At the beginning of the school year, the pro-Israel club I belong to, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Ryerson University, tabled on the university’s Clubs Day.
To our relief, we were ignored by anti-Israel and antisemitic hecklers and received a positive and welcome response from students. One distressing incident did occur, however, when a member of our Jewish student community approached our table and claimed we were “doing nothing” while Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) ran rampant. Understandably, our group was distressed by these accusations. On this particular day, SSI got more attention than SJP at Ryerson, as a substantial amount of freshmen students signed up for our group. Why did this interloper have the chutzpah to criticize us when I have yet to see him do anything positive for the Jewish/pro-Israel community?
This led to a discussion among my peers where the majority of them often castigate older Zionist activists. The allegations against them were that they lacked the understanding of the nuances of campus advocacy. I appreciate their perspective and as another student activist, I sympathize. Current students obviously have the strongest understanding of their individual campuses.
As someone with many older Zionist activist friends, however, I can say that they are both passionate and sincere. They want to help students but believe that many only take part in what is known as “cherry tomato advocacy” (which supports Israel’s many achievements in the fields of technology and medicine but fails to actually address the conflict). They postulate that students fear stronger advocacy methods or they lack the zeal to be a genuine activist. In many cases, I concur.
Several student Zionists I’ve seen fail to have a strong presence on campus due to fear. Many students I know only feel comfortable with cherry tomato advocacy. And a small number are advocates in it only for social reasons. I do not believe they are detractors. We should be presenting ourselves as cool, so long as the forefront of the movement is composed of passionate individuals.
A large proportion of older activists believe students lack the experience they have. They note that we lack the resources of SJP, a group that consists of several mature students who only attend university to be part of the anti-Israel movement. These individuals take a class or two per year and focus their energy on activism and do their best to wipe Israel off the map. Young Zionist activists, on the other hand, are usually also driven students, such as myself. We simply cannot gain the requisite experience to effectively combat our detractors because we do not have the time. This is where the older activists come in.
If you have the time and resources, consider becoming a mature student. Take the minimum number of courses to receive the benefits of being a member of the student union and help us out. Young Zionists should publicly be at the forefront but we would appreciate help with both strategy and logistical work. Mature students could utilize the breadth of their personal and professional experiences while, at the same time, learning the history of the anti-Israel activity that’s taken place on campus. Mature students could also help with fundraising so our clubs could run more events, which helps take the pressure off other pro-Israel organizations.
As a student, I am asking for your help. I hope I can count on your support.
Aedan O’Connor is in her third year at Ryerson University, studying pre-medicine. She is VP-Programming of Students Supporting Israel at Ryerson and the Social Justice Chair on the Hillel-Ryerson Board.