A Voice on Campus

By: Itzchak Maghen
On Wednesday, December 27th, over 60 students from across the country met together in San Diego, California. This was the first time many students, including myself, attended Students Support Israel’s national conference. Most, if not all of these students, are either current SSI board members or students trying to start the movement on their own campuses. Already a member of the SSI of SMC chapter, I personally hoped to network with other SSI members and learn about what they do differently on their campuses in comparison to ours. A pro-Israel organization, SSI’s mission is to “be a clear and confident Pro-Israel voice on college campuses, and to support students in grassroots Pro-Israel advocacy.”
Over the years, members of multiple SSI chapters have been successful in attaining student government positions, in addition to passing a variety of resolutions in favor of Israel on their college campuses. With their success, the goal of SSI’s national conference is to further broaden and utilize the skills their participants use on campuses throughout the nation. The purpose of the conference is to give students another skill to place in their toolbox. More importantly “[...] we were all able to learn from each other and I found a lot of value and inspiration in that,” says Doreen Benyamin, board member of the SSI chapter at Columbia University.
On Thursday morning, students had the chance to hear from Sally Abrams, a prolific writer, speaker, and co-Director of the Speakers Bureau for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Abrams emphasized the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”Abrams handed out an outline to help guide students in their writing efforts. Below are a few of her tips:
* Know who you’re writing for, why you’re writing, and the message you wish to convey
* You need a captivating and catchy title to lure your reader
* Less is more -- get to the point

Participant Justin Feldman, president of the SSI chapter at SMC, described Abrams’ speech as “[...]the most elaborate speech on writing in the pro-Israel sphere that I have ever seen. I felt much more empowered to write with effectiveness after being given timeless tips by her.”
Participants also had the honor to learn from a Republican politician, commentator, and Senator Ted Cruz’s former National spokesman, Ron Nehring. He discussed the art of confronting your opponent in a conversation, and more importantly, how to set the narrative when engaged with your opponent. Nehring mentioned the importance of body language and transitional phrases when engaging your opponent. For example, many people will raise their voices and use profane words when they sense they’re losing an argument. In regards to Israel, Nehring mentioned it’s important for students to mention all the positive actions Israel has taken. In other words, educate your opponents by sharing the missing narrative they have not heard. Below are a few pointers Nehring mentioned:
* It’s better to respond to the question, rather than answer it directly. That way, you can help pivot the question
* Don’t repeat what you’re opponent asks, rather, answer with transitional phrases. For example “There’s more to the story…” or “The real issue here is…”
* And obviously, always remain calm and relaxed when debating
Last but not least, participants heard from Rachel Kaplan and Mordy Miller, representatives from an organization called Reservists on Duty. Their message incorporated both what Abrams and Nehring emphasized. For example, Kaplan mentioned that often, when she and her group confront anti-Israel students, most students can only hear shouting and yelling. Often, Kaplan and her group will literally take up pens and sharpies to write out their messages on posters. That way, at least students can see what she and her group stand for, the truth. A few of Kaplan’s suggestions::
* Always record or capture anti-semitic protests and events
* Always have security at your events. Protestors are aggressive and dangerous at times
* Don’t be afraid to write about your experience with protesters after the event -- speak up and educate others on the situation
With what I’ve learned at the conference, whether it be from the speakers or my fellow peers, I feel more confident standing up for Israel on my college campus. Now, I’ll be better suited to engage anti-Semitic/ anti-Israel students on campus. For one, I’ll share my experiences with others, whether it be on educational conferences as such, or, incidents involving anti-Israel students. But what really made an impact on me was how helpful my fellow SSI students were. Many of the participants, myself included, continue to remain in touch with one another. “From here we will only keep on growing, and what started as an organization by the students and for the students will keep making a difference,” says the President and Executive Director of SSI, Ilan Sinelnikov.
Itzchak Maghen is an SSI Board Member at Santa Monica College (SMC) and an attendee of the third SSI national conference in San Diego.