By Invitation Only

Controversy erupts as Israeli students targeted by boycotts kept from Obama address

Ariel University / WC
March 13, 2013

President Barack Obama’s keynote speech in Jerusalem next week became the subject of controversy today amid reports that students from a major Israeli university located in a West Bank settlement were not invited to the event.

The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv issued invitations to student delegations from Israel’s universities, according to the Times of Israel. But Ariel University, a 14,000-student school that has previously been the target of anti-Israel boycott campaigns, was reportedly not included.

"President Obama may not understand just how damaging it will be if he boycotts Israeli students just because of where they go to school," said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. "Even Israelis who oppose settlements and admire President Obama will be deeply uncomfortable with him excluding an entire class of their fellow citizens from hearing a speech that is supposed to represent the president's direct and open engagement with the Israeli people."

Students at Ariel University say they will protest the decision.

"We were pretty shocked by the discrimination and by the manner in which Ariel University was given up on," Ariel University’s student union leader Shay Shahaf told Yedioth Ahronoth.

"Either way we will be present at the event," Shahaf said. "This has caused major unrest amongst the students."

MK Yoni Chetboun also sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, objecting to the exclusion of Ariel University.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland referred requests to the White House press office. The White House directed questions to the U.S. embassy in Israel, which it said was handling ticket allocation. The U.S. embassy in Israel did not return a request for comment.

Ariel University was accredited last December. It has the highest number of Ethiopian-born students out of any higher education institution in the country, according to its website.