On Wednesday, December 27th, over 60 students from across the country met together in San Diego, California. This was the first time many students, including myself, attended Students Support Israel’s national conference. Most, if not all of these students, are either current SSI board members or students trying to start the movement on their own campuses. Already a member of the SSI of SMC chapter, I personally hoped to network with other SSI members and learn about what they do differently on their campuses in comparison to ours. A pro-Israel organization, SSI’s mission is to “be a clear and confident Pro-Israel voice on college campuses, and to support students in grassroots Pro-Israel advocacy.”
Over the years, members of multiple SSI chapters have been successful in attaining student government positions, in addition to passing a variety of resolutions in favor of Israel on their college campuses. With their success, the goal of SSI’s national conference is to further broaden and utilize the skills their participants use on campuses throughout the nation. The purpose of the conference is to give students another skill to place in their toolbox. More importantly “[...] we were all able to learn from each other and I found a lot of value and inspiration in that,” says Doreen Benyamin, board member of the SSI chapter at Columbia University. On Thursday morning, students had the chance to hear from Sally Abrams, a prolific writer, speaker, and co-Director of the Speakers Bureau for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Abrams emphasized the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”Abrams handed out an outline to help guide students in their writing efforts. Below are a few of her tips:
* Know who you’re writing for, why you’re writing, and the message you wish to convey * You need a captivating and catchy title to lure your reader * Less is more -- get to the point
Participant Justin Feldman, president of the SSI chapter at SMC, described Abrams’ speech as “[...]the most elaborate speech on writing in the pro-Israel sphere that I have ever seen. I felt much more empowered to write with effectiveness after being given timeless tips by her.”
Participants also had the honor to learn from a Republican politician, commentator, and Senator Ted Cruz’s former National spokesman, Ron Nehring. He discussed the art of confronting your opponent in a conversation, and more importantly, how to set the narrative when engaged with your opponent. Nehring mentioned the importance of body language and transitional phrases when engaging your opponent. For example, many people will raise their voices and use profane words when they sense they’re losing an argument. In regards to Israel, Nehring mentioned it’s important for students to mention all the positive actions Israel has taken. In other words, educate your opponents by sharing the missing narrative they have not heard. Below are a few pointers Nehring mentioned:
* It’s better to respond to the question, rather than answer it directly. That way, you can help pivot the question * Don’t repeat what you’re opponent asks, rather, answer with transitional phrases. For example “There’s more to the story…” or “The real issue here is…” * And obviously, always remain calm and relaxed when debating
Last but not least, participants heard from Rachel Kaplan and Mordy Miller, representatives from an organization called Reservists on Duty. Their message incorporated both what Abrams and Nehring emphasized. For example, Kaplan mentioned that often, when she and her group confront anti-Israel students, most students can only hear shouting and yelling. Often, Kaplan and her group will literally take up pens and sharpies to write out their messages on posters. That way, at least students can see what she and her group stand for, the truth. A few of Kaplan’s suggestions::
* Always record or capture anti-semitic protests and events * Always have security at your events. Protestors are aggressive and dangerous at times * Don’t be afraid to write about your experience with protesters after the event -- speak up and educate others on the situation
With what I’ve learned at the conference, whether it be from the speakers or my fellow peers, I feel more confident standing up for Israel on my college campus. Now, I’ll be better suited to engage anti-Semitic/ anti-Israel students on campus. For one, I’ll share my experiences with others, whether it be on educational conferences as such, or, incidents involving anti-Israel students. But what really made an impact on me was how helpful my fellow SSI students were. Many of the participants, myself included, continue to remain in touch with one another. “From here we will only keep on growing, and what started as an organization by the students and for the students will keep making a difference,” says the President and Executive Director of SSI, Ilan Sinelnikov.
This Summer, Study Abroad in Israel! February 21, 2018
Students Supporting Israel has announced the creation of a partnership with Oranim Academic College in the North of Israel, offering a one-of-a-kind 6 credits summer study abroad opportunity for students from the US and Canada.
Last year Students Supporting Israel (SSI) launched a unique scholarship opportunity for students to help them attend study abroad programs in Israel. This initiative was a follow-up to the pro-Israel resolutions passed by SSI in student governments that called to invest in Israel instead of boycotting it, and recommended doing so by expanding existing or creating new study abroad options in Israel.
This year, as a response to the strong demand to attend quality academic programs in Israel and due to the high number of scholarship applications, SSI National leadership decided to take the initiative to the next level. They have officially partnered with Oranim College to create a three-week program that will take place from July 29 to August 18, 2018, in the North of Israel. The program is open to English-speaking students from all over the world.
This study abroad opportunity offers two courses for a total of 6 credits that will focus on leadership training and Israel’s culture and history.
“We chose to work with Oranim College as it is the largest academic college of education in the North of Israel, and we want students to experience a location that is not the usual tourism destination like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem” said Ilan Sinelnikov, SSI’s Founder and President. “Oranim is located in the beautiful Galilee, just 20 minutes east of Haifa. It also has an extremely diverse student body and it was important for us that the visiting students will create meaningful personal connections with Israelis from different backgrounds and be truly immersed in the daily life of the country. Such enriching involvement is the best tool against the boycott movement as students will be able to share from their personal experience upon return to campus.”
Lori Abramson, Director of Jewish Peoplehood Programs, said, “This is a distinctive and multi-faceted summer program where we offer students the unique opportunity to study in Israel and receive academic grounding in subjects connected to the country’s past and present. The program contains numerous field study trips to different parts of Israel, an in-depth look at some of the remarkable individuals and endeavors that are the secret of Israel creativity, survival and resilience, along with lectures on the theory and practice of leadership, language instruction, emergency medical training, and many other interactive sessions and workshops."
Dr. Roberta Bell-Kligler said, “Our college is committed to academic excellence and community involvement. We offer a broad range of programs and degrees to a student body with Jewish and Arab students of all ages, ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. We are excited to offer this summer program and hope that in addition to the academic content, the visiting students will gain the knowledge necessary to effectively debunk mistruths being spread about Israel on campuses in North America.”
Israeli Miracle: Where Immigrants Return Back Home By: Ilan Sinelnikov February 6, 2018
Students Supporting Israel's campaign to highlight the historical right of the Jewish people to live in their homeland focusing on the importance of The Law of Return and stories of immigrant communities to Israel from around the world.
Common accusations we hear on campuses these days include statements such as “Israelis are occupiers from Europe...”; “Jews are white colonialists ...” ; “Israel is a racist state...” and the list goes on. In addition, while it should be clear that sovereign countries have the right to define their own immigration laws, Israel is constantly being criticized for the right of return it provides for Jewish people to the Jewish homeland.
Moreover, questions are raised as to why those who considered Palestinian refugees are not also given the right of return to Israel. All these accusations and critiques are being voiced while completely ignoring the unprecedented miracle of immigration absorption on a mass scale that happened in Israel, where people from many different backgrounds were successfully able to come together as one nation and create a new identity, the “Israeli”.
The new Students Supporting Israel campaign was created to shed the light on these topics above. The program brings together a unique panel of 4 speakers, Jewish Israelis from diverse backgrounds: Ethiopian, Russian, Mexican and North African, to include an overview of the Jewish law of return, its historical significance, how it fulfills the idea of Zionism and a Jewish homeland, and why having a country that defines itself as Jewish is not a topic for debate but an existing fact that questioning it means applying a double standards towards Israel.
The goals of the campaign are to show how diverse the Israeli, and especially the Jewish community is, to show how phenomenal it is that a new country was able to absorb such a large amount of immigrants, and contrast the issues of Palestinian refugees as opposed to Jewish immigration returning to Israel.
Each speaker will present the story of their community immigration to Israel and of a few other communities which are not represented on the panel. The presentation will speak for example of the over 1 million immigrants who came from former USSR republics, the story of the Operation Solomon to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and many more fascinating and historically significant moments. Following the community story, personal accounts of assimilation into the Israeli society and the development of the Israeli identity will be shared.
“We at SSI try to show students the multicultural nature of the state of Israel. Our unique delegation will bring to campus the true colors of Israeli society that is one of the only societies in the world where, where ‘immigrants’ are actually coming back home and not leaving one” said Naor Bitton who is part of SSI's founding team and will lead the delegation. Naor’s family migrated from North Africa, Morocco and Algeria, to Israel, and he will be sharing his family and community story.
“I really look forward to joining SSI's delegation this spring because it is important to show the diversity inside the Israeli Jewish population to American students” said Gidy Basin, who was born in Moscow and moved to Israel in 1990 as a child. After graduating from IDF's elite program "Talpiot" and serving at the Israeli Air Force, Gidy is currently working in the Israeli start up scene and will represent the Jewish immigration from former USSR republics. He added “Like all countries dealing with immigration, the process was and still is not always easy, especially in a relatively young country like Israel. Having said that, I think most of us will agree that overall, "the system works", and Israel keeps attracting Jews from around the world who choose to leave their familiar lives and make Aliyah. On a personal note, my wife made Aliyah 6 years ago from Russia and all her family moved to Israel during the last year, so I am re-experiencing the immigration process and albeit the natural difficulties with the language and the cultural differences, it is a positive move."
The two other speakers of the program are Floretta Mayerson, who was born in Mexico City and moved to Israel after high school and is currently a third year political communication student and an intern in ACT.IL, an online community fighting against the demonization of Israel, and Sivan Sisay whose family migrated from Ethiopia, served in the army as an officer in the International military cooperation division and is now a performer singer and is involved with projects supporting the elders in the Ethiopian community. “It is so important for me to be a part of this campaign and to be able to share the message of the diverse people of Israel” said Sivan. Floretta added: “This campaign is the best way to give personal connotations to Israel, make people remember faces, flavors, feelings. To have a real impact in American campuses by transmitting from our hearts. We all carry responsibility towards this land; the same way we defend our little siblings, we must stand up for Israel. People must see the real faces and open up to the reality, not the mediated one, but the one happening in our everyday lives.”
The program is to take place between April 2 to April 13 hosted by SSI chapters in locations across the United States. For more details or to inquire about attending or hosting the program, please contact SSI National at email@example.com
The Story of the Students Supporting Israel Movement January 26, 2018
Nearly six years ago, on March 2012, the first Students Supporting Israel group was registered at the University of Minnesota, following large protests on campus against the State of Israel that was fighting a defensive War in Gaza. Until today, it is hard to understand the fact that a country that serves as the only functioning democracy in the Middle East faces bias, hate and discrimination within our educational institutions across the country. On the one hand, the places that supposed to engage students in conversations, make students think outside the box, and encourage them to hear opinions that are different than theirs, became hostile not only towards the State of Israel but towards Jewish students alike. On the other hand, that situation gave the birth to the Students Supporting Israel movement that changed the narrative on campus and the conversation about Israel over the years. Students Supporting Israel’s mission is to be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on campus and to support students in grassroots advocacy. To break it down, SSI wants that students who love, respect or support Israel Will not feel ashamed in doing so on campus. In addition, the goal of SSI is to be the group that every student on campus knows and is aware of. It does not mean that every student on campus needs to be part of SSI, but everyone needs to know what SSI is and that SSI is here to stay.
The beginning was not easy, challenges were raising from every corner and the obstacles that we faced made us rethink time and again if we need to continue what we do, or if we should stop where many others stopped before. Nearly six years later, looking back at our road to the top, as the founder of the organization I realized that Students Supporting Israel was able not only to encourage students to represent Israel on campus, but it has also built a community and a generation of student activists and Zionists who are proud in their work. Many of our students who graduated continued working and leading organizations in the Israel or Jewish world across the country. Nearly two dozen of our student graduates went to Israel and joined the Israeli Defense Forces, and many others moved to Israel to start a new page in their life in the Jewish State. SSI both sparked the fire in students who always supported Israel even more, and motivated students who cared about the issue but were not voicing it to show their passion and love outside their comfort zone.
In the spring of 2014, a second chapter joined Students Supporting Israel, and now before the new spring 2018 semester Students Supporting Israel is operating on over forty campuses across the country. Friends brought friends, relatives who were involved told their brothers and sisters to start SSI on their campus, and the movement spread across the country by word of mouth, which is the most grassroots method we could possibly imagine. However, the establishment of Students Supporting Israel was not a miracle, but a matter of nonstop work days and nights, missed classes and sacrificed grades, multiple trials and errors and getting ourselves back up, all in order to promote the place we love so much and never giving up or giving in.
Right before New Year, SSI hosted our third national conference in San Diego, California. Our student leaders from all across the country came to meet each other and learn how to be even more proactive and a better representative of the Jewish State. Our own background or which campus or city we came from did not matter as we all gathered around the factor that unites us, the care and passion for Israel. As one student wrote in her reaction to the conference, “prior to the conference I always cared about Israel, but now I am a proud Zionist”.
What started as an idea of a few students in Minnesota, is today the largest pro-Israel grassroots student movement that was built from the campus grounds and up. Just like in the past years Students Supporting Israel was an organization that changed the way pro-Israel students on campus operate, in the years to come Students Supporting Israel will be the organization to raise the next generation of Zionist, community and political leaders.
We hope that future students will have the ability to step into their college campuses knowing that we are the ones who control the conversation, and that this future generation of leaders will not remember a time when Israel was losing its image in the academia due to the lack of grassroots work. The new generation of activists created by SSI will continue to inspire their communities by nonstop work, creative minds, unlimited passion, freedom of expression and no fear.
Gal Gadot our True Wonder Woman! November 1, 2017
Last week at Kent University, a student guest op-ed attacked Gal Gadot, and the idea behind the plausibility of being a zionist and feminist. Although the article was deleted due to inaccuracies, Wonder Woman’s role against evil in the film is what inspired me to speak up for strong, empowered zionist women, like myself. As a proud Zionist, I believe in the Jewish people’s right to statehood in their indigenous land, Israel. Anti-Zionism is then, inherently a form of anti-semitism because it denies the Jewish people’s right to exist in their own homeland. A recent argument against Zionism is that one cannot be a Zionist and a feminist. However, I am both a strong feminist and unapologetic Zionist just like Gal Gadot, so how is this possible?
To me feminism is equality to all genders along with guaranteed basic human rights. In Israel, women are treated with equality and held to the same standard as men even in the military. Being a patriot and supporting your country is not limited to men as some would have you believe. Unfortunately, gender equality does not exist in Arab culture. Women are not seen as equal human beings in the eyes of men in Arab society. The Palestinian sub-culture is indeed westernized by militarization in terms of terrorism, where Israel is a democratic nation that defends itself from annihilation. The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas:
“emphasized his absolute refusal of the Israeli demands to stop the allowances of the families of the prisoners and Martyrs (Shahids)”, and “emphasized his absolute support for them (i.e., for the payments).'"
The disproportionate statistic of 3,000 Palestinian deaths in the 2014 conflict was a result of Hamas using women and children as human shields while storing weapons in schools, mosques and hospitals . The reason for doing so being that Hamas was “desperate to win world sympathy by any means”, so they have “always been happy to use Palestinian innocents as human shields — the more casualties, the better.”
This lack of regard for human life that the Palestinian leadership has for its people has left Israel, no choice but to protect and empower all of its diverse Jewish, Muslim, Russian, Ethiopian, Arab and Druze citizens through a strong defense force.
There is a subculture of oppression and terrorism, fighting a culture of equal rights and female empowerment.There is a democratic nation that embodies human rights while it defends itself from annihilation by terrorism. This is why Zionism and Feminism are not only compatible, but why they are an integral part of being strong females like Gal and me.
Shifting Tides at Columbia University By: The SSI Board at Columbia University October 2, 2017
New York City is at the epicenter of liberal politics, and Professor Alan Dershowitz is the epitome of the New York City liberal. Professor Dershowitz is a lifelong Democrat: he campaigned and voted for President Barack Obama, he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, he supports universal healthcare, he is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-LGBTQ rights, etc. It is clear to most that Professor Alan Dershowitz is a loyal, outspoken and fierce defender of all human and legal rights. Professor Dershowitz is also one of Israel’s greatest public advocates and a powerful defender of Israel in the face of a brutal and demonizing propaganda war. A liberal in most respects, Dershowitz’s opinions and endless writings on the “world’s most intractable” conflict are highly regarded as diplomatic, well researched, and intellectually grounded.
His liberal leanings, however, are not enough to save him from the scathing criticism of anti-Zionists.
Professor Dershowitz came to speak to students at Columbia University on Wednesday (09/28/2017) as the result of an invitation extended by Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University, a group that is bipartisan, unapologetic, pro-Israel, and pro-dialogue. SSI is a grassroots movement that has an international reach on college campuses. Apart from their empowering cultural events, the SSI Columbia chapter has invited speakers from all sides of the political spectrum: UN Ambassador Danny Danon, MK Tzipi Livni, Professor Alan Dershowitz, MK Sharren Haskel, MK Erel Margalit, with a clear goal in educating the greater Columbia community on wide variety of topics and promoting an appreciation for Israeli culture.
Within a few days of announcing the event, the tickets for Professor Alan Dershowitz’s anticipated appearance sold out and the waiting list numbers reached the hundreds. There was no doubt that this would be one of SSI Columbia’s biggest event of the semester.
Early on, it was rumored that the anti-Israel groups on campus, which claim Jews have no right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland and who ride on the genuine struggles of Palestinians in efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State, were planning to disrupt Professor Dershowitz in order to prevent him from enacting his right to free speech. Like other events that SSI Columbia had previously hosted, they told several students that they would “shut down the Zionist event”.
Zionism is the indigenous rights movement of the Jewish People as a means of liberating and self-determining on their ancestral homeland. Zionism has also nothing to do with countering any other peoples’ claim to lands or to other peoples’ pursuit of self-determination. It is too easy to allow anti-Israel students to conflate Palestinian struggles with the homecoming story of the native Jewish People. This story does not only warm the hearts of millions, but also empowers minority and native rights around the world.
The Dalai Lama once stated that “among Tibetan refugees we are always saying to ourselves that we must learn the Jewish secret to keep up our traditions, in some cases under hostile circumstances”. For those who don’t know, the Dalai Lama is a leader of the Tibetan people who suffered the loss of their country to China, in which many were forced out and into diaspora. It is evident to him, that if the Nation of Israel was kicked out of Judea some 2,000 years ago and managed to survive wave after wave of ruthless persecution, yet out of the ashes of the Holocaust managed to rise up and liberate their occupied homeland, then they too could survive and one day come home.
In fact, the Jewish story actually represents the most effective indigenous liberation story that has ever taken place and is a successful model in achieving the aspirations for marginalized minorities and natives around the world.
With all the rumors and media attention, the anti-Israel groups were smart in backing out of their original scheme, and instead passed out flyers to all the event’s attendees. Although the flyers were filled with lies that were quickly debunked by Professor Dershowitz during the event, SSI Columbia commended the anti-Israel students for legally expressing their right to free speech rather than targeting and bullying students with different opinions or with a different identity.
SSI Columbia and professor Alan Dershowitz hoped that the anti-Israel students would come and stay for the Q&A session, but immediately after disseminating their flyers they were nowhere to be found.
This event marks a new day at Columbia University. It marks the beginning of a shift of tides where pro-Israel students are no longer afraid of stepping into the great arena of ideas. A day where anti-Israel students are no longer confident enough to bully students, and a day where a large pro-Israel event can be held without disruption. This just marks the beginning, but there is much work ahead.
A Victory for the Pro-Israel Movement on Campus September 7, 2017
In 2015 we wrote a blog post titled “Stop Solving Problems “Behind the Scenes” – Let’s Make Some Noise!” Since then, we’ve been practicing what we preached, and this week we witnessed our strategy in action at the University of California, Irvine. Here is a short except of what we wrote in that article: “It is often that students face injustices, discrimination or bigotry on campus ...Unfortunately, too many times such injustices are being swept under the table. When an institution does not feel pressured it will never make a change to prevent the same injustices from being repeated. Fortunately, today we live in a new era where news can travel much further … and cause thousands to act and pay attention to an academic institution when something wrong is going on inside of it.”
During the past few months we were dealing with a situation that tested our commitment to action. Towards the end of the last semester, on May 10 of this year, Students for Justice in Palestine disrupted a Q&A session of an event hosted by the local SSI chapter at UCI, featuring speakers from the organization Reservists on Duty. The disruption was so violent that it ended with police evacuating the students and speakers to safety.
Here is a short recap of the events as were described by UC Irvine faculty member: "Students Supporting Israel at UCI sponsored an appearance by five Israel Defense Forces reservists... At 7:30 about 30 young pro-Palestinians entered the room. It was then I turned on my video-camera because I knew what was coming. They were invited by the speakers to ask questions. After a couple of questions, the demonstrations began to break out. There was a university official present who tried to keep the event orderly, but it was no use. At one point... I got the turn for a question... At that point the room exploded. One young girl in a keffiya became hysterical and shouted at me repeatedly and then the protesters broke into their usual chants. One young lady who I have seen previously leading chants led the crowd in the standard chants while also shouting "F-you" at the Israelis. Finally, as campus police were finally being called, they filed out.
They weren't done, however. The Israeli reservists and the audience that came to hear them were escorted out by campus police as the crowd followed them with their dopey chants. I left a few minutes earlier and walked through them with my camera still rolling. I then went back and followed them to the outdoor entrance. The aforementioned university official blocked the door leading outside where the Israelis and Jews had exited as the protesters continued their chants as can be seen in the video. At that point, I shut down the camera and left.”
Important to note is that the disruption of the event happened almost immediately following the end of a one year probation on which Students for Justice in Palestine were placed, after violently disrupting an SSI event a year earlier. As the saying goes “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” this time we knew that we cannot simply let the event go unnoticed and SJP go without being held accountable for its actions.
We knew that for a true change to be made the event had to be taken outside the university walls. When the whole country will hear about the situation, the pressure will make it so that it could not continue. In the days of Facebook and Twitter, every story can be exposed to hundreds of thousands of people, and we must start taking advantage of these powerful tools. We must let discriminating groups and administrations know that they will not be able to get away with actions that hurt Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli students.
What we did was to issue a call to all our partner organizations, student members, supporters and followers to act. We wrote letters to the university administration, published articles, made calls, emailed concerned reactions, and much more. We followed up and did not stop demanding disciplinary actions, and most importantly throughout the entire process we never doubted ourselves and knew that justice is on our side.
Following an investigation that was taking place during the summer months, we finally heard back from the UCI administration with the results. The official statement read: "On May 10, 2017, an on-campus discussion sponsored by Students Supporting Israel was interrupted by shouting and chanting ... UCI’s Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct opened a review of the incident. Based on the review, it was determined that a group of individuals organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) disrupted a portion of the question-and-answer period, in violation of university policy.
As a result, SJP was sanctioned with disciplinary probation for two academic years, ending June 16, 2019."
Here is the official statement we at SSI issued following the event: “The times when SJP could do whatever they want on campus are behind us. SJP is finally being held accountable for their actions.This is a great win for the students at the SSI chapter at UCI, who showed the entire university community that no one can intimidate Zionist, Jewish, or pro-Israel students.
SSI sincerely thanks all the organizations that joined forces to reach out to UCI's administration and supported and helped SSI andReservists on Duty (ROD) who sent speakers to campus and recorded SJP's violations and actions. The partnership between SSI and ROD will only grow stronger this fall semester. StandWithUs who together with the Louis D. Brandeis Center pressured the university and worked with SSI all along the way. Hillel International who supported the actions against SJP. Amcha Initiative who did not stop writing to the university. Zionist Organization of America that sent letters as well, Hasbara Fellowships that co-signed a letter to the university, Katrin Gendov SSI UCI alum who works for CAMERA on Campus and published an op-ed and many others.
In addition, Students Supporting Israel thanks all the many individuals who participated in our efforts. We know that many people called, emailed, and wrote letters to UCI following our requests, and all this pressure and your support led to a successful outcome! Let’s keep moving forward together, we will win on every campus!
Great news from University of California, Irvine!”
Response Letter to UC-Irvine July 3, 2017
Via Email July 3, 2017
Chancellor Howard Gillman
University of California Irvine Re: Students Supporting Israel Event at UC Irvine.
Dear Chancellor Gillman:
We write to respond to the May 30, 2017 letter from the Palestine Legal Cooperating Counsel and to set the record regarding the events from May 8 to May 11, 2017 straight. (As the Palestine Legal Cooperating Counsel is representing Students for Justice in Palestine in the interests of clarity we will refer to them both as “SJP”). Additionally, it has come to our attention that the University of California — Irvine (“UCI”) has begun an investigation into the allegation SJP made against Students Supporting Israel (“SSI”). This letter will serve both as refutation of SJP’s claims, and an explanation of our legal position regarding SSI’s conduct.
While we cannot possibly address every falsehood, incorrect statement, and innuendo in the May 30th letter, we do wish to point out the most glaring and egregious misstatements of both law and fact. As a preliminary matter, it is quite noteworthy that a letter from counsel is entirely devoid of any legal citations or references to materials that would support the allegations made therein.
The facts are these. During the week of Monday, May 8, 2017 various pro–Palestinian campus organizations, led by SJP, organized a series of events for the annual anti–Zionism week. For a number of years past, the viewpoints expressed in these events went virtually unchallenged, no matter how offensive some of the statements made by SJP and its allies were. A number of UCI Jewish student groups, including, primarily though not exclusively SSI, decided that this year will be different and that pro–Israel viewpoints will be presented along with anti–Israel ones. This of course, is in keeping with the First Amendment ideals. See, e.g., Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (1927) (Brandeis, J.) (“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech….”).
Following Justice Brandeis’ exhortation for more speech and more education on controversial topics, SSI invited several guests to visit the UCI campus. These guests were chosen on the basis of their experience with Israeli society and Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”). This, of course, is no different than SJP extending invitations to its chosen speakers; many of whom are, also not part of the University of California community.
Contrary to SJP’s letter, the guests invited to campus by SSI were not “foreign military agents.” It is true that a number of visitors belong to the group called “Reservists on Duty.” It is, also, true that these individuals are, as are all Israeli citizens, members of the IDF reserve. But, it is equally true that this is not noteworthy. For example, every American male of college age has to be registered with the Selective Service System. See50 U.S.C. § 3801, et seq. Yet, it has never occurred to any rational person to call every American male a “military agent.” Nor is the group part of the Israeli military or any other state agency. It is a volunteer group dedicated to providing a Zionist perspective on the Arab–Israeli conflict. See http://onduty.org.il/about/ The “Reservists” in the organization’s name refers to the fact that the volunteers are “Israeli reserve combat soldiers and officers,” while the “on Duty” part is a reference to the volunteers’ belief that it is “their duty to expose and counter BDS, the new anti-Semitism erupting on college campuses across America.” Id. The misunderstanding of these simple facts alone shows how hopelessly confused the SJP presentation is. However, that is not even remotely the only instance of SJP either misunderstanding or purposeful misstatement of fact.
For example, a number of Reservists on Duty who visited UCI were U.S. citizens, born and raised in the United States. Wholly apart from their status as guests of the UCI student groups, these individuals enjoy the full panoply of Constitutional rights, including right to speak and protest in any public forum. See United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 177 (1983); see also UCI Code of Student Conduct Handbook, Part VI. It is, of course undisputed that the location SJP chose to erect its “mock wall” is a public forum. SJP simply cannot expect to conduct controversial activities at that public place without having opposing viewpoints be expressed. Nor would the First Amendment permit such exclusivity, SJP’s space reservation notwithstanding. See, e.g., Mason v. Wolf, 356 F. Supp. 2d 1147, 1161 (D. Colo. 2005) (holding that when there is “no reason to believe that an off–campus group was any more likely to pose a risk or cause a volatile situation than a student group” a university cannot limit counter–protestors’ access to the same “flagpole area.”)
Second, the law is clear that all individuals physically present in the United States (whether or not they are U.S. citizens) enjoy the protections of the First Amendment. SeeKwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590, 598, n.5 (1953). Thus, irrespective of the nature of their organization or membership, Reservists on Duty are entitled to the very same protections that SJP is seeking to arrogate to its exclusive use.
Third, it is “well established that the Constitution protects the right to receiveinformation and ideas.” Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (emphasis added);see also Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 543 (2006); Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 143 (1943). It is undisputed that some members of the UCI community wished to receive information provided by Reservists on Duty. These members have a clear constitutional right to that information even if that information were provided by “foreign military agents.” It is not within the power of SJP or other objectors to preclude their fellow UCI members from access to this information.
In short, its liberal use of charged language and epithets notwithstanding, SJP has no legal basis whatever to complain about the presence of Reservists on Duty on UCI or any other public university campus.
The SJP letter also makes a number of specific allegations which are worth responding to. Once again, though, most of these allegations have either no basis in fact or are just not legally (or, for that matter, morally) cognizable.
First, the SJP letter alleges that “[t]he soldiers wore t-shirts with the slogan, in Arabic, ‘Israel is the only candle in a region of darkness.’” This “allegation” is almostcorrect. One of the members of the group did in fact wear a shirt with that slogan. However, the SJP letter’s conclusion that “[t]he use of Arabic indicates an intent to specifically target students of Arab backgrounds who would understand the insulting script,” cannot withstand even a momentary encounter with reality. First, the shirt was worn by a member of the group who was born in Lebanon, is an ethnic Arab, and whosenative language is Arabic. Following SJP’s logic, a native Arabic–speaker should be precluded from expressing his views in his own mother tongue if these views are supportive of Israel and critical of its neighbors rather than the other way around. (Indeed, this view was explicitly expressed by SJP supporters during their conversation with this particular member of the Reservists on Duty. He was shouted at that he “should not be allowed to use Arabic.”)
Furthermore, SJP appears to take the position that “students of Arab backgrounds who would understand the … script” would necessarily find it “insulting.” In SJP’s view, no Arab (or Arab–speaking) individual could possibly hold the view that “Israel is the only candle in a region of darkness.” It is hard to imagine a more racist sentiment than assigning a particular viewpoint to a whole group of people based on nothing more than their ethnicity. See Schuette v. Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action, 134 S. Ct. 1623, 1634 (2014) (“It cannot be entertained as a serious proposition that all individuals of the same race think alike.”); Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 914 (1995) (the “notion that members of the defined racial groups ascribe to certain … views” because of their race is “demeaning.”)
Next, to the extent that the statement on the T–shirt was provocative and invited dispute and disagreement, it should be commended not condemned. “[A] principal ‘function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 408–09 (1989) (quoting Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949)). Even assuming that all Arab–speakers would have found the T–shirt’s message to be “insulting,” that “insult” is an invitation to dispute in an open forum rather than “harassment.”
Finally, even if SJP were correct that the message on the T–shirt is “insulting,” and even assuming that it did not serve as an invitation to dispute, the SJP’s complaint would still be legally meaningless. As the Supreme Court held just last month, “[g]iving offense is a viewpoint” and must be tolerated in the marketplace of ideas. Matal v. Tam, No. 15-1293, 2017 WL 2621315, at *3 (U.S. June 19, 2017). Members of the SJP certainly have a right to be offended by the T–shirt (or whatever else they wish to be offended by), but by the same token, Reservists on Duty have a constitutional right to give offense. Couching the complaint in the language of “harassment” does not alter the analysis. See Rodriguez v. Maricopa Cty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 605 F.3d 703, 710 (9th Cir. 2010) (“We therefore doubt that … expression on a matter of public concern, directed to the college community, couldever constitute unlawful harassment”) (emphasis added). As the Ninth Circuit, in which jurisdiction UCI is located, held, “standing on a soap box in a campus quadrangle and speaking to all within earshot” is at the very core of the constitutionally protected conduct and is not subject to being circumscribed by the invocation of anti–harassment statutes. Id.
Second, the SJP letter claims that “[t]he IDF soldiers and their supporters intimidated students by filming their faces close-up, despite students’ objections, in order to disrupt the Mock Wall event and scare students from participating.” Leaving aside the erroneous claim that Reservists on Duty are IDF soldiers, the complaint is once again legally meaningless. “Audio and audiovisual recording are media of expression commonly used for the preservation and dissemination of information and ideas and thus are ‘included within the free speech and free press guaranty of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.’ … The act of making an audio or audiovisual recording is necessarily included within the First Amendment’s guarantee of speech and press rights as a corollary of the right to disseminate the resulting recording.” ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 595 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Burstyn v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 502 (1952)). That the students being recorded objected to the practice is of no consequence. California law does not require consent to record any communication “made in a public gathering.” Cal. Penal Code § 632(c). It is black letter California law that “[p]hotographs are not actionable if they are fair and accurate depictions of the person and scene in question, even if they place the person in a less than flattering light.” Aisenson v. ABC, 269 Cal. Rptr. 379, 387 (Ct. App. 1990). The videos taken by the Reservists on Duty certainly don’t paint a flattering portrait of the SJP activists. But the solution is not to complain about being videotaped, but to change the behavior depicted on the videotape.
The same analysis applies to SJP letter’s complaint that Reservists on Duty “threatened to report [the SJP] students to Canary Mission, a defamatory and McCarthyist blacklisting website that profiles students who are vocal for Palestinian rights, reports students to law enforcement, and harasses them online with the express purpose of ruining careers and reputations.”
First, truthful information can never be defamatory. See Draper v. Hellman Commercial Trust & Sav. Bank, 263 P. 240, 245 (Cal. 1928). Second, even if the videotapes made by Reservists on Duty were somehow illegal (and they are not), their publication by Canary Mission or anyone else would be constitutionally protected. SeeBartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514, 528 (2001); New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) (per curiam). As the Bartnicki Court noted “[o]ne of the costs associated with participation in public affairs is an attendant loss of privacy.” 532 U.S. at 534. The SJP students chose to engage in public on issues of public concern and importance, and in doing so have exposed themselves to the rough and tumble of public debate. Third, even if the Canary Mission website were defamatory (and the SJP letter provides no evidence that it is), “[t]he fact that a defamatory statement may injure … reputation does not lessen the importance of ‘uninhibited, robust, and wide-open’ public discourse, nor should the protections afforded defamatory statements in the interests of providing a generous zone of lawful speech be abrogated….” Fellows v. Nat’l Enquirer, Inc., 721 P.2d 97, 106 (Cal. 1986) (quoting Sullivan, 403 U.S. at 270).
Finally, what the SJP letter describes as “repeated interrupt[ion] and commandeer[ing] conversations with students who approached the Wall to ask questions and learn,” is really a complaint about being unable to maintain a monopoly on speech in a public forum. As the SJP letter acknowledges, “students  approached the Wall to ask questions and learn.” Learning, of course, can be accomplished only when the inquiring individual is exposed to a variety of viewpoints. As the Supreme Court said, “[t]he Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues, (rather) than through any kind of authoritative selection.” Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y., 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967) (internal quotations omitted). The Constitution guarantees SJP the right to speak, but not the right to exclude others from challenging or contradicting their views. See Balaber-Strauss v. Town/Vill. of Harrison, 405 F. Supp. 2d 427, 434 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (“The First Amendment affords [citizens] the right to speak, not the right to be believed or to exclude others from expressing contrary views.”).
Finally, The SSI and the Reservists on Duty categorically deny all other allegations in the SJP letter concerning alleged sexual or racial comments made to SJP students. SJP alleges that the Reservists on Duty “sexually harassed” members of the SJP. One allegation is that “a male soldier told a male SJP member that he is ‘not a real man.’” Another one is that “[a] male soldier taunted a female demonstrating at the Wall in a sexually threatening tone, in Arabic, saying, ‘You want me to stick it in you, don’t you.’” Again, these allegations are categorically denied. Furthermore, the phrase “sexually threatening tone” is entirely devoid of meaning and SJP makes no attempt to explain what makes any tone “sexually threatening.” Given the misstatements, the outright falsehoods, and the lack of any evidence in support of these claims, the SJP’s allegations simply cannot be taken at face value.
In making its baseless and scurrilous allegations, SJP is attempting to hide its own criminal and tortious actions. Fortunately, their behavior is documented on video. For this reason, SJP’s own conduct should be addressed, since it is that conduct that has given rise to investigations by UCI and local law enforcement.
Perhaps the most egregious incident was an SJP–affiliated student spitting in the face of one of the Reservists on Duty. This constitutes battery under California law. Cal. Penal Code § 242; In re D.W., 186 Cal. Rptr. 3d 464, 475 (Cal. App. 2015). It is not surprising that such behavior would result in investigation by law enforcement authorities and UCI. See UCI Code of Student Conduct Handbook § 102.08 (specifying “[p]hysical abuse including but not limited to physical assault; threats of violence; or other conduct that threatens the health or safety of any person” as grounds for discipline); § 102.27 (specifying “[v]iolation of local, state, or federal laws” as grounds for discipline).
Next, SJP’s disruption of a Question and Answer session hosted by SSI and the Reservists on Duty was also in violation of UCI Code of Student Conduct. See UCI Code of Student Conduct Handbook § 102.13 (“Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures, or other University activities.”). The Question and Answer session hosted by SSI was an open event to which all university members (including those belonging to SJP were invited). It was an opportunity for both supporters and opponents of the State of Israel and Zionism to ask questions and engage in a debate. Neither the Reservists on Duty nor SSI have or ever had any objections to its political adversaries visiting their events and challenging the hosts on any issue (a stance unlike that taken by the SJP). However, instead of taking an opportunity to engage, however forcefully, with SSI and the Reservists on Duty, the SJP tried to shout down and shut down the event. The actions of Reservists on Duty that the SJP so bitterly complains about, allowed debate and engagement between opposing viewpoints, and provided an opportunity for those interested in the topic of Israeli–Palestinian relationship to educate themselves on the topic. In contrast, the actions of SJP attempted to deny everyone an ability to converse, learn, and engage. Such conduct is not only in violation of UCI Code of Conduct, but constitutes a criminal offense. See Cal. Penal Code §§ 403 and 422.6(a).
The UCI SJP chapter should know this better than anyone, given that just last year its members were prosecuted and convicted for violating § 403 of the Penal Code and the organization itself was issued a warning from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. One would have hoped that SJP would have internalized the required standards of behavior when encountering speakers with whom it disagrees. But, that hope has gone unrealized. Instead, SJP is claiming (without offering any legal support whatsoever) that punishing its supporters for their behavior during the Question and Answer session would constitute “viewpoint discrimination.” Nothing could be further from the truth. No one attempted to prohibit SJP from or to punish it for expressing its viewpoint. Indeed, the viewpoint was a welcomed opportunity for the Reservists on Duty and their hosts to rebut SJP’s allegations and offer an alternative vision of the situation in the Middle East. SJP was, however, not interested in engaging in conversation and instead sought to “willfully disturb[ and] break up [SSI’s] assembly” — an action in violation of Cal. Penal Code §§ 403. Indeed, as is evident from the video footage, the SJP bragged about “shutting down” SSI’s forum. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-0rztXKkBM. This type of repeated contempt for the law and the University regulations simply cannot and should not go unpunished.
There is one issue on which SSI and SJP appear to be in agreement. UCI does indeed have a legal obligation to protect its students. However, and contrary to SJP’s view, this protection does not extend to shielding students from alternative points of view, no matter how upsetting. See Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443, 458 (2011) (“[S]peech [at a public place] cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”). Nor does it include abridging of other students’ constitutional rights, including the right to receive, record, and disseminate information. And finally, it does not include absolving students from responsibility for their violations of the penal law and/or UCI Code of Student Conduct on the basis that a violator may or may not be a “person of color.”
Instead, UCI is responsible for enforcing its rules that are designed to protect learning through a robust exchange of ideas and to require behavior that does not transgress the penal law. SJP and its supporters have repeatedly failed to adhere to these simple requirements. Their attempt to now hide behind the “people of color” label to avoid responsibility for their unlawful actions is shameful and should not be tolerated. Indeed, the SJP’s position that their students by virtue of their ethnicity should be subject to different rules is the epitome of racism and should be repugnant to any American.
In conclusion, we wish to express our appreciation for UCI’s actions so far. The Administration has lived up to its obligation to protect a diversity of viewpoints on campus and ensure their presentation in a peaceful and safe environment. It also appears to live up to its obligation to punish conduct that is unlawful and/or precludes frank and robust exchange of ideas. However, the announced investigation of the UCI SSI chapter following the entirely unsubstantiated SJP allegations raises significant concerns. While we understand that the University is obligated to investigate credible allegations of harassment, nothing in SJP’s complaint is credible or supported by any evidence. We therefore call on the University administration to speedily conclude its investigation of SSI and to properly address SJP’s continued disregard of the California law and the University regulations.
It is our sincere hope that the UCI Administration will not be deterred from holding students and organizations that have consistently shown their disregard for the law and UCI policies accountable for their behavior, and we look forward to hearing about the conclusion and the outcome of the disciplinary processes.
Gregory Dolin Associate Professor of Law University of Baltimore School of Law
 Furthermore, the SJP also filmed the events in question. See, e.g.,https://www.facebook.com/JewishVoiceforPeace/videos/10156184089004992/. We do not question their right to do so, although it is noteworthy that this video is not cited in the SJP letter. Perhaps it is because even its own video fails to substantiate SJP’s allegations. In any event it is quite hypocritical for SJP to complain about filming when they themselves are engaged in the exact same activity.
 It’s should be noted that the SJP letter’s description of the Canary Mission website as capable of “blacklisting,” “report[ing] students to law enforcement,” and “ruining careers and reputations” treads dangerously close to the classic anti–Semitic trope of Jewish control of the media and other levers of power.
 The Reservists on Duty admit that they made a comment to one of SJP’s supporters about his wearing of a kippah (Jewish head covering). However, contrary to the SJP’s assertions no one told that student “that he is not a real Jew.” Rather, having observed the student put on and take off the kippah selectively, one of the Reservists on Duty pointed out that kippah is not a “costume” and shouldn’t be used as such. Although this statement may well not have been advisable or well thought out, “simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) [do] not amount to” harassment. Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 271 (2001).
 A Westlaw search for the phrase “sexually threatening tone” revealed no cases, state or federal, that have used this phrase or would shed any light on what SJP could have possibly meant. As far as we can tell, SJP merely put together several pungent words so as to draw attention to their allegations.
The First Amendment: Not for Everyone Anymore By: Dalia Zahger June 8, 2017
As a passionate young Israeli who strongly believes in fighting for justice, I came to America to pursue my personal goals of studying international law and diplomacy. It seemed like New York, the city of opportunities, would allow me the freedom to fight for what is right while at the same time getting the education which will later allow me to do it professionally.
Starting my path here, I was surprised with the extreme anti- Israeli rhetoric and approach on campuses in the United States and specifically in New York, where Columbia University holds the notorious title of one the top two anti-Israel campuses nationally. As an Israeli, I could not shy away from the blunt lies and demonizing accusations which are directed on a daily basis towards my homeland and often specifically towards Israeli soldiers, which I have been a few years ago. Very shortly after arriving to New York I joined Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University and found myself in a new, civil type of fight for Israel
As a future law student and a justice seeking person, I found the American constitution to be very inspiring and innocently believed it would be the foremost guardian of people’s rights both generally and specifically in academia. Little did I know. As part of SSI Columbia, I helped lead many events with one clear goal: to share with the student body the Jewish story and connection to Israel. I expected to be able to speak my mind and my truth freely, but, anti-Israel groups often managed to disrupt our events to a point where speakers were silenced. As an example, Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, came to Columbia to speak of how Israel is viewed in the UN. Ambassador Danon was interrupted multiple times and could not give his full speech as planned. Just like any other student group, SSI should be allowed the freedom of speech but that is currently not the case, not only in Columbia but nationwide. Systematically, groups such as SJP and JVP which hold only one goal of demonizing Israel never miss an opportunity to show up and shut down events SSI and other pro-Israel groups hold. SSI’s flyers which promote events are being vandalized or thrown away completely.
Each college student and parent should ask themselves how they want the college experience to be. Is it one where social life and freedom of speech is controlled by bullies or one where we take our rights back and start demanding what we all deserve? SSI Columbia fights and will continue to fight these anti-Israel attacks. Our group shifts the conversation on campus and shows Israel in a different light. Israel finds itself attacked again and again but always prevails, SSI as its representative on campus shall do the same. At the same time, we expect university authorities across the country to be much more proactive in protecting the right of speech for all.