Sit­u­a­tion room to com­bat BDS opens in US

IDC and IAC col­lab­o­rate in Bos­ton

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI

ACT.IL, a joint ini­tia­tive of the In­ter­dis­ci­plinary Cen­ter Her­zliya and the Is­raeli Amer­i­can Coun­cil to com­bat the dele­git­imiza­tion of Is­rael on so­cial me­dia, has opened its first “vir­tual sit­u­a­tion room” in the US.

The sit­u­a­tion room, lo­cated at the IAC Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Bos­ton, runs sim­u­lated ex­er­cises on de­vel­op­ing pro-Is­rael so­cial me­dia cam­paigns dur­ing times of cri­sis.

The room is a joint col­lab­o­ra­tion of the IDC, the IAC Bos­ton, and Com­bined Jewish Phi­lan­thropies.

“Our goal is to strengthen the le­git­imiza­tion of Is­rael through­out the world, but un­for­tu­nately at the same time there are strong groups like BDS act­ing to dele­git­imize Is­rael,” Yar­den Ben Yosef, di­rec­tor of ACT.IL told The Jerusalem Post on Tues­day.

ACT.IL aims to com­bat the BDS move­ment and the dele­git­imiza­tion of Is­rael through unit­ing a global com­mu­nity of pro-Is­rael ac­tivists on so­cial me­dia in a co­or­di­nated ef­fort to in­form and in­flu­ence peo­ple on Is­rael.

In ad­di­tion to the vir­tual sim­u­la­tions, the sit­u­a­tion room also runs lo­cal cam­paigns and cre­ates on­line con­tent and its par­tic­i­pants en­gage in on­line ac­tivism, which in­cludes sign­ing pe­ti­tions, com­ment­ing on news ar­ti­cles, and shar­ing con­tent on so­cial me­dia.

“Our ul­ti­mate goal is to train the en­tire [pro-Is­rael] com­mu­nity to go out and take ac­tion in the real world,” Ben Yosef said.

The idea be­hind the vir­tual sit­u­a­tion room and ACT.IL stemmed from the suc­cess of the IDC Stu­dent Union sit­u­a­tion room launched ini­tially dur­ing Oper­a­tion Pil­lar of De­fense in 2012 and again dur­ing Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge in 2014.

“Dur­ing the wars the stu­dents at the IDC felt that we needed to do some­thing to help and our ad­van­tage as stu­dents, many of which are in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from 86 coun­tries, was to talk to peo­ple on the plat­forms that we know such as so­cial me­dia,” Ben Yosef said.

Dur­ing the war, the IDC sit­u­a­tion room pro­vided fac­tual in­for­ma­tion about the sit­u­a­tion on the ground to peo­ple around the world, and coun­tered the mis­in­for­ma­tion and lies about Is­rael and the IDF be­ing dis­sem­i­nated on so­cial me­dia sites.

Through its ef­forts in 2014, the sit­u­a­tion room re­cruited 670 vol­un­teers and was able to reach some 40 mil­lion peo­ple in 35 lan­guages in over 100 coun­tries.

“After the war we re­al­ized that we need a con­tin­u­a­tion of this work, un­for­tu­nately also dur­ing peace time,” he said.

As such, the sit­u­a­tion room had to reeval­u­ate its ob­jec­tives and re­struc­ture its has­bara ef­forts, part­ner­ing with the IAC in an ef­fort to ex­pand the ini­tia­tive all over the world to en­sure that any­one who wants to help Is­rael will be able to.

“Dur­ing the past year we have flown to the US once a month to cam­puses and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide them with the tools so that they can join our com­mu­nity of on­line ac­tivists,” he ex­plained. “How­ever we re­al­ized there was a greater need for this to be present all the time.”

Ben Yosef said the first com­mu­nity that was cho­sen was Bos­ton be­cause of the many uni­ver­si­ties in the city with strong pro- and anti-Is­rael ac­tiv­i­ties on cam­puses.

The Bos­ton room is run by an Is­raeli rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the IDC and in­cludes ten lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als with back­grounds in mar­ket­ing and PR who vol­un­teer their time to train ac­tivists. In ad­di­tion, the room is op­er­ated by 20 high school and col­lege stu­dents, en­gaged in on­line ac­tivism, who re­ceive a schol­ar­ship for their par­tic­i­pa­tion.

In ad­di­tion, the ini­tia­tive has part­nered with some 14 pro-Is­rael groups work­ing in Bos­ton.

“Our hope is that the en­tire [lo­cal pro-Is­rael] com­mu­nity will take part – some 100 peo­ple will be trained in the ini­tial stages and then hope­fully thou­sands more after that,” he said.

In the near fu­ture, there are al­ready two more sit­u­a­tion rooms slated to be opened in the US in New Jersey and in Los An­ge­les, with the aim be­ing to open ad­di­tional sit­u­a­tion rooms in some 30 to 50 com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

“This has turned into an ef­fec­tive plat­form work­ing for the ben­e­fit of the State of Is­rael be­cause so many peo­ple have come to­gether and made a col­lec­tive ef­fort,” he said. “And we are al­ways look­ing for new lo­cal part­ners.”

Na’ama Ore, IAC’s re­gional di­rec­tor in Bos­ton, added that the ini­tia­tive is bring­ing a new and in­no­va­tive ap­proach to pro-Is­rael ac­tivism.

“In an era where so many from the Jewish com­mu­nity don’t find a way to ex­press their love and sup­port for Is­rael, the sit­u­a­tion room al­lows an in­no­va­tive and ef­fec­tive plat­form [to do so],” she said. “This is just the be­gin­ning and we have a lot of work still ahead of us, but this is a very pos­i­tive start.”


MEN­TORS AND STU­DENTS go over an ex­er­cise on a sim­u­la­tor.

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