Texas A&M University signed an agreement with Israel to plan a campus for the state-supported school in the Mideast nation, guided by Governor Rick Perry, who said he wants it to help bring peace to the region.
The campus will “build upon the work of the Nazareth Academic Institute,” under an agreement signed by Perry and Shai Piron, Israel’s education minister, A&M said. They announced the move at Israeli President Shimon Peres’s home.
“We want to see the Nazareth branch move the peace process forward,” Perry said today on a conference call with reporters. Enabling students and faculty of different faiths “to study together on the same campus, that’s the real exciting thing about what Texas A&M is putting together.”
Perry will step down as governor in 2015 and is considering a run for president in 2016, following his failed effort to win the Republican nomination last year. Helping foster a university in Israel could bolster his foreign-policy credentials while appealing to evangelical Christian voters who are strong supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The governor, a Texas A&M graduate, said he has visited Israel four times since 1992, developing friendships with leaders including Netanyahu, whom he met with this week to promote Texas as a place to do business.
“Foreign policy credentials are important for someone thinking about running for president,” said David Crockett, who teaches politics at Trinity University in San Antonio. “That can be a weakness for governors like Perry.”
Texas A&M’s branch in the city of Nazareth in northern Israel will bring together Arabs and Jews both as faculty and as students, the College Station-based school said in a statement. It said the site will be called the Peace Campus.
“We want to see the Nazareth branch as a means to preserving peace and building understanding between cultures,” Perry said in the school’s statement.
“This is an offshoot of this long-term courting of each other,” Perry said during the conference call. He credited university officials with leading the project.
The governor later said he hadn’t discussed the prospects of new peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Pastor John Hagee, whose services at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio are broadcast nationally, said A&M Chancellor John Sharp asked him last year to facilitate talks with Israeli officials, Hagee said in a video posted on his Facebook Inc. web page. No one responded immediately today to a call to Hagee’s office for comment.
Hagee, an evangelical Christian, has close ties to both Perry and key Israeli leaders, Crockett said.
The pastor started Christians United for Israel, a nonprofit ministry that advocates for U.S. support of the nation. The group has more that 1 million members, according to its website.
The Nazareth campus will offer A&M students new opportunities to study abroad and boost its appeal to Jewish students, said Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, executive director of the Texas A&M Hillel, a Jewish student center. About 1 or 2 percent of the 50,000-plus students on the College Station campus are Jewish, a number likely to increase now, he said.
“We haven’t even had a semester-abroad program in Israel because of State Department warnings,” said Rosenberg, who came to Texas A&M in July after completing his rabbinical studies. “Now this will be like going to Galveston for some of our students.” The school has a campus in the coastal city.
The A&M plan would mark the first international branch campus in Israel, where such facilities are now banned, said Justin Lane, a senior researcher at the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York in Albany. U.S. schools including Yeshiva and Touro universities offer courses for part-time study in Israel, he said.
Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, must approve changes to enable the campus, Perry said.
The Nazareth institute has 112 students studying chemistry and communications and is the first academic college started by Israel’s Arab Palestinian community, according to its website. Israel hasn’t provided any funds to the school despite repeated requests, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, said today.
Funding for the A&M campus will come from donations because Texas law forbids investing public money internationally. No opening date has been set.
Texas A&M operates 11 universities in the state with more than 125,000 students. It also has a campus in Qatar, on the Persian Gulf. The school’s College Station complex has more than 50,000 students and is among the 10 largest in the U.S., though it sits 45 miles (72 kilometers) from an interstate highway.
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