New Pro-Israel Student Group Shakes Things Up At UW



Jewish students on campuses across the country are reeling from the sustained onslaught of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism emanating from groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER). Just last month a student at UCLA was initially denied a student government position because she is Jewish. Only a few weeks earlier Jewish students at UC Davis were taunted after a BDS resolution was passed with shouts of Alahu Akbar, the next day the Jewish Fraternity was defaced with swastikas. A new study showed over half of Jewish college students have experienced anti-Semitism on campus.

In this challenging atmosphere comes a new student group to join the fight for Israel, Students Supporting Israel (SSI). Founded at the University of Minnesota in March 2012, SSI now boasts over 30 chapters across the United States and Canada. The newest chapter of SSI opened at the University of Washington earlier this year and is already having an impact. We spoke to one of the SSI-UW chapter founders, Jessica Schwartz about the goals of the new pro-Israel group. Jessica is a graduate of Northwest Yeshiva High School and a Sophomore at the UW.

The Mike Report (TMR): What does Students Supporting Israel do exactly?

Jessica Schwartz (JS): SSI’s mission, is to “create a clear and confident Pro-Israel voice on college campuses, and to support students in grassroots Pro-Israel advocacy.” At UW, our group is focused on educating others about Israel and celebrating Israeli culture. We also engage in Israel advocacy.

TMR: What projects have you undertaken on campus so far?

JS: We are the new kid on Campus, we have just started with outreach and trying to get new members. We table on campus —we set up a table, give out bagels and information about Israel, and recruit new members. We participated in UW’s CulturalFest, setting up a booth and chatting with students, and we are planning more events for the rest of the year.

Tabling for Israel at UW on a blustery February afternoon. Sasha Portnoy (left) and Jessica Schwartz (right).

Tabling for Israel at UW on a blustery February afternoon. Sasha Portnoy (left) and Jessica Schwartz (right).

TMR: The atmosphere on campuses across the country has become increasingly hostile for Jewish and pro-Israel students. How does SSI-UW plan to address this problem?

JS: We are planning ways to spread positive messages about Israel on campus.  During “Israel Apartheid Week.” we partnered with StandWithUs, JConnect (Hillel’s post-grad community) and Hillel UW for our first event. We brought Neil Lazarus, an expert in the fields of Middle East politics, public diplomacy, and effective communication to train students how to speak about Israel in the media.

TMR: How did the Neil Lazarus event go? Were the students receptive to his pro-Israel message?

JS: He spoke about how the media has the power to shape public opinion. By leaving out parts of the story and drawing attention to certain details, the media has the power to tell the stories they want to tell, so we must be aware and look for all the facts. We had a really great turnout—it was mixed between JConnect-ers, students involved in Israel activities on campus, other students who we recruited through tabling, and yet others who found the event through Hillel. The audience was very receptive, and I think it was a very good places for people to ask questions about Israel from a very knowledgeable expert.

SSI students sharing the beauty and wonder of Israel with the next generation. At CultureFest UW.

SSI students sharing the beauty and wonder of Israel with the next generation. At CultureFest UW.

TMR: There are other Jewish groups on campus like Hillel, and StandWithUs, how have they responded to the arrival of SSI-UW?

JS: I’m really happy with the incredibly supportive pro-Israel community I have found here at UW. I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing, and I’m looking forward to continuing our strong partnerships both with StandWithUs and with Hillel.

You can find out more about Students Supporting Israel at the University of Washington (SSI-UW) by going to their Facebook page (while you’re there please “like” it).