TEL AVIV (JTA) – The U.S. Embassy in Israel denied a report that students from a West Bank university were being barred from President Obama’s scheduled speech in Jerusalem.
The speech, set to take place at the Jerusalem Convention Center next Thursday during Obama’s visit to Israel, will be open to Israeli students. But the exclusion of students from the university in Ariel, a settlement deep in the West Bank, led some to accuse Obama of boycotting the university, Israel’s newest.
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.
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.
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 Shay Shahaf, according to Ynet News.
Ynet reported that unless the decision is changed, Shahaf and other Ariel students planned to protest outside the speech.