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Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, lost the first round this week in his fight to persuade Congress to pressure Israel into reopening long-closed Arab Palestinian universities.

The House Rules Committee rejected Nielson's request to propose an amendment calling for such re-openings to a foreign aid appropriations bill being debated on the House floor this week.The Rules Committee - which determines how long bills may be debated on the House floor and how many amendments may be proposed to them - would not allow any `policy' amendments to the funding bill.

Nielson still will attempt to add similar wording to a later bill setting policy - but not funding - for foreign aid. He also is pushing an independent bill on the matter.

Nielson is upset that Israel has closed Arab universities in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank for nearly three years, idling tens of thousands of students. Israel also will not allow professors to visit their offices or teach off-campus.

Nielson said Israel is using education as a political weapon, while Israel claims the universities are closed because they were centers of violence during the Intifada uprising.

Last year, Nielson persuaded Congress to adopt an amendment to the foreign aid authorization bill calling for Israel to reopen elementary and secondary Arab schools, which had been closed for two years. The schools opened the next day.

"This was the first resolution of any kind that ever passed the Congress that in any way indicated Israel could improve some way," Nielson said. That is because pro-Israel groups wield enormous power in Congress by making heavy campaign contributions and mobilizing large numbers of vocal citizens for lobbying.

Despite such power, Nielson is confident Congress will pass his resolution calling for university reopenings because he says Israel is clearly wrong in keeping them closed. He says that even pro-Israel members of Congress are "quietly embarrassed" by it.