Israeli Knesset Member Nachman Shai has called on students to skip President Barack Obama’s planned speech to the Israeli public, scheduled for Thursday night, citing the White House’s exclusion of Ariel University from a program to allow students to attend the Jerusalem address.
Shai said students should protest the president’s decision to exclude the university by not attending the highly touted speech, to take place at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.
“Following the decision not to invite students from Ariel to the U.S. president’s speech in Israel, I demand that the Student Union inform President Obama that they will not attend his lecture on Thursday,” Shai, a member of the Labor Party wrote on his Facebook wall.
The U.S. Embassy said it was not boycotting Ariel University, located in the eponymous settlement deep inside the West Bank, but rather was only offering tickets to the speech to schools with which it has a partnership.
Ariel became a university last year after a highly contested political fight.
But Shai said the U.S. was boycotting Ariel students because of where they study.
“It is shocking to think that 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,” he said.
Ariel, a settlement with 20,000 residents in the northern West Bank, has historically been a sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel hopes to keep the settlement in the event of a final-status agreement, while the Palestinian Authority would like to see it evacuated. The decision to grant Ariel University full university status last year was internationally criticized.
Last week, Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun berated Obama on Israel Radio for choosing to address the Israeli public at Jerusalem’s Convention Center rather than the Knesset, and for inviting students from all universities except the West Bank-based Ariel to attend.
Students at Ariel have also expressed dismay at their exclusion from the speech.
“We were pretty shocked about the discrimination and the way in which they are giving up on a university in Israel,” said Ariel University Student Union head Shay Shahaf, according to Ynet News.
Shahaf and other Ariel students plan to protest outside the convention center during Obama’s speech.