AS ROCKETS FROM Gaza rained on Israel in 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense, students at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya found themselves in the midst of a battle on a second front. Online, anti-Israel detractors seeking to discredit the country’s defensive war aims and its legitimacy were making hostile and defamatory claims against Israel on social media platforms. The students mobilized quickly and began to push back, posting, tweeting, and developing information campaigns to counter the lies and misinformation about Israel being lobbed into cyberspace for public consumption.
Two years later, the students regrouped as Operation Protective Edge reignited by waves of anti-Israel rhetoric online. With more than 2,000 volunteers offering help and support, they divided into specialized teams of researchers, writers, graphic designers, linguists, and content distributors, creating effective pro-Israel campaigns in 35 languages that reached 40 million web users.
Social media is the leading cause of Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews, posing far more danger than Palestinian school textbooks, according to some experts. Having discovered this nearly neglected arena of anti-Israel hostility, Yarden Ben-Yosef, the IDC graduate who led the student initiative, partnered with the IDC and the Israeli-American Council to form Act.IL, a global, virtual community to combat the delegitimization of Israel online. Boasting thousands of members worldwide, Act.IL works in real time to positively influence public discourse on Israel, counter incitement,, and educate about Israel through original content. The group recently released its Act.IL app to provide quick and easy access to online activism to anyone wishing to participate.
Still headquartered at the IDC, Act.IL has opened operation centers in Jewish communities in Boston, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services joined forces with Act.IL last year to launch the first “Media Room” on the west coast, which opened in January. Like its eastern counterparts, the OC Media Room is led by a cohort of high school and college students who meet weekly to develop original content and social media campaigns. They also conduct training sessions for groups and individuals in Orange County who want to be part of the Act.IL community and to participate in online activism for Israel.
Among its most important functions, Act.IL successfully lobbies platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to remove content posted by anti-Israel groups that promotes violence against Jews, in accordance with the platforms’ own community standards. This could not be achieved without the large volume of complaints from Act.IL members who report the offensive material.
The OC Media Room is consistent with the Rose Project’s mission to empower Jewish students to become self-sufficient leaders able to counter delegitimization of Israel on campus and in the community. Young people are uniquely skilled to engage in activism online because of their seemingly intuitive understanding of social media and their ability to keep up with, and adapt to, its rapid evolution. The students are supported by skilled mentors from the Orange County Jewish community and by the Israel-based team, who teach them how to create impactful and targeted information campaigns and strategies for effective distribution. They also engage in deep Israel education and critical thinking, expanding their understanding of Israeli history, current events, and the challenges posed by delegitimization. Last month, the group launched its first campaign, a Twitter-based series of stories about successful Israeli women that coincided with International Women’s Day.
The OC Media Room will conduct an information session for anyone interested in joining the Act.IL community during the Celebrate Israel @ 70 community celebration on Sunday morning, April 22 at the Merage JCC. Groups interested in scheduling their own training session may contact Lior Sirkis, OC Media Room Manager, at MediaRoom@JFFS.org.