Young Israelis of the year: Im Tirtzu (If You Will It): Herzl's army

Im Tirtzu (If You Will I

The last year has been a busy one for the student organization Im Tirtzu (If You Will It), which has expended tireless efforts since its inception in 2006 to promote Zionism on university and college campuses across the country, and whose members have increasingly found themselves at the center of high-level controversy. Within the span of a week last June, the organization had made headlines in a number of newspapers, first regarding an incident in which a member of an on-campus left-wing organization flashed Im Tirtzu members with the Nazi salute, followed by the group's protest over the appearance of a radical Islamic cleric at the University of Haifa, which sparked a vocal debate over freedom of speech on campus and ended up in a hearing at the Knesset Education Committee a week later. And the group has no plans of slowing down. What began as an idea during the Second Lebanon War, when group members threw their support behind IDF reservists who were demanding better conditions, the organization has grown into a powerful grassroots movement known for its ability to draw massive support from various universities' student bodies - especially when it comes to flashpoint issues. "That summer, during the [Second Lebanon War], it was just Ronen [Shoval] and Erez [Tadmor - Im Tirtzu's founders], standing in front of a booth at Hebrew University, enlisting support for the reservists," said Amit Barak, deputy director of operations for the group, and an active member who shows up at all of the organization's events. "Now we have a serious, core group of members, and depending on the event, we've been able to enlist hundreds of additional students who aren't necessarily members, but support us nonetheless. "During [last January's IDF] Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, we had thousands of students turn out for our rallies in support of the soldiers." Upcoming Im Tirtzu activities will include a new report the group is expected to release just in time for the start of the university semester in October, which will detail the state of Zionism on the country's campuses, and will include a deeper look at materials being studied and the lecturers who are teaching them. Asked if he felt the organization had taken a rightward shift in recent months, as the causes Im Tirtzu has pursued has seen it painted as more "right-wing" - the group was recently seen protesting a Rabbis for Human Rights debate over alleged IDF war crimes in Gaza and at a protest against Peace Now members at the Shepherd Hotel in Jerusalem - Barak said his movement's devotion to Zionism transcended partisan political labels. "Defending Israel and promoting Zionism is neither a right- or left-wing issue," he said. "Many of our members are left-wing, and they vote for left-wing parties, just as we have other members on the Right. The important thing to remember is that we are in favor of a strong, secure Israel, and will continue to do what we see fit to promote that."