Israel will host the annual Mediterranean student conference on Thursday. Many participants will be visiting Israel for the first time, and are scheduled to meet ministers and Knesset members. But the excitement will be tainted by the defiant absence of students from Arab states, including those which maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.
The conference is organized by the National Student Union, which for the last 10 years has been part of MedNET, the Mediterranean Network of Student Representatives. This body, which sees students as future leaders, was established in order to create dialogue about issues such as giving to the community, caring for the environment, and the future of states in the region.
This year, despite continuous opposition through the years from Arab states, Israel was chosen to head the organization. This was possible due to a series of efforts planned to create dialogue with students and young people in neighboring countries.
However, when Arab student representatives realized they would not be able to prevent the choice of Israel this year, they decided not to participate in the vote for the organization's leadership.
The states which decided to boycott the conference include Egypt, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Liberia and Lebanon.
Their student representatives, like those of other countries in the organization, were supposed to spend some time next week touring the areas hit by Qassam rockets in the south, visiting Yad Vashem, Jerusalem and the Galilee, and meeting with elected representatives.
The National Student Union in Israel received a string of cancellations last week. The Algerian representative wrote that the Israeli invitation was complimentary. He hadded hat the first meeting in Paris with Israeli representatives, who were extremely friendly, was an important moment for him. However, he added, to his great sorrow, because of political issues, he will be unable to attend the event in Israel.
Because of the cancellations, only Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Serbia, Croatia, France, Portugal, Romania, and the European Student Union representatives will attend this year, in addition to the Israeli representatives.
Chairman of the National Student Union Boaz Toporovsky expressed his sadness over the Arab representatives' decision.
"We were sorry to hear that politics and preconceptions led some student organization representatives to avoid visiting Israel," he said.
"We will continue to aim for cooperation and the promotion of common interests of students around the world, regardless of which country they come from. All student leaders must continue the struggle for a better world, and rise above historic disputes and petty and narrow-minded gestures."