(September 28, 2018 / JNS) In the late spring, Israeli-American Council (IAC) Boston joined forces with major local Jewish organizations to work to overturn an anti-Israel resolution on the Cambridge City Council agenda. This community-wide effort, which ultimately resulted in a setback for the BDS movement, was a prime example of organizations with different missions coming together for the betterment of Israel and the Jewish community.
The “Mass Against HP” effort to convince Cambridge to pass a measure calling on the city to stop doing business with Hewlett-Packard over the computer giant’s operations in Israel was thwarted by a broad coalition that included student ambassadors from the Act.IL online community. These activists joined partner organizations in leading an effective battle against BDS from Act.IL’s Boston Media Room, located at the local IAC Community Center. The media room is a partnership between IAC Boston and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation.
Act.IL is a joint venture of the IAC, the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and the Maccabee Task Force, based on IDC’s “Situation Room,” which developed during Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense” and “Operation Protective Edge” in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The success of this project led to the founding of Act.IL, an initiative that works to crowdsource pro-Israel activism on social media in order to share Israel’s story online, and counter hate speech and delegitimization.
The organization takes a four-pronged approach to its work: creating original content campaigns, providing professional training to the pro-Israel community, encouraging online activism such as reporting inciting pages and signing petitions, and operating Media Rooms that empower and engage local communities to act for Israel on social media.
Act.IL’s first Media Room in the United States was launched in Boston as the result of a strong relationship between IAC Boston and CJP; CJP is also a significant funder of the Boston Media Room, and Aviva Klompas, its associate vice president of strategic Israel engagement, is a Media Room mentor. As Act.IL now has five additional Media Rooms in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Florida and on the West Coast (headquartered in Los Angeles), what was once a short-term idea during wartime is now a national and global movement partnering with Jewish Federations across the country.
Understanding that anti-Semitism exists on a global scale, Act.IL has responded by mobilizing a global network comprised of thousands of volunteer activists dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiments, and incitement to terrorism and violence.
A landmark victory for the Boston Jewish community came upon the stalling of the Cambridge BDS resolution. The Boston Media Room played a strong role in this positive outcome. By uploading a “send an email” mission to the Act.IL app, student ambassadors prompted 97 Bostonians to send out an email to Cambridge Council Members that exposed the BDS movement’s involvement with the Hewlett-Packard resolution—something that was not previously apparent to several of the Council Members.
The email made a tangible impact. Multiple councilmembers who received the message responded that if the boycott resolution made it to the agenda, they would not allow it to pass. Ultimately, Cambridge’s mayor personally informed Act.IL that the resolution would be taken off the agenda.
Show, Don’t Tell
Shahar Hartman, 18, a gap-year student at Mechinat Rabin and a Boston Media Room ambassador for two years, presented to and trained more than 750 people on the subject of online activism. “I use Israel-positive multimedia messaging in my presentations to show that there is more to Israel than the Middle East conflict,” says Hartman.
Lital Carmel, the IAC’s Boston Regional Director, notes that Act.IL employs a “show, don’t tell” approach to advocacy. Act.IL does not use any logos in its videos in order to give viewers the opportunity to fully experience Israel and to encourage other organizations to share the content.
“There’s a good chance that you’ve seen an Act.IL video without knowing who produced it,” Carmel says, adding that “promoting Israel is one aspect of Zionism, but the next level of sophistication and impact is showing others that they can see Israel’s diversity for themselves.”
A people-driven, grassroots initiative, Act.IL embodies the spirit of self-motivated activism. Act.IL does not receive funding from Israel or any other government. Its professional staff works to support the movement’s thousands of volunteers, who are connected by their love and pride for Israel, the United States and the Jewish people.
At the national conference
Ahead of the fifth annual IAC National Conference, the IAC and IDC Herzliya have launched a new Media Room in Florida to engage members of this community—from teenagers to adults—to join tens of thousands of online activists from across the country.
At this year’s conference, the IAC will celebrate the establishment of the Florida Media room and dedicate special sessions to Act.IL, where more than 100 high school and university students will gain an immersive Media Room experience. The session for high school students will take place on Nov. 30; the session for IAC Mishelanu university students takes place on Dec. 2.
Select speakers from the fields of public diplomacy, communications and social media who will be addressing the larger audience will also lead discussions with students during the Act.IL sessions. Students will also experience Situation Room workshops and interactive booths that will address how to proactively share Israel’s story online.
Act.IL has turned a threat into an opportunity, and today is a global movement of activists, young and old, who are sharing Israel’s multifaceted society with the world.
Jacob Kamaras is the former editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate. His writing on the Middle East, American politics, and Eurasia has appeared in the Washington Times, Independent Journal Review, The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, CNS News, and other publications.