By: Rebecca Katzman
In 2014, the Israeli Students Association at Ryerson University in Canada transformed itself into a movement that now encompasses students from all over United States, the United Kingdom and Austria. This movement is called Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a Pro-Israel Grassroots movement. I joined Students Supporting Israel because I wanted to be the voice for Pro-Israel students who are concerned about speaking out on campus due to a threat of their own personal safety. It is also important that the voice for Israel has a presence on our campus to help disseminate the facts, create awareness and combat falsehoods. On August 21st, Students Supporting Israel had their first “National Conference”, which included their one Canadian International Chapter from Ryerson University.
The atmosphere during the conference was warm and welcoming because the student leaders from each SSI group value networking and meeting others with the same goals. Networking in Israel advocacy is exceptionally important because students can share ideas and their narratives as well as having an entire support system behind them so they never feel they are alone. On the first day of the conference, the student leaders enjoyed an exciting and friendly reception to help them interact with the other students who attended the conference. The students used this time to discuss their campus climate and network with others who travelled many miles and to unwind after a long day.
Although the conference lasted only a few days, the speakers taught the Students valuable tools to become an effective advocate for Israel and to continue to build successful SSIs on their various campuses. There was one complete day of individual speakers as well as training from some of the top Israel advocacy organizations. It also included a thorough and well-researched explanation of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement by Max Samarov from StandWithUs, as well as dynamic and tremendously helpful tabling session by Barry Jakob from Hasbara Fellowships.
Other dynamic speakers included Jonathan Carey, to help address common accusations toward Israel, Abe Haak , who is an Anti- BDS activist from Jordan, David Marias who spoke about student governments, Dr. Asaf Ramiorosky who explained the Palestinian narrative of the Israel/Palestine conflict and a coalition building session by our very own SSI National Team. The following day, the students were privileged to hear Maya Karmely who is the Israel Midwest Consulate General. Karmely was open to answer questions the students had about Israel and United States relations. It was also pleasant to hear from a student panel who expressed some of their advocacy that they had completed on their campuses which enabled other students to bring back this information to their own campuses.
After a day of listening to many passionate and inspiring speakers, the student leaders were invited to a beautiful dinner and an award presentation. SSI members heard from people who live in Israel express gratitude for our efforts on our campuses. The students truly felt appreciated for their tireless effort they put forth on a daily basis on their own campus. I felt a sense of pride when our Students Supporting Israel chapter at Ryerson won an award for “Best International Chapter”. After the award portion of the evening, the dinner ended with the singing “Hatikvah”, “Star Spangled Banner” and “O’Canada”.
As I reflect back on the conference, I am proud that I could be part of a movement that is bigger than any single individual student group on a campus. I believe that Students Supporting Israel movement is like an extended family for me. I know that there is a network of people that I can contact for advice and support whenever an Anti-Israel incident occurs on campus. The conference motivated me to continue my passion of pro-Israel advocacy. I will use the innovative tools that I learned from the conference to thrive and help make our campus a more safe and inviting place for all students.Rebecca Katzman is the is the Vice President of Canada's first Students Supporting Israel Chapter at Ryerson University, a StandwithUs Emerson Fellow and a Hasbara Fellow.