As an advocate for Israel at my university campus, I face a different battlefield of the same conflict that Israeli Defense Force soldiers see daily. On our battlefield, we are fighting a different type of enemy, one that cannot be seen or destroyed with a weapon. This enemy lurks around every corner of our school with no need to hide. The real enemy is apathy.
There are always the few but growing number of students that demonize the state of Israel and deny the Zionist dream. Then there are always the small group of us whose passion for Israel goes beyond any passing academic or political interest. However, the vast majority of students do not feel that inner drive to defame or to protect our people’s homeland. As advocates for Israel, our goal is to find a connection with students and community members who would not normally think about this tiny, distant country in the middle of the most volatile and misunderstood region in the world. That is the challenge of every Israel advocate and it is much more difficult to find that positive link amid all the vitriol and slander targeted at Israel. At East Carolina University , however, we face additional challenges: a very small Jewish population, a non-existent (before us) pro-Israel population, and an apolitical atmosphere that hinders our ability to fight this apathy.
Facing those obstacles, Pirates for Israel has risen to prominence of a student groups on campus. Hosting 6 events, we have brought over 600 students to our events for the year. This is virtually unheard of for a school with a brand new pro-Israel group. We also passed a resolutions in our student government to bring more study abroad programs to ECU and condemning anti-Semitism on our campus. Through the hard work of our 6 member board and the support of our national co-sponsoring organizations, ZOA, CAMERA, StandWithUs, and Hasbara Fellowships, we have quickly and successfully built a name for ourselves on campus. Pirates for Israel is set to be a permanent student club that will remain long after those of us who founded it graduate. Now, the question is, what brought about this success against all odds?
The answer is persistence. We began modestly with only two board members – just me and a good friend with a shared passion. We modeled our group on the national Students Supporting Israel (SSI) movement. During our year as an SSI chapter, I planned all of our events, coordinated all of our tabling sessions, recruited all of the 4 board members that we would gain before the end of the year when we would make the jump to Pirate For Israel. This was no easy task. I vividly remember one tabling session where it was only me, standing outside of our student book store, with Hasbara Fellowship posters, campaigning for the “Think Green Think Blue” campaign. With the wind blowing severely and all my cards flying away, I managed to get a total of ten other students to sign up for the new club. For many campuses, this may have seemed like a complete failure. For me, it was an amazing success! Running that table completely by myself for three hours enabled me to connect with those ten people, ensuring I’d have their support for the next tabling and growing what was to become Pirates for Israel.
This all did not happen overnight. In the beginning, we had board and group members come and go. We could not keep a board member in their position for more than a month and I was putting more than 35 hours a week into planning for the organization.
With our first social media page, we were able to get over 250 likes on Facebook and reached an average of 3000 people each week. As many of my friends and family already know, my Facebook page is a billboard for Pirates for Israel. By sharing our posts on my page, students began to learn our name and soon, we started a buzz around campus. After going on the ZOA Student Leadership Mission to Israel over the summer, my board members and I decided we needed to make a change. We changed our name to Pirates for Israel to create a personalized and proud brand for our school. We became an Emet for Israel group with the national organization the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). As an Emet for Israel group, we re-imaged our appearance and our logo, created a group t-shirt, and went on to to be an effective voice for Israel on a largely apathetic campus
Still with all dark clouds, there is a silver lining and this silver lining should serve as a message to all the small pro-Israel chapters out there who feel as if they are barely making any progress on their campuses. Persistence is the key to success. Even if the odds are against you and it feels as if all hope is lost, there is always a way. We draw inspiration from our homeland and the historical persistence of our people. Israel has stood against greater odds, surviving horrific persecution, isolation, demoralization, and war. It is our job to do our part here. We can succeed against any odd.