Minnesota is great place to spend the summer, but being holed up in a conference room on the University of Minnesota campus isn’t an ideal landing spot. But for nearly 60 college students around the country, it was an important place to be. The U was the host for the second annual Students Supporting Israel National Conference this past weekend. The event drew representatives from across the country, from colleges big and small.
“In every place, people can find us,” said SSI co-founder Ilan Sinelnikov. “This conference is important because it gives us the opportunity to be together to compare what’s happening around the country.”
Said SSI Board President and co-founder Valeria Chazin: “You get to see people from many campuses and they can see that they aren’t alone.”
A great example of that is happening at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), where SSI founder and president Bryan Robinson is seeing a boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) push against Israel coming from professors on campus who are “sworn to uphold BDS.”
“We don’t see the disruptions happening that take place here,” said Robinson. “We’ve been able to develop a dialogue with the students. We have to quickly re-educate people and catch them up on the issues.”
Despite the BDS push from the academic side, Robinson said that because IUPUI is a sister school to Indiana University, there is no reason to fear BDS coming to the school’s campus. IU’s president made a strong statement in support of Israel.
On Sunday, the organizers ran a scenario that required rapid mobilization to combat an anti-Israel protest on campus. “Because we’re a grassroots organization, we need to mobilize fast if something is happening,” Sinelnikov said. “If we want to improve the Israel situation on campuses, students have to lead.”
With the school year about to begin on college campuses around the country, the conference also served the purpose of getting students motivated to tackle the on-campus, anti-Israel issues that they will face, Chazin said. “We’re helping to create a national solution for a national problem.”
If Sunday was about getting boots on the ground, Monday morning’s session featured real-world preparation from behind a computer screen. “The Situation Room” was a social-media training session was led by three instructors from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. Yarden Ben Yosef, Danielle Israel and Gur Yalon presented scenarios where the participants, working in teams, would have to develop a social media plan, determine their target audience, manage and deploy the volunteers they have at hand, and create the content. All in less than 30 minutes.
“It’s hard to be a partner from thousands of miles away, but that’s why we come here,” he said.
This was the first time that the trainers from the IDC made the trip to an SSI conference, but Yalon found the experience to be a positive one.
“The students are extremely engaged,” he said, praising their creative and strategical skills. “At the end of the day, social media isn’t rocket science. But if we do it the right way, we can increase engagement by hundreds of percent. SSI is a prime example of a grassroots organization using social media as a complimentary effort to their real-life events.”