is currently being discussed by the university administration.

“It’s not about Israel,” he said. “It’s a general consideration at this point. If the proposal were to pass, it is safe to say that students who have expressed an interest in Israel may possibly be able to go abroad.”

Lieber and fellow committee members pushed for Israeli study abroad opportunities last Thursday in a meeting with Vande Berg. Lieber said he was frustrated with what he called Georgetown’s “bureaucratic stagnation.”

Lieber said he did not think the Office of International Programs has handled the issue very well over the last six months. “There has been too much delay on this. If students want to go and are willing to sign a waiver, the university shouldn’t stand in the way.”

Lieber said that most universities that allow study abroad in the Middle East make students sign a waiver saying they recognize the danger and are knowingly making the choice to go abroad.

“The executive committee of the Program for Jewish Civilization feels very strongly about this,” he said. “It is incongruous that at least 50 other serious universities have study abroad programs to Israel but Georgetown doesn’t. It makes no sense. The legal issues ought not to be an issue.”

“Georgetown’s self-definition is that it is an international university, so why does Georgetown refuse to allow its students to study in Israel? Why should Georgetown be retrograde and trail behind Cornell, Penn and Princeton, and here in D.C., GW and American?”

According to Lieber, the policy under discussion involves an ad hoc screening process in which faculty and representatives from the Legal Council Office and OIP will assess students’ applications as well as the security issues for the countries where they wish to study.

The Georgetown Israel Alliance met Tuesday to discuss the club’s efforts to garner student support for the potential study abroad program in Israel. GIA President Matt Singer (SFS ’07) said he hopes to have students sign a statement of interest, especially sophomores who are considering study abroad next year.

“It’s an opportunity for the future of Georgetown to experience something incredible in Israel. There are all different ways to have a spiritual, academic or cultural experience, and we want everyone to have the opportunity to be there.”

Singer said that if reinstated, the Israel program will already be set up from four years ago. Additionally, it will offer unique academic programs for interested students, he said.

“Over the past year, interest in Jewish studies has exploded, and universities like Tel Aviv U. and Hebrew U. have some of the best programs for Hebrew, Aramaic, international relations and conflict resolution,” Singer said.

“There are risks to anything we do in modern life,” Lieber said. “Look at Madrid and the Basque terrorists in Spain. Look at the IRA in Britain. This attitude that there should be no study abroad while the travel advisory is still around is shortsighted.”

“We witnessed successful Palestinian elections recently, and we’re seeing a ceasefire, peace negotiations, the withdrawal from Gaza, and the return of ambassadors to Israel from Jordan and Egypt,” he continued. “Georgetown is stuck in a policy that is four years out of date . We plan to pursue this with the provost and others.”

Government and theology major Jason Steidl (COL ’07) said study abroad opportunities in Israel would enhance some theology and language programs.

“For me it is either Israel or nowhere,” he said. “I’m studying Hebrew, and there’s not many other Hebrew-speaking nations.”

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