By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

The University of Georgia became a national pro-Israel leader Feb. 24 when its Student Government Association passed a resolution calling for an expansion of study abroad opportunities in Israel.

Students Supporting Israel’s UGA chapter launches with a peaceful rally at the university’s Arch.

According to the organization Students Supporting Israel, the resolution was the first supporting Israel to pass on an American campus in 2015. The resolution countered the trend of student governments considering measures from the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement to reduce or eliminate ties to Israel.

The resolution was the work of the Students Supporting Israel chapter at UGA, which Lara Schewitz, a senior from Charlotte, and Eytan Palte, a junior from Atlanta, founded this school year and lead as co-presidents. They said the resolution was not a response to any BDS pressure on the Athens campus.

“We just wanted to show that the University of Georgia has a strong pro-Israel presence,” Schewitz said. Palte drafted the resolution, which passed by unanimous consent. It says the University of Georgia SGA “supports expanding study abroad opportunities in Israel for students across all focus areas, graduate and undergraduate.”

Palte said the study abroad program provides a good framework for the resolution because it promotes connections between the university and Israel and because the student government isn’t calling for an entirely new program. UGA’s College of Public Health has a summer program in Israel.

The resolution didn’t draw much discussion before its passage, Palte said. The main question was why proponents took the issue to the student government instead of going straight to the university’s international education office. Palte said the reason was to show student support.

With the SGA president’s signature, the resolution will go to the international office.

“We really hope we can turn the passage of this resolution into tangible results,” Palte said.

The whole process of drafting and enacting the resolution took about three weeks, he said. He credited the guidance and support of SGA President Drew Jacoby. The resolution was sponsored by two student senators, Ryne Wages and Molly Malone.

“We’re lucky to have such a supportive government at the University of Georgia,” Schewitz said.

Palte said he didn’t know the resolution was setting a national trend, but he hopes UGA serves as a model for other universities. He said the resolution had the encouragement of Students Supporting Israel’s national president, Valeria Chazin.

UGA has one of 30 Students Supporting Israel chapters in North America and the only one in Georgia. The nearest chapters are at the University of Tennessee and University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Schewitz said she knew Students Supporting Israel co-founder Ilan Sinelnikov from pro-Israel events in Washington and had served with Palte on the board of UGA’s Dawgs for Israel, and they decided to bring the new organization to Athens.

“It’s awesome to be able to utilize other SSI chapters internationally,” Schewitz said.

The chapter works with three other pro-Israel groups on campus, Christians United for Israel, AIPAC and Dawgs for Israel, and is interested in reaching out to other organizations.

“It’s kind of revitalized and injected some new energy to pro-Israel support on campus,” Palte said. “There was a lot of silent support.”

They said they’ve had excellent attendance at their events, starting with a peaceful demonstration for Israel that drew almost 100 students at the Arch. Other events have included a film screening and speakers such as a former Jerusalem Post correspondent and an Israel Defense Forces reservist.

Palte said the most successful event was an Israel advocacy workshop, and Schewitz said the group reaches thousands by frequently posting articles on its Facebook page.

“So far,” she said, “it’s been really amazing.”