A U.S. embassy official denied that it did not invite students from Ariel University to President Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem next week because the institution is located in Samaria, which the United States considers an illegitimate and illegal settlement.
The speech, set to take place at the Jerusalem Convention Center next Thursday, on the second day of Obama’s visit to Israel, will be open to some Israeli students. But the exclusion of students from the university in Ariel has led some to accuse Obama of boycotting Israel’s newest accredited university, where several hundreds Arabs learn alongside Jews.
An official at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv told JTA that only students from academic institutions with partnerships or joint programs with the embassy were invited to the speech. The official would not comment on whether other institutions fell in the same category.
Israel plans to exercise sovereignty over the city of Ariel, where the university is located, in the event of a final-status agreement.
Ariel, a settlement with 20,000 residents in the northern West Bank, has historically been a sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Israel has seven universities and a myriad of private colleges.
Students at Ariel 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 Shai Shahaf, according to Yediot Acharonot’s website.
Shahaf and other Ariel students plan to protest outside the speech unless the United States changes its decision.