One evening in December a group of high school students guided a group of adults old enough to be their parents—in some cases their grandparents—in using online strategies to tell Israel’s story and to combat anti-Israel propaganda. The two groups met at the Newton office of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) to learn about The Boston Media Room, a real-time online advocacy center which creates pro-Israel content that reaches thousands of people on social media. The older group had recently completed a six-week Israel advocacy training program, HaKol, sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) Strategic Israel Engagement.

The Boston Media Room is a non-partisan effort sponsored by CJP, the IAC, and IDC Herzliya, an academic institution located in Israel. Volunteers, under the guidance of volunteer mentors, respond to anti-Israel content online, create short films and infographics, in addition to training others to integrate social media into their activism.

One Media Room volunteer recently posted a well-received response to a New York Times article about the European Union’s rejection of the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The group also produced “Israel Rocks,” a video featuring music stars, including Britney Spears, Kanye West and Justin Bieber, who have performed in Israel, reminding the world that Israel is a free and open society, not the fascist, apartheid nation portrayed in much of the world’s press, the U.N. and academia. The video, which reached 10,000 people, encouraged music fans to tag artists they would like to “Rock Israel” in 2018. Another project used Instagram to show how Israeli inventions can help people reach the goals they set for their New Year’s resolutions, including an app for staying on track in the gym.

Trainees at the December meeting were shown a video of a recent demonstration in Copley Square, which featured people chanting “Hands off Palestine, hands off Jerusalem, from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” in other words, calling for a Jew-free Middle East. Media Room staff then showed a video of a similar demonstration in Herzliya—with more chanting and screaming of “From the river to the sea….” In this video, the staff also showed how these hateful expletives were initiated by leaders of terrorist groups, providing an important juxtaposition. Another video, “Dear Roger,” which reached at least 12,000, was directed toward Israel-hater Roger Waters, carrying the message that music should bring us together, not split us apart.

At the recent training, people were challenged to come up with a plan for an online response to a one-sided TV report on an upcoming college Israel Apartheid Week. The goal was to show trainees how to create content that is not merely accurate and targeted, but that also reaches people’s hearts, and, most important, will motivate people to share.

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Since its launch, the Boston Media Room has gained 12,000 users in 41 countries. A recent success involved a store in Australia which featured a sign declaring “No Israelis served.” The Boston Media Room went into action when they became aware of this and used an app to encourage people to go to the store’s Facebook page and challenge the anti-Semitism of that statement. The sign was removed.  The Boston Media Room has a 95 percent success rate in removing hateful comments. Anyone who sees something online that is disturbing can contact the Media Room.

The Boston Media Room is modeled after IDC Herzliyah’s cutting-edge Situation Room, developed by a group of students in response to anti-Israel press reports during Operation Protective Edge, a 2014 Israeli military operation conducted after repeated attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza. They created #israelunderfire, a TIME Magazine top 10 most influential hashtag of 2014. Successes like this led to the development of ACT.IL The Online Community for Israel, an activism platform and mobile app used to build physical and virtual pro-Israel communities. The group at the December training enjoyed “Israel – Extreme Yourself,” an ACT.IL video of Israelis engaged in extreme sports, showing a society of life-loving risk takers. With little promotion, this video went viral.

The Boston Media Room, the first of its kind in the U.S., was inaugurated in 2017, when a pilot group of Israeli and Jewish American high school and college students came together for a two-and-a-half day ambassadorship training program. Additional media rooms—there are now five—are planned across the U.S. The IAC is currently setting up a media room in the North Shore. Under the guidance of mentors from the fields of research, journalism, hi-tech and education, student ambassadors, ages 16-24, now represent an elite public diplomacy team, developing Israel awareness campaigns, responding to anti-Israel and BDS activity while engaging a wider community of volunteers of all ages to join their efforts.

The next Boston Media Room Training will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. at the JCC North Shore. There is no charge, but reservations are required. Contact Susan Feinstein at 978-740-4431 or sfeinstein@lappinfoundation.org.

If you would like to participate in a Boston Media Room training in the future, or have the staff bring a program to your school or synagogue, contact chen@israeliamerican.org. No prior knowledge is required.

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