Four Republican congressmen have written a letter to US President Barack Obama
to protest the exclusion of Ariel University students from the speech he is
scheduled to deliver on Thursday.
Out of Israel’s eight accredited
universities, Ariel is the only one that is located in the West Bank. Students
from the other seven universities were invited to the speech to be delivered at
Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.
The letter, penned by
Representative Bill Johnson (ROhio), also took issue with Obama’s decision not
to address the Knesset during this week’s visit to Israel, as his predecessors
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did when they visited the country during their
tenures in the White House.
It was also signed by Republican
representatives Jim Jordan and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio and John Fleming of
“We believe you understand the importance of addressing a
nation’s parliament as you have taken the time to address members of parliament
in the United Kingdom, Australia and Ghana,” said the letter.
that such an address is a “customary and symbolic gesture that celebrates our
shared democratic ideas and the special relationship between Israel and the
The letter said that the congressmen understood that Obama had
chosen instead to address students, a move that it said was “commendable and
However, the congressmen said, “we are disappointed to learn
that students from the University of Ariel, located in the West Bank town of
Ariel, did not receive an invitation to hear you speak. Especially since the
University of Ariel is the first beyond the Green Line, and is officially and
legally recognized by the Government of Israel.”
“This is exactly what we
wanted,” vice chairwoman of Ariel’s student union Galiya Levy told The Jerusalem
Post on Tuesday. “It is amazing to see that our fight became a global
initiative, not just for students but for anyone who cared and sees this as an
Levy and dozens of Ariel University students
held a vigil outside the US consulate in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon to
protest their exclusion from Thursday’s speech.
life-size silhouettes marked with a red X to represent their exclusion from
As the student union launched a facebook campaign entitled
“Yes we can? No we can’t! We will not let Obama discriminate against us: A
student in Ariel is a student in Israel” earlier this week, students from other
universities across the country have expressed their support.
candidate at the Technion Shahar Kvatinsky announced on his Facebook page on
Tuesday that despite being invited to hear Obama speak, he will boycott the
Addressing Obama, Kvatinsky wrote: “I was very happy when I was
chosen to represent the Technion at your speech.
This is a great
privilege to meet with the leader of the free world, the head of the world’s
greatest superpower, just something to tell the grandchildren.
will not be attending.
“Why?,” he continued, “Because you are belittling
us Israelis and discriminating against Ariel.”
Kvatinsky added that
Ariel’s exclusion shows Obama’s “lack of respect for the opinions of the
citizens of Israel or the decision of the Israeli government, which has declared
Ariel an accredited university.”
“At the beginning of this battle, we
hesitated whether or not to call for other students to boycott the speech,” Levy
told the Post. “We chose not to because we wanted to give them the chance to
choose for themselves, but the fact that we didn’t impose anything I think made
them want to support us more.”
Levy added she is “very proud” of
Kvatinsky for taking this step, which she sees as an important one for the long
“Today, it’s Obama’s speech; tomorrow, it could be something else
that they will discriminate against us for,” she explained.