Students Supporting Israel (SSI) are all about the truth, based on facts. And one thing about which the truth should be told, in fact, must be told, is around Palestinian Apartheid Week.
SSI was founded in March 2012 at the University of Minnesota, by Ilan Sinelnikov and Valeria Chazin, where, at that time, there were three Israeli and some 700 Jewish students studying. SSI is a rapidly growing grassroots pro-Israel-Zionist independent, nonpartisan international campus movement that supports the State of Israel as a Jewish Democratic nation-state, with national offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
SSI is not a Jewish organization. While Hillel and Chabad focus on Jewishness on campus, SSI is focusing on Israel with some 30% of the organization’s activists being non-Jews. SSI was created by students for students, of all nationalities, political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. There are currently multiple chapters across the United States, Canada, and Argentina, all working together in order to organize a strong and united pro-Israel front on college campuses.
As a grassroots organization, SSI’s main goal is to educate students to support Israel, get engaged and become visible activists – everywhere on campus. Also to empower students on campus who are already supporting Israel to lead their fellow campus’ community.
SSI activism is revolutionary. The most important for its activists is to be proactive and not wait to defend Israel when something bad has already happened. For instance, draft resolutions that may prevent anti-Israel activities on campus.
I was given the opportunity to interview Ilan Sinelnikov, SSI Founder and President, and from him, I learned how valuable SSI is to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.
How SSI Came About
SSI started with few Israelis students at the University of Minnesota after the “Israel Apartheid Week” on campus took place. That was the triggering point. Ilan and the Israeli students, holding an Israeli flag and banners, attended those events; they walked into the room where Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held their meeting and when they were asked who they were they replied: “We are students and we are supporting Israel.” And that is where the name came to be: Students [who are] Supporting Israel.
While so many ‘sell’ Israel for its high-tech, its soft spot for the LBGT community, with most sought after annual gay parade in Tel-Aviv, on campus that does not matter. On college campuses the conversation goes along the do you have the right to be there – in the land of Israel -in the first place. SSI work is to dive into the root of the problem, when way too many students do not know what the term Zionism means.
What makes SSI different from other “Pro-Israel” organizations is the idea that it is a Zionist Hub for students on campus, when Zionism means the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. SSI operates under the umbrella of one name across multiple campuses, often including interns, fellows, and student leaders from various organizations that support Israel.
According to IHRA’s (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) non-legally binding working broad definition* of Antisemitism bullet points, if you deny the Jews their right to self-determination, which is the definition of Zionism, you are engaged in antisemitism.
*The Working Definition of Antisemitism, adopted by the IHRA Plenary in Bucharest, Romania, on 26 May 2016, is a non-legally binding statement on what antisemitism is. The statement reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
Define It To Fight is:
“What does ‘support Israel’ mean,” I asked?
Ilan: “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state within secured borders, and that is the bottom-line of our mission which unites all our activists and supporters. Israelis are smart enough to decide what secured borders mean to their national security and our job is to explain it and defend it.”
How to Form SS Chapter on Campus
Step one is to connect with students who love and support Israel, making sure they love Israel outside their dormitory, publicly, in the open.
Step two is to work with those students to register a student club at the university under the title Students Supporting Israel (SSI). In this step, after the official club has been registered, the work along the timeline begins. First event is a table outside with the state of Israel with a large flag, its purpose is to attract students to join the SSI club. The second timeline event is a Zionism presentation, to explain Zionism’s origin and what SSI is all about with emphasis that Zionism did not originate at the First Zionist Congress, in August 29-to-August 31, 1897, in Basel, Switzerland; nor was it was invented in 1948 when the state of Israel became sovereign. Rather, Zionist Israel’s age is over 3000 years, created when the Israelites entered the Promised Land to establish their first commonwealth, after they escaped slavery in Egypt and wandered for 40 years in the desert. Jews have been praying in Zion and in the direction of Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem, for thousands of years, and this is a Zionism yardstick, not the lies Israel’s detractors spread.
Step three is building membership; bringing speakers to campus to speak to the group, putting programs and events with other students and clubs, and getting involved in students’ government actions. The end goal is to pass resolutions in the students’ government body that have an effect on the way Israel is positively portrayed and treated on campus as well as among the local Jewish students.
SSI supports members of the club from the moment they “found” them until the moment they have a strong club, leading the voice on campus about Israel. The basic idea is that curious students do not go to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to ask questions and receive skewed answers about Israel but get the facts and truth from SSI members.
Mastering Debunking Lies
Ilan’s favorite SSI campaign, which started in 2021, is “Palestinian Apartheid Week” which comes as a rebuttal to the mendacity and propaganda of SJP’s “Israel Apartheid Week,” which has been going on, on campus, for some 20 years.
The idea that Israel conducts apartheid policy against its citizens is beyond ludicrous. However, Israel’s detractors managed to embody Israel as an apartheid state and it stuck well in minds of far too many people, albeit, the Jewish community lacked a good answer to it. Some even went as far as saying that they did not want to deal with it because they were worried about creating more fiery problems on campus.
But SSI thought differently. Each year during the months of March-April, when “Israel Apartheid Week” takes place on many campuses all over the United States and beyond, the answer will be “Palestinian Apartheid Week,” now on seven campuses. They built a bomb shelter structure and a house structure on which they posted “for sale but not for Jews,” which is the Palestinian Authority’s segregation policy. They also created banners that tell the truth about who is really running an apartheid policy.
In other words, SSI presents facts on the ground to the students and leaves it to the students to judge for themselves.
At first, in general, students were hesitant about putting together such a provocative campaign. However, when the first campaign was successful other campuses followed suit, ending up with seven simultaneous campaigns in one semester in three weeks. Of course, this campaign will repeat itself.
That is what SSI’s DNA is all about. They talk about the core issues and present the facts about the Palestinian Authority (PA) racist policy. Embedded in the PA is the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), a genocidal Islamist organization, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, a dictator who has been in power for 17 years without holding an election.
The facts are the facts and even people who do not like to hear it thank SSI for showing them the facts.
Jewish Organization Dispiritedness
In order to have continuity, SSI has become a not-for-profit organization with a growing group of members and supporters.
Ten years ago, when Ilan and the Israeli students witnessed the “Israel Apartheid Week” in the University of Minnesota they first approached all the local Jewish organizations letting them know that there was a crisis on their campus. “Israel’s disparagers are attacking the Jewish state, let us do something meaningful,” they asked. The Jewish organizations’ response: “do not worry, no need to create chaos, no need to escalate a situation no one notices.”
Well, that was not good enough for the handful of students who were adamant something must be done. Growing up in Israel during the second intifada that began in 2000, for Ilan it was a no-brainer. The need to act was first priority. Since that moment when the decision to act was made in Minnesota, SSI has grown by leaps and bounds and is now registered and present at more than 200 universities across the country, having many leaders and activists with California being SSI’s largest hub having the most SSI clubs in many of the state’s universities.
At UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), SSI’s beginning had its challenges. The local, more established Jewish clubs and organizations did not cooperate well and SSI activist-freshmen experienced tough times in their activism first steps. Additionally, the National Students for Justice in Palestine held their conference and SSI activists did not remain silent. They entered the room and gave SJP’s sheeple audience a piece of their mind. SSI, nonetheless, overcame the challenge and its UCLA club is already eight years old.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Poison
Established in 1993, SJP, a pro-Arab-Palestinian college student activism organization is Israel’s greatest decrier on US campuses. It regularly campaigns for the BDS idea of boycotting, divestment, and sanctioning corporations that cooperate with Israel. It also organizes events that portray Israel in the most negative light, based on outright lies. The Jewish establishment ignored SJP, expecting that there would not be a problem. Nevertheless, almost 30 years later, SJP is a major problem to the local Jewish student community and beyond.
SSI fights the SJP hoop-la of lies and deception against the Jewish state, Israel. Ilan Sinelnikov does not know if SSI will ever win this fight but he says that for sure SSI cannot lose this fight either.
Numbers speak loud, not in favor of Jewish students on campuses. There are more Arab students on US campuses than there are Jewish students. So SSI is working hard to paint a very proud Zionist-Jew picture and if one stands one’s ground firmly it creates a significant ongoing pushback scenario.
It is all about educating the public at large, based on facts backed by legal and historic authenticity.
Liberation and Unification, Not Occupation
SSI commemorated 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War with a “Liberation and Reunification of Jerusalem” campaign opposed to the claim that Israel is “occupying” land which is an outright falsehood, invented by those who would like to see the Jews out of their ancestral land. Liberation of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, which means freeing your own land, was the only term SSI used.
Using the Right Terms Is Crucial
SSI believes that using the right terms gets imprinted in students’ minds. Therefore, they use the term liberation to replace “occupation”; they use the names Judea and Samaria and get rid of the incorrect use of the name “West Bank.” Liberation of territory to oppose “disputed area”; they use the term Jewish communities and not what became a derogatory term “settlements.”
It is simple. If you speak with the right terminology it will be remembered and stick.
When SSI was founded Ilan did not have grandiose ideas for the organization. It was all about being fed up with what was taking place on campus and the apathy of the Jewish community and the Jewish establishment to do something about it. And SSI grew from a few to many because the truth speaks loud. The purpose is to unify all the students under one movement umbrella, contrary to the many different Israel clubs that differ in operation on each campus prior to SSI coming on the scene.
“Just as there is a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on every campus, there will be Students Supporting Israel (SSI) on every campus. Just as there is a Democrat and Republican club and no other political party club,” Ilan stated.
Ilan’s Dream For SSI
SSI is the only organization that was born on campus, by students themselves, not by outside organizational influence that arrived to help the students on campus.
Ilan wants to make sure that every Zionist freshman who arrives on campus had their mother tell them before departure to look for the SSI club and hopefully, they will join. The aim is for SSI to be the number one address for Jewish-Zionist students when it comes to issues concerning Israel.
Palestinian Apartheid Week will grow to challenge the lies that have been told for many years.
About Ilan Sinelnikov
After the Soviet Union collapsed, most of Ilan’s family, members of Soviet Jewry, settled in Minnesota. His parents, born in Kiev, Ukraine, arrived in Israel where he was born. At the age of 15, the family moved to Minnesota to join their extended family there. Ilan knows what it means to be liberated from an unwarranted regime’s yoke and he wants Israel to be liberated from the yoke of lies and deception.
SSI and its founder Ilan Sinelnikov are certainly up to that task.