On Tuesday, I visited the newest university in Israel, Ariel University.
It is a beautiful campus with 15,000 students. Over a dozen buildings are being constructed right now as it expands. I was shown the robotics lab and spoke with an expert in making wine from grape varieties that have been proven to have been used in First and Second Temple times. (I plan to write about that in the future.)
Ariel University has the only free electron laser particle accelerator in the Middle East.
The campus has hundreds of Arab students. Student groups foster dialogue between Jewish and Arab students. It also attracts students from around the world. (Some of the lectures are in English.)
It is building a hospital which will be available for all residents of the region, with the aim of building a medical school as well. Ambitious plans to add more dormitories and more research centers are bearing fruit.
It has what may be the only college-level program in the world to mainstream students on the Aspergers' spectrum. I met one very polite young man in that program who said that he had been rejected from every school he applied to before Ariel accepted him and he is soon to graduate with a degree in Middle Eastern studies.
Ariel U is centrally located, easily accessible via Highway 5 which goes directly there from Tel Aviv. From Ariel University's "upper campus," on a clear day, you can see Israel's entire coastal plain.
Ariel University is a Zionist success story, in the edge of a bustling and beautiful town of 20,000 residents.
But when American Jewish groups visit Israel, nearly all of them avoid visiting Ariel University.
Jewish Federation trips to Israel do not go to Ariel University (with very few exceptions.)
AIPAC doesn't visit.
Even Birthright won't visit - left-wing or right-wing trips avoid it.
Because Ariel University is across the Green Line.
American Jewish organizations, afraid of criticism from the Left, have decided that Ariel does not exist and it should not be visited. It is too controversial.
But here's the thing. Virtually every Israeli politician from left to right considers Ariel to be non-negotiable in any peace plan,
If you visit the community you know why. It is a large town and strategically situated. It is part of Israel in every real sense. The idea of uprooting the town is unthinkable.
Amazingly, J-Street U has visited Ariel to see what it is like and what their ideological enemies are up to. Yet groups that are unabashedly Zionist do not want to visit.
Christian groups love to visit the university when they go on Israel trips. But Jewish Israel missions almost all will avoid it.
This is outrageous.
The same people who say that BDS is terrible, even when practiced against Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, are effectively engaging in BDS themselves by avoiding visiting the incredible, and very Zionist, accomplishments of Ariel and Ariel University.
They cannot argue that Ariel is dangerous. (That is Birthright's official reason.) It isn't. There were no incidents since the knife uprising began last September. Hamas rockets never reached Ariel. It has been far more dangerous to visit Jerusalem than Ariel over the past year.
They cannot argue that Ariel University is filled with messianic right-wing Jews. It isn't. Some professors there are leftists, even Meretz-voters. Arab students can and do write their theses on the "Nakba." Yarmulkas are the exception, not the rule.
At the very least, these American organizations that tell their participants that they are going to learn about both sides of the conflict are completely ignoring the biggest settlement, and only Israeli university, that is in the territories not adjacent to the Green Line.
If anyone is going to claim that they are well-educated on the conflict, shouldn't they at least visit Ariel?
To have Jewish groups - liberal or conservative - essentially boycott Ariel sends a message that American Jews are out of sync with what most Israelis believe would be part of any peace agreement.
If you are planning a mission to Israel for your Jewish group, ask yourself why you shouldn't visit a miraculous, modern and liberal campus that could teach most so-called "pro-peace, pro-Israel" groups a lot about real co-existence and peace.
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