Mr. Perry jpined Texas A&M leaders and Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday to announce the creation of Texas A&M Peace University, a branch campus of the sixth largest university in the United States. It will be built in Nazareth, known as the Arab capital of Israel.
Numerous American universities have opened outposts in the Middle East and around the world in recent years, including New York University, which has a campus in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. But if Peace University comes to fruition, it will represent a first for both Texas A&M and Israel: No other American university has opened a branch campus there.
Texas A&M is the alma mater not only of Mr. Perry, but of the country music star Lyle Lovett, former Mayor Henry G. Cisneros of San Antonio and other Texas figures. It opened in 1876 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, and students and alumni still proudly declare themselves Aggies and take pride in a sort of can-do, hyper-Texan aura, even as the university has sought to expand its international reputation. In 2003, it opened a campus in Doha, Qatar, that offers engineering degrees.
The university said that students and teachers at the campus in Israel would include Arabs and Jews, as well as international students and faculty, and that graduates would receive an Aggie Ring, the same one worn by graduates of the main campus in College Station, Tex. Texas A&M, a public university, is prohibited by state law from investing public dollars in international branches. Financing will come from private donors in Texas and around the world.
Aside from taking part in the announcement on Wednesday, Mr. Perry has largely played a supporting role in the project, although he has offered to help raise money. Evangelical Christians, with whom Mr. Perry has long identified, have been active supporters of Israel, but the main Texas player in the branch campus effort is a Roman Catholic — John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System and a longtime supporter of Israeli and Jewish causes.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Sharp and his wife, Charlotte Han, helped raise money for a group of impoverished Russian Jewish children seeking to immigrate to Israel, after hearing a rabbi’s plea in a radio broadcast from Chicago. In 2011, about a month after being appointed chancellor, he began working to plant an academic flag there.
“I wanted a presence in Israel,” said Mr. Sharp, who was Mr. Perry’s college roommate. “I have felt a kinship with Israel.”
When Mr. Sharp began exploring the idea, he sought the help of John C. Hagee, an evangelical pastor in San Antonio whose sermons are broadcast around the world and who has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for projects in Israel and for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In March 2012, Pastor Hagee told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel about Mr. Sharp’s plans and helped connect Mr. Sharp and other Texas A&M officials with Israeli leaders.
“A messenger boy is about what I’m turning out to be, and I’m glad to do it,” said Pastor Hagee, the founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. “The things we have in common with Israel are much greater than anything that would be separating us.”
Officials said the campus would offer undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs, with instruction in English. A potential site in Nazareth has been identified, but no financing has been obtained yet. They said fund-raising efforts would begin within weeks, but declined to offer a fund-raising goal.