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August 19, 2016 1:57 am

Grassroots Student Group to Focus on Offensive Strategy For Israel Activism in Coming Semester (INTERVIEW)

avatar by Lea Speyer

Pro-Israel students taking part of the second annual national Students Supporting Israel conference. Photo: SSI.

Pro-Israel students taking part of the second annual national Students Supporting Israel conference. Photo: SSI.

Pro-Israel students belonging to a campus advocacy grassroots organization gathered this week in Minnesota to strategize on how to transform the pressure felt from anti-Israel groups into action, the head of the movement told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“Today, pro-Israel students feel a lot of pressure and face a lot of challenges from the anti-Israel movement,” said Ilan Sinelnikov, founder and president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI). “We are working with our student members to take that pressure and turn it into productivity to stand up for Israel.”

SSI wrapped up its second annual conference on Tuesday, which took place at the University of Minnesota, a place of special significance to the organization as it is where the grassroots movement was first founded. According to Sinelnikov, 28 different colleges were represented at the conference by approximately 68 students.

This year, SSI partnered with many campus organizations — with which Sinelnikov said the group is “proud to work” — including the IAC-IDC Center, StandwithUs, David Project, Hasbara Fellowships, Lawfare Project, Hillel on Campus, Chabad on Campus, Americans for Peace and Tolerance and Turning Point USA.

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Sinelnikov said, “This year’s conference was a huge success and our work was noted by important officials,” such as Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan and US Congressman Erik Paulsen — “who took their free time to congratulate SSI for its work, which was very meaningful to the students.”

The incoming president of SSI’s UCLA chapter, Inbar Goren, told Sinelnikov after the conference that he “became even 10 times more passionate about SSI,” and “felt even more connected to the cause than before.” Ofri Sella, an Israeli student who came to study in the United States, said attending the conference and seeing the Israel-advocacy efforts of hundreds of students “truly made me emotional,” Sinelnikov related.

At this year’s conference, SSI focused on strategy and how to offensively advocate for Israel.

“If you are constantly defending Israel and being reactive, at some point you won’t be able to make a difference anymore. By moving to the offensive, we are preparing the groundwork for before things happen,” Sinelnikov told The Algemeiner. “At the end of the day, we are dealing with education and SSI’s final goal is about educating students about Israel and initiating dialogue in an easy and fast way. This is the core of SSI.”

While students took part in various workshops — such as how to recruit new members, brainstorming on creative advocacy ideas, and how to combat anti-Israel resolutions in student government — the most notable event of the conference, Sinelnikov said, was a protest simulation.

“The students had 20 minutes to plan and carry out a demonstration on campus with the purpose of highlighting if something happens in Israel, we have to act fast,” he said. Students were shown a timeline based on actual events that happened in Israel. “We told students a soldier was kidnapped in Israel and a few hours later, the country was engaged in a full out war. We asked them to divide up into three groups and split up across the university with specific advocacy tasks.”

At the end of the 20 minutes, the three groups together staged a protest across the campus. “Everyone wore the same shirt, chanted the same slogans and we practiced demonstrating,” Sinelnikov said. “This was a very important scenario for our students, because we need to make sure Israel’s message is the first one on campus. We are directing the narrative and not the Palestinian students and their allies. If something comes up, we need to act fast and we don’t have time to wait and ask permission.”

Sinelnikov said he believes SSI’s work is now more important than ever, since the anti-Israel movement is “starting to become more radical on college campuses.” However, he added, this radicalization is due to a major turning point in how Israel activists operate.

“Anti-Israel groups are starting to feel the pressure and are being pushed into the corner by motivated pro-Israel students who are standing their ground. This is forcing them to take more radical action to become noticeable. We’re making it so that the discussion on Israel isn’t a one-sided picture anymore,” he told The Algemeiner.

A new cycle has emerged that Sinelnikov said he hopes will finally see the end of anti-Israel campus groups.

“As pro-Israel students push back, anti-Israel groups are forced to take more radical actions. The more radical they become, the lesser amount of tolerance university officials will have and the faster these groups will be kicked out of campus,” he said.

SSI is expected to hit 50 chapters before the start of the new academic year, and currently boasts a membership of 450-500 student board members, a number that Sinelnikov said is quickly growing.

“Just as the founders of the state of Israel didn’t wait around for things to happen and wrote their own future, so too is SSI doing the same on college campuses,” he said. “We must write our own campus story.”

Watch Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon’s message to SSI below:

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