Empowering Pro-Israel students is crucial for Israel’s future

'Especially now, more people on college campuses should know that being pro-Israel means pro-West, pro-freedom and pro-democracy.'

 Pro-Israel supporters take part in a protest in Brussels, Belgium May 16, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/Johanna Geron)
Pro-Israel supporters take part in a protest in Brussels, Belgium May 16, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/Johanna Geron)

Student movements around the world have always been a vehicle of social change. The prominent ideas we hear today on college campuses may turn into the policies of governments, civil society, and corporations in as little as a decade. Hence, it’s crucial to keep increasing the grassroots activities informing students about the Zionist story and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic country with secure borders.

As the Russian war on Ukraine continues, Western allies are working closer together. Especially now, more people on college campuses should know that being pro-Israel means pro-West, pro-freedom and pro-democracy. Unlike Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and even the Palestinian Authority, Israel stands with the West and cherishes Western values of free speech, Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rule of law, fostering and celebrating diversity, free and democratic elections, a free-market economy and more. The well-respected research institute Freedom House designates Israel as a free democracy, while all of its neighbors are designated as unfree. 

Anti-Israel activists on campuses try to counter this fact by delegitimizing Israel and anything or anyone associated with it. Activists from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are not “for” anything but tarnishing Israel’s image as a free and democratic state. Their infamous “Apartheid Week,” based on lies and manipulation of reality, is a prime example.

What they are trying to hide from students by manufacturing lies about the Jewish state is the nature of Palestinian leadership and society, which is the true Apartheid. That is why we at Students Supporting Israel (SSI) started this past academic year with a new, successful campaign on multiple campuses titled “Palestinian Apartheid Week,” sharing information with students about the systemic ethnic discrimination against Jews in Palestinian-controlled territories, the official policy to financially reward the killing of Jewish civilians, the fact that Jews cannot pray in Palestinian-controlled territories without fear of violence and more.

Changing the conversation on campuses is also taking place, along with changes in the Middle East itself. The growing normalization process and the Abraham Accords signed between Israel and its Middle East neighbors serve as an opportunity for pro-Israel groups on campus and beyond. While in previous years, we focused on showing Israel’s vibrancy, fighting antisemitism, and the BDS Movement, now we should also focus on the partnership between Israel and its new allies. Co-sponsoring pro-Israel events with Emirati and Bahraini groups or inviting a Moroccan speaker to an event is quickly becoming a reality.

The growing cooperation between Zionists and fellow Arab-Muslims who accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state will serve as another blow to those who lie about Zionism.

This potential shift can also show the campus community that the pro-Israel side is pro-peace between Arabs and Jews, while Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their supporters are against any peaceful relations with the Jewish state. 

This week, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) will host more than 100 student leaders from across the US, Canada, Argentina, Panama, Mexico and Israel for an educational conference in Atlanta, GA. After more than ten years of grassroots activism, we have learned that human capital is the most important factor for the Zionist movement on campus. Today’s Zionist student leaders are the upcoming protectors of the Jewish people and Israel, and we should do everything in our power to continue to empower them with knowledge, mentoring, tools and content. 

Many worldwide acknowledge that the State of Israel is blooming as a world-renowned technology hub, not just as a “Start-Up Nation” but also as a “Unicorn Nation” with dozens of Israeli companies valued at more than a billion dollars. Israel is deepening its relations with its Arab neighbors and is even becoming an energy giant.  

These outstanding achievements don’t stop anti-Israel forces on campus and beyond from trying to break the ties between Israel and its Western allies or trying to smear Israel’s democracy.  Promoting the Zionist story and Israel’s legitimacy on campuses around the world is crucial to make sure they fail in the years to come.

Ilan Sinelnikov is the Founder and President of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a grassroots pro-Israel movement. Since 2012, SSI has operated on nearly 200 colleges, universities and high schools in the US, Canada and Argentina. 

This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by David Cumin.