United States President Barack Obama is expected to visit Israel next week and to give a speech in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Hauma convention center. His staff have sent invitations primarily to students.
However, one group of students has been left off the list. In a meeting Tuesday with students from Ariel University in Samaria (Shomron), MK Yoni Chetboun discovered that Ariel U students were not being allowed to attend.
Chetboun questioned the decision to exclude Ariel students, particularly in light of Obama’s decision not to speak in Knesset. Obama’s staff have previously stated that the American president will not address Knesset because his visit “is not political.”
“The President’s decision not to speak in Israel’s house of representatives, the symbol and stronghold of Israeli democracy and sovereignty, is strange in itself and gives rise to questions,” Chetboun said. “There is no precedent for a visiting foreign leader addressing citizens directly.”
“However,” he continued, “these things are all the more strange due to inconsistency. On the one hand, the President says he intends for his visit to be apolitical, but in the same breath, he makes a political decision to exclude Ariel University from his speech.”
“If the president invites students from every Israeli university, he should invite representatives from Ariel University as well,” Chetboun declared. Ignoring Ariel University is a sign of non-recognition of the Israeli government’s decision to give it university status, he said.
Chetboun has written to U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in protest. “I cannot understand or accept your decision,” he wrote. “Ariel University was recognized as a university by Israel’s government. In excluding students from Ariel, the American government is taking a clear, one-sided stance, while declaring that the visit is not political.”
“As a Member of Knesset who was elected by Israelis from across the country, including Judea and Samaria, I want to believe that the decision came from the president’s staff and advisors, and not from the president himself,” Chetboun added.
Student representatives from Ariel expressed frustration at the decision as well. “We were pretty shocked at the discrimination,” said Student Union head Shai Shachaf.
While the students may not be invited, “in any case we will be present in the area,” he added.
The United States government has opposed Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria in recent years, and has joined Europe and the Arab world in condemning it as harmful to diplomacy.
Ariel is among the “settlement bloc” cities that in previous Israel-Palestinian Authority talks it has been agreed will remain a part of Israel.