Israel has a new weapon in the increasingly contentious battle with its opponents in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It’s a simple cell phone app that almost anyone can use online to answer supporters of BDS and other attacks on Israel’s policies.
The program was unveiled for the first time in Atlanta at an evening reception earlier this month sponsored by the Israeli-American Council. The organization seeks to strengthen ties between Israel, supporters of Israel and Israelis living abroad.
The cellphone app ACT.il mobilizes supporters of Israel, for example, whenever it detects attacks on Israel that may violate the established policies of a social media platform. A posting on a pro-BDS Facebook page that compared supporters of Israel to insects was removed when large number of the 15,000 app users, many of them young people, flooded Facebook executives with protests.
The online program, which had its origins at Israel’s Herzliya University during the military campaign in Gaza six years ago, now has users in 73 countries and claims a success rate of 70 percent in removing incitement against Israel from the web.
The Israeli founder of ACT.il, Yarden Ben Yosef, who was at the Atlanta launch, claimed that the app is a good example of how technology can be used to make a difference in the age of social media.
“ACT.il is changing the rules of the game in the battle for Israel’s image worldwide and the fight against the delegitimization movements. Coordinated online activism is the future of organizations that defend Israel.”
The growth of the ACT online community has been rapid over its four-year history as an international organization. Today it has nearly four dozen partnerships with organization as diverse as Hillel International and the Zionist Organization of America, the AEPi fraternity and Indian Friends of Israel.
Along with its main partner, the IAC and other community-based organizations, it has established ACT.il media rooms in seven American cities.
In Philadelphia last year, for instance, the media room there mounted an extensive campaign of support for the Philadelphia Symphony’s concert tour of Israel and reversed the effect of a strenuous effort to get the orchestra to cancel its trip.
The success of the online program is directly related to how it uses social media, said Yoav Gilder, a member of the board of directors of the IAC in Atlanta.
“It’s a program that rides on top of social media in order to voice our thoughts, our ideas and our concerns. For those who are committed to Israel, it’s about much more than donating money to a good cause; it’s about donating your time to stand up for Israel.”
The app has been particularly effective in mobilizing young people in high schools and colleges, who may not have the financial resources to support the organization but do have the technological knowledge.
It’s yet another way to motivate young community activists, according to Ben Yosef, the visiting CEO from Israel.
“What we hear from the community is ‘I want to do more, I care about the cause, but I don’t have a lot of money to be a donor. I don’t have the time to be an organization professional, but I want to be involved.’ The ACT platform gives you the ability to be involved.”
The reception was at the home of Jacob and Miri Cohen in Sandy Springs, who grew up and married in Israel before coming to Atlanta 35 years ago. In addition to supporting the ACT.il program, the evening was an opportunity for many of the council’s members, who are also Israelis, to enjoy an evening of entertainment by the popular Israeli singer, Danny Robas.
Dinner was a buffet of dishes from Israel created by chefs Nir Margalith and Dor Aloni. Margalith is also CEO of an Israel tour company, Puzzle Israel, which creates unique Israeli tours built around food and person-to-person contacts.