Interview with Valerie Rutenberg: SSI of Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University: Valerie Rutenberg

Valerie Rutenberg, who is the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) president at Santa Clara University, was born and raised in Palo Alto, California. As a first year student at Santa Clara University, Rutenberg is studying in the business school and majoring in economics in the future. At a young age, Rutenberg got involved with “ClubZ”, which is a pro-Israel youth program. She was very invested in learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while she attended ClubZ. When Rutenberg started college this year, she found out that there has been a Students for Justice of Palestine (SJP) established for five years on her campus. She decided to start an SSI chapter on her campus because she felt that students should learn about Israel’s side in the conflict.

Rutenberg stresses that she would love to see her campus turn into one that respects the diversity of opinions and preserves and upholds freedom of speech and embracement of different opinions. She added that she hopes to “educate people about the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict and give them the right facts to help them become critical thinkers in the classroom and the world at large.”

Although Rutenberg recently formed SSI at Santa Clara University in January of 2019, she has already faced one of the greatest challenges any SSI’er would face. On Valentine’s Day, Rutenberg had her first, and only, tabling event in honor of the organization Save a Child’s Heart. Save a Child’s Heart is an Israeli non-profit organization that improves the quality of pediatric cardiac care in developing countries. At this event, SJP members went to Rutenberg and claimed that her event does not support a good cause due to the fact that Israel has killed babies. With this, Rutenberg and the SJP members engaged in a peaceful, respectful debate which ended on good terms. However, those SJP members went to Santa Clara University’s student government without Rutenberg knowing, and expressed that SSI needs to be disbanded.

After complaining to the student government when hearing this shocking news, Rutenberg met with SJP before they each presented their speeches as to why SSI should stay on campus or be disbanded to the student government and other students. In the meeting,“SJP had three demands for SSI and myself so they could feel safer on campus” Rutenberg claimed. If Rutenberg did not comply to these demands, then SJP claimed that SSI would “threaten their emotional safety.” In addition to SJP protesting SSI, the staff of the Multicultural Center on her campus sent a mass email to students saying that they should come protest her speech. “In my speech, I spoke about SSI’s values and how they should stay on campus.” In SJP’s speech, they argued that SSI is a threat to safety because they support a nation state that is abusive and apartheid. After these speeches, two faculty members showed support for Rutenberg and SSI because they believed that SJP should not be allowed to make demands of Rutenberg and to shut down SSI. As of now, SSI of Santa Clara University still stands, but SJP wants to meet with Rutenberg to see if she incorporated their demands in order for them to feel safer on campus.

Before there was an SSI on her campus, Rutenberg says that many Jewish students had felt afraid to identify as Jewish on campus due to the aggressive activities SJP puts forth. But since SSI started, students have expressed so much gratitude towards her because now they feel more comfortable about being Jewish and pro-Israel on campus.

Rutenberg feels that talking about charities and events that shed a light of the untalked facts about Israel has worked really well on her campus, because more students can hear another side to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

In the future, Rutenberg hopes to become a lawyer and continue being involved in fighting for israel in discourse with far more friends and supporters fighting by her side.

To the rest of the SSI’ers across the country, Rutenberg advises that “though at times you may feel small, alone, and afraid, the truth is on our side and in the end truth will prevail.”

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.