The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed dismay regarding President Barack Obama's decision not to address the Knesset as part of his visit to Israel, as well as the exclusion of the Ariel University students from the list of invitees to the presidential speech in Jerusalem's convention center, even as all of Israel's other universities were included.
Director of the organization’s Israel branch, Jeff Daube, wrote a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro concerning the affront to both institutions, saying he feels “compelled to speak up about [the] two unsettling aspects of President Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel.”
“MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beteinu) sent me the letter she wrote to President Obama, together with MK Avraham Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi), asking him to reconsider and speak at ‘the official parliament of the State of Israel, which is seated in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish nation,’” Daube wrote. “After all, the MKs stated, the Knesset is the institution most identified with Israeli statehood and democracy, representing ‘all of our country's citizens - Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christians and Muslims alike.’”
“Knesset members also have shared with me their concerns about the President's support for a new Palestinian entity that is sure to end up a failed state at best, but more likely an existential threat to the peace-loving peoples of the roiling Middle East,” Daube wrote. “Incontrovertible examples of PA anti-Israel incitement to this day, and the PA's de facto partnership with Hamas, whose intention to destroy Israel has never abated, give Israel's leadership much to worry about. Thus, they were hoping to hear about the President's intentions for his Ramallah visit, and that he will insist the PA distance itself from all anti-Israel rhetoric and liaisons.
“As for the other matter: the reported decision to exclude the Ariel University students from the President's scheduled Binyanei Hauma address. My organization is in complete agreement with the many pundits and leaders who have emphatically objected: for example, MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi), who pointed to the inconsistency in the President's decision to avoid the Knesset supposedly because that would be too political, while making at the same time a blatant political decision concerning one of Israel's most highly regarded educational institutions; and MK Nachman Shai (Labor) who said, ‘It is shocking to think you can disqualify students just because they learn in the West Bank. I do not understand how President Obama wants to conduct a dialogue with the Israeli public when he is consciously excluding part of it,’” Daube wrote.
The ZOA's National President Morton Klein recently said that, "Quite apart from the fact that one of the best ways to address the Israeli public is to deliver a televised speech to its democratically elected representatives in the Knesset, there is something deeply divisive and politicized in President Obama's decision to exclude from his audience Jewish and Arab students from Ariel University."
“On behalf of those of us who celebrate inclusiveness, including the ZOA's very substantial following in the U.S. and the tens of thousands of Americans residing and working in Israel, I hope these Ariel students, Jews and Arabs together, indeed will be permitted to join President Obama on March 21 for his Jerusalem address,” Daube continued. “We would love to point to this as a shining example of how the values of coexistence and tolerance might animate future negotiations.”
Copies of the letter were sent to MK Reuven Rivlin, who had invited President Obama to address his colleagues when he was the Speaker of the Knesset in the former government; MK Yoni Chetboun (Jewish Home); MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beteinu); MK Nachman Shai (Labor); MK Avi Wortzman (Jewish Home); and Professor Yehuda Danon, President of Ariel University.