Pro-Israel activism just got easier and more powerful. It all began with 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense into Gaza. Students at IDC Herzliya, a private research college in Israel, were frustrated at the one-sided narrative of the conflict. They decided to act. They created a “situation room,” pooling their talents (content creation, video production, social media expertise) to present Israel’s view.
Two years later, during the much larger Operation Protective Edge, which followed the rocket onslaught from Gaza into Israel, they banded together again, but with a much greater show of force. Over 1000 students volunteered. Their messages were shown in 35 languages across over 100 countries. In fact, the effort was so successful that it made Time Magazine’s list of top 10 hashtags for 2014, under the name #IsraelUnderFire.
After the situation stabilized, they realized that closing shop until the next crises arose didn’t make sense, especially when forces aligned against Israel continued their efforts year round. It’s been full speed ahead ever since.
While Herzliya remains the base of operations, there are now five “media rooms” across the U.S., each consisting of over 20 volunteers who are mentors and student ambassadors from the community. They meet once a week. In June of 2017, the Act.IL app was created. It can be downloaded for smart phones from the app store (Act.IL) or for computers (app.Act.IL.com), and has over 13,000 downloads already. As Yael Zur, media rooms project director in the Herzliya headquarters explained, “The goal is to create an active pro-Israel online community through the use of social media.” She proudly added that “Although the app is just one of our tools, every 3.4 minutes someone somewhere does something active through its use.” Along with combating falsehoods and messages of incitement, the aim is to trumpet Israel’s strong social and cultural values, as well as its scientific and medical advances, to international audiences.
Act.IL has partnered with the Israeli-American Council (IAC), an organization dedicated to actively engaging the 500,000+ Israelis living in the U.S. This has led to rapid growth of the media rooms. Act.IL also works with 30 other Jewish organizations. Tammy Levy, the New Jersey media room director, explained that a core principal of Act.IL is not to put its logo on any material it creates. It’s goal is simply to get the word out to as wide an audience as possible. Along with New Jersey, other East Coast branches include Boston, Philadelphia and New York, with Orange County, California, the outlier. Levy explained that although they receive their overall directions from Israel, each local center focuses on issues important to the surrounding area.
Each media room has a similar setup, split into three groups. The content and campaigns team creates original content that reaches millions around the world. A noteworthy example followed a propaganda video put out by Hamas, which pictured a teenaged Palestinian girl with her head splattered. The voiceover explained that it was the result of an Israeli Air Force attack. One media center volunteer happened to be a science fiction fan. He recognized the clip as actually being from a movie, “Final Destination.” In short order, An Act.IL team created its own video telling the real story. A major European media company, RTL, learned of it, and sent a German reporter to Israel to learn the details. The net result was that 30 million people across the world saw his report exposing Hamas tactics.
The second group is the workshop or training department, which provides public relations tools and teaches volunteers how to be active on social media platforms. The third is online activism, for those who conduct research that becomes “missions.” A mission can take the form of reporting inciting pages or videos (an average of 10 a week are removed), signing petitions, sharing content or commenting on articles. Each media room has its own set of daily missions, usually about 10-15. Those who have downloaded the app have complete freedom to choose which mission or missions they wish to act upon. As Levy explained, “A mission can be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and is user-friendly, informative and often takes just 20 seconds to do.” “Commenting on a post and ‘liking’ a comment are two of the most effective missions,” according to Zur.
An example of this “strength in numbers” approach involved an incident at the University of Minnesota. An Israeli professor, whose topic was apolitical, was stopped from speaking due to the efforts of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Act.IL alerted its users to complain about this outrage. After 400 emails were sent in protest, the University president condemned SJP’s illegal actions.
Still another example was when Act.IL got advance warning of a live BDS audience participation chat with Roger Waters. Talking points were supplied, and Act.IL student activists across the world managed to control 60 percent of the Q&A.
The immediacy of Act.Il is why it fills such a crucial void. Being among the first to comment on any content, especially in major outlets such as the New York Times, BBC or Sky News, is critical in controlling the narrative. So how effective has Act.IL been to date? Very! “In January, the international BDS Facebook page cited the threat of Act.IL as a way to raise funds for itself,” noted Zur.
Those wishing to become active within Act.IL can join by media room location, by skill set (i.e., photography, editing, researching breaking stories) or by community as part of a participating Jewish organization.
By Robert Isler
Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and a freelance writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected]