10 Things Every Pro Israel Campus Leader Needs to Know

By Naor R. Bitton
As soon as I stepped on a college campus, I understood one thing – being a pro-Israel campus leader is not an easy task. It takes effort, leadership skills, and, on too many campuses, it takes great courage. The success of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) groups and others across North America has taught us how to start winning back our campuses and effectively give Israel, and Pro Israel students, a voice.
Here are 10 things that every Pro Israel student can do to become a better leader on their campus:
1. Engage, engage, and engage some more:
Students are the leaders of tomorrow. It’s not just a slogan - it’s a worldwide reality. Those future leaders shape many of their views about the world during college. Events, speakers, festivals and tabling times can create a positive attitude toward Israel on campus and can effect the way students perceive Israel, as a country and as a just project.
In the campus community, students are constantly engaging each other about things they love, through clubs, fraternities, and voluntary work, to name a few. Israel should not be any different. If you have passion for the only Jewish and democratic state - talk to your friends, organize activities, and engage your fellow students.
2. Remind students of the big picture, while confronting the hard questions:
All too often, students view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as wholly representative of Israel. But as Pro Israel leaders know, Israeli society has a lot more to it.
It is easy to see that the United States is not singularly defined by the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay, or drone strikes. To the contrary, the United States is viewed by many around the world as beacon of democracy and liberty. Why then, do some act as though Israel must be judged based by its conflicts alone? The young Jewish State is a flourishing democracy, a capital of high-tech and med-tech, and a world leader in hydrological and agricultural technology. Students on U.S. campuses should hear about those remarkable facts as well.
Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be confronted and solved, and constructive dialogue on campus is highly encouraged. But there is a bigger picture – show the students all of Israel’s colors.
3. Fight BDS in new and innovative ways:
Israel’s adversaries on campus have had some success lately, but things are starting to change. More and more students are starting to understand that those who call for boycotting Israel are not interested in bettering the lives of Palestinians, but rather in the eradication of the only Jewish state while using liberal ideas as a propaganda instrument. This is not speculation, in fact, many Pro Israel leaders have heard this hateful truth from BDS supporters themselves. They don’t hide it.
In order to win on this new battlefield, we need to employ new strategies: passing Pro Israel legislation in student governments that call for increasing cooperation and exchange programs between Israel and the local universities, SSI has been a pioneer and passed already three resolutions nationwide. Another great idea involves lobbying state legislators to pass anti-BDS laws, such as the one that was passed in Illinois, prevent the state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel. Other strategies are in the making to fight this hateful campaign.
4. Appeal to Emotion – it runs deeper than facts:
Connecting to other students is easier if emotions are involved. You can give an American student all the information available, but if you don’t connect to her/his love for the United States and its unbreakable bond with Israel, you will not connect with them.
If you talk about Zionism in the way Israel’s founders did – as a movement of people who want to be free and sovereign in their own land after enduring centuries of persecution, then it becomes an idea that resembles the American story. If you talk to a Korean-American or Indian-American student about Israeli democracy without discussing the similarities and connections between their cultures and Israel’s culture, then the message will not be received. Find that emotional connection, and you’ll find someone who is ready to listen to Israel’s story.
5. Learn more about the Arab-Israeli conflict:
Addressing emotions is important, but emotional appeals will not be successful unless the speaker is knowledgeable and confident in all of the facts. For example, every Pro Israel activist should know what Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat at Camp David, or what Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas after the Annapolis summit, and that both peaceful offers were turned down or left unanswered by the Palestinians. We should also learn more about the issues that are influencing the Israeli-Arab relations: Issues with Lebanon, Jerusalem, the Palestinian demand of return, the barrier, settlements and more. Knowing more about the origins of the conflict will give confidence to every student leader to engage about the issue.
6. Rule Social Media:
As we know too well, the vast majority of students are on social media, even during class time. Many of these students collect their news, read opinions and procrastinate while reading their endless feed. That is why Pro Israel leaders should have an exceptional presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, tumblr, and Snapchat, etc. Social media may, at times, seem to be “preaching to the choir” by reaching only people that already support Israel. However, effective posts can reach the people that are “on the fence” and affect the way they perceive the Jewish state and its people. In addition, mastering the social media tools makes it easier to engage and attract more students to Pro Israel events and activities.
7. Work together with other Pro Israel groups:
This is exactly why we started Students Supporting Israel. Israel’s detractors on campus already understand the power of working as a national movement, while Pro Israel students were working on similar issues, but apart. There are many student activists who believe in the State of Israel and in the right of the Jewish self-determination in the Holy Land. When a grassroots student group from Iowa is synced with a grassroots group in Los Angeles, and when a student leader from Illinois is asking for advice from a leader in Vermont, our Pro Israel voice becomes stronger, and reaches more students.
Together – we are stronger. SSI meeting in AIPAC Policy Conference
8. Create relationships with minority groups, school administration, and student media:
This is one thing that most of us are lacking. The most successful Pro Israel leaders are creating relationships with everyone possible on campus. SSI chapters have demonstrated that there are many student groups that are never approached, and mutually beneficial coalitions with these groups can help us win on campus. For example, groups such as the Indian-American and Asian-American student associations have proven to work well with Pro Israel leaders on important issues. These relationships extend beyond organizational work and can influence classroom discussions and the overall narrative surrounding Israel on campus. Student news organizations connect with students daily, and something as simple as writing an op-ed in the campus newspaper can reach thousands of students and change the conversation. Finally, students who communicate the importance of supporting Israel with the administration can help quash even the most ardent anti-Israel activity.
Building relationships: SSI leaders at Penn State University meeting with the local Black Caucus.
9. Be proud of being Pro Israel
Some people might take it for granted – but many, many students do not feel safe being openly Pro Israel on their own campus. The way to feel safer is to assemble a group and work together. Students might think they are alone, but they are actually surrounded by thousands of students across North America that support Israel. They simply need to find each other. Being proud of being Pro Israel will have a profound impact on campus. The unjust norm of bashing of Israel and its people, will fade away as more students will be openly sounding their Pro Israel views.
Israel is not perfect, but its values, accomplishments, and people are worth celebrating. Pride is the engine of an effective Pro Israel activist.
10. Visit Israel and talk to Israelis
This one is simple.
Every leader needs a reminder once in a while, for what s/he is stands for.
There are many programs that help students visit Israel and will allow you to reconnect with Israel and talk with the people that fulfill the Zionist dream everyday. Naor R. Bitton is the National Advisor of Students Supporting Israel and a National Board Director. He was on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Minnesota and holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Politics.
Naor R. Bitton is the National Advisor of Students Supporting Israel and a National Board Director. He was on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Minnesota and holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Politics.
SSI blog posts are rotating between the movement's student leaders. Read more at SSI official website.