Our community can rejoice in the fact that the past thirty days are showcased with pivotal victories for Israel advocacy. The recent successfully adopted pro-Israel legislation in the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) spearheaded by the Students Supporting Israel at the University of Minnesota (SSI) produces such cause to count our blessings.
On February 25th, the MSA decided to “…expand(ing) study abroad options in the Middle East, specifically Israel, with a concentration in business, science, engineering, and agriculture.” The MSA, furthermore, stated that “Israel is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, with the highest ratings in human rights and democracy in the region.” As the MSA adapted a policy position to enhance educational collaboration, SSI successfully institutionalized a pro-Israel voice in campus leadership.
SSI’s victory highlights two critical points that, if seized upon, can have a momentous impact in Israel advocacy in all of North America. Firstly, it answers the lingering question of whether or not the divestment movement can be defeated on a college campus. Secondly, it’s quite conceivable that SSI’s victory provided a framework for other universities to adapt and utilize for their own campus.
The uniqueness of SSI’s successful approach is embedded in the proved theory that in order to institutionalize a pro-Israel voice, we must make ourselves relevant to general student life. The successfully passed bill focused on improving educational collaboration and study abroad options in Israel while lauding Israel’s innovative accomplishments.
SSI’s victory isn’t simply a positive institutional policy shift towards Israel. SSI’s effort in passing this legislation was not to simply gain the support of campus leadership, but also to outline real goals and strategies to further educational collaboration and study abroad options between Minnesota’s student community and Israeli academic institutions.
Rather than focusing on a conventional political angle of promoting Israel, the SSI crew created a resolution that can tangibly impact the university’s academic and social foundations.
The lesson of the University of Minnesota’s victory demonstrates that being willing to risk, lay it out on the line, being strategic in the message, and being innovative in the way you advocate will lead you to enhanced opportunity and success.
Now I’ll venture to guess what criticism may be leveled at my assertions- i.e. “every campus is different”, “we don’t want to attract attention”, or “we don’t want to start a fight in student government”. In response to those well-intended arguments, I’ll say that adapting proactive strategies doesn’t always look the same.
To be clear, SSI’s achievement isn’t the first pro-Israel resolution passed in student government. Yet, the context and content of their work has the potential to reinvigorate pro-Israel advocacy. It should provide us the framework to critically think about what the most effective approach is to not only successfully defending ourselves against anti-Israel actions, but being proactive in the way we advocate.
As Hasbara Fellowship’s Midwest Advisor, I’m honored and proud to work side-by-side with the leadership and members of SSI- an organization led by Hasbara Fellows Ilan Sinelnikov and Ron Feingold. Both individuals personify the definition of innovative Israel advocacy, with their successful legacies being determined by the virtue of merit, hard-work, being willing to take chances to attain success.