Today Students Supporting Israel – SSI is turning 7 years old, and I would like to share two especially memorable events out of the many early moments that shaped our organization and allowed us to grow from a single chapter into an international student movement.
On March 12, 2012, SSI was registered for the first time as a new student group at the University of Minnesota. SSI was active for just 4 months, when on November 14 through the 17, 2012, the IDF launched Operation Pillar of Defense against terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, with the objective of reducing the number of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
As soon as the operation had started, American college campuses and universities became a battle ground for protests against the state of Israel. Demonstrations were held on a daily basis, die-ins were staged, and many other anti-Israel events took place.
SSI decided to respond by holding a rally across from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Minnesota campus, to make sure that people walking by see that there are two sides to the story and not only the anti-Israel side.
At our first rally, about 10 people showed up. The next day there were 15 of us. Then on a Friday, following the Muslim Student Association’s services, together with SJP, a crowd of around 200 people walked out of the student union to protest against Israel, but there were already 50 of us who waited for them to come out.
We had Israeli flags, hand written banners, and a megaphone. Outnumbered four to one by students who hate us more than they love their own people, a member of SJP charged our way and it almost got violent, but he was stopped just before he could hit any one of us.
At that moment, although I’ve never stood closer to danger, I’ve never felt more confident. It is because then you realize that unless you stand up for yourself, no one else will do it for you. It was at that moment facing hatred from such close range I decided to push myself as far as I can go for supporting Israel, and so ever since in SSI we always push ourselves as far as we can go.
By the end of March 2014, two years after we first registered as a student group, SSI had chapters on 6 campuses. The main catalyst for expansion was the passing of a pro-Israel bill in the University of Minnesota student government led by SSI, which was also the first pro-Israel bill passed in the country at the time. We realized that after a long time of just defending our position from BDS attacks, it was time to get on the offense, take initiative, and introduce our own bills. We wanted the other side to have to get defensive.
After the bill passed, SSI Minnesota was honored with an award from the Israeli Consulate to the Midwest for outstanding activism, and students from other campuses started contacting SSI asking “How you do things in Minnesota?” This turned us into one of the strongest student groups in the Midwest.
Our answer was simple, yet new: a national problem like SJP deserves a national solution in the form of a united pro-Israel student movement. We told students to start their own SSI chapter so we could all work together.
Our initial plan on how to branch out across the country was written on a napkin at midnight as a few of us discussed strategy over some pizza. I still have that napkin today. Our members started reaching out, friends brought friends, and more SSI chapters started opening up across the country, all united under one name and with one mission.
Seven years later, our movement is operating in 3 countries. As of today we’ve been active on nearly 100 campuses. It is truly amazing to realize that our ideas and hard work in Minneapolis, MN can go so far. United we are strong. Divided we will fall.
Earlier this semester as I traveled across the country I had a chance to speak to a college student at a conference. She told me she is a member of Students Supporting Israel on her campus and asked me if I heard of such an organization. I smiled and told her yes I have, and to me this represented the beauty of SSI. We are bigger than any name or any person. We are our mission, the idea we represent and the values we stand for. The Students supporting Israel symbol on the front is bigger than anyone’s name on the back.
All over the country, as I write these words, there are members of Students Supporting Israel working on their campuses from coast to coast to proudly represent the Jewish people and their homeland. Our movement will always be thankful for the many students who gave generously of their time, occasionally missing classes, to stand for what they believe in. From the founders who started us on many campuses, to board members who have been involved and made it all work, we stand united and strong. SSI will continue empowering pro-Israel students and raising a generation of fighters who will never be afraid to proudly represent Israel wherever they go.