Interview with Simon Savvateev: SSI of University of Saint Thomas

Simon Savvateev: University of Saint Thomas

Simon Savvateev is the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) president at the University of Saint Thomas, which is a private Roman Catholic School located in Minnesota. As a sophomore, Savvateev is studying accounting and hopes to be a fraud investigator in the future.

When Savvateev started attending university, the former SSI president, Nick Hiniker, reached out to him to join. “I did not understand why so many people hated Israel and it made me frustrated, especially since I have been to Israel.” Having been to Israel on a couple of occasions, Savvateev mentions that he has seen kindness, loyalty, and many other good things that people don’t realize so he wanted to show people that Israel is not the “apartheid state” everyone thinks it is – which is why he joined SSI.

All in all, Savvateev wants to see his campus be one that allows other students to engage in a civic dialogue about Israel, especially because many people do not know how to approach the topic. Since the University of Saint Thomas is a Catholic school, “a lot of people don’t care about the issue of Israel because they don’t think it applies to them.”

A big win that SSI of the University of Saint Thomas had this last week was passing a pro-Israel bill. Savvateev says that he thought of this idea in light of the Pittsburgh massacre that happened in October of 2018, and other instances on campus where there is certain language used that provokes violent acts against jewish people. “I thought that enough is enough, and I wanted to inspire students to stand up for marginalized communities that aren’t only for the jews.” The pro-Israel bill beseeches that the University condemns anti-Semitic speech; speech that is used to stereotype the jews, and it protects jews from degarotory hate speech and dehumanization. However, there was a little bit of trouble getting this bill passed because the University did not want to actively say they support Israel. “We had to make a compromise that it is a bill that protected Jewish rights and that students could have whatever opinion they want about Israel as long as they have a civil discourse about it.” But now that the pro-Israel bill has passed, Savvateev senses that Jews already feel safer on campus.

On campus, a lot of students have questions about Israel and Judaism so Savvateev says that informing students about the holidays, customs, and what it means to be Jewish has really helped spread a larger awareness about Israel.

In the future, Savvateev sees himself a person who will continue educating people who are interested in learning about Israel, and providing a correct and cohesive narrative about what is going on in Israel through advocacy.

To the rest of the SSI’ers across the country, Savvateev says that “compromise is one of the most essential things about being an activist. It may be something you don’t want to hear but it is essential to hear both sides. Compromise is the most defining theme in pro-Israel advocacy.”

About the Author
Leor Saghian is a first year student at Santa Monica College majoring in Psychology and is part of the local Students Supporting Israel chapter. Currently, Leor serves as an intern for the national SSI Movement as a publisher and blogger. Leor's family is originally from Iran and following the revolution, immigrated to the United States and Israel.