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 Louisiana.

“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.

It noted that such an address is a “customary and symbolic gesture that celebrates our shared democratic ideas and the special relationship between Israel and the US.”

The letter said that the congressmen understood that Obama had chosen instead to address students, a move that it said was “commendable and encouraged.”

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 important discrimination.”

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.

Participants held life-size silhouettes marked with a red X to represent their exclusion from Obama’s visit.

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.

PhD 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 event.

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.

Still, I 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 term.

“Today, it’s Obama’s speech; tomorrow, it could be something else that they will discriminate against us for,” she explained.



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