Something special occurred at this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade and Festival in New York, more so than the typical showing of solidarity in the Jewish community.

“Today we launch the Iron Dome of Truth!” proclaimed Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, as he spoke at Manhattan’s Terminal 5 after the parade finished its march up Fifth Avenue.

Terminal 5, normally a concert venue, had been transformed into a miniature version of Jerusalem’s iconic Mahane Yehuda market, with vendors selling Israeli crafts and food, as well as a temporary summer camp, with children strewn about the three floors working on art projects. Families were giddily snapping photos on their mobile phones, which spoke directly to Erdan’s point.

“Our cell phones are the number one weapon against us,” he said, driving home a worry many Jews understand well: the onslaught of lies, misinformation and biased reporting from the Middle East that gets shared over social media.

With that (and with the aid of model Titi Aynaw, actress Ariel Mortman and a cute explanatory video that’s primed to go viral) commenced the launch of 4IL, a web campaign which gives users a host of tools to help push back against would-be demonizers of the Jewish state, including act.il, a free app for iPhone and Android created by students, aimed at countering anti-Israel propaganda on social media.

The 4IL website, www.4il.org.il is an innovative means of providing accurate information on a large scale, where Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions proponents seek to bend the truth and spread fear in their war against Israel.

Two attendees at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City on June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenberg)

Two attendees at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City on June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenfeld)

The parade, hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) began in 1965 and this year marked the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. The parade was led by Erdan and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and was attended by dignitaries including members of Knesset, the mayor of Jerusalem, senators and congressmen, alongside some 40,000 supporters of Israel who painted the avenue in blue and white.

At a cocktail party atop the Dream Hotel later in the evening, parade-goers were welcomed to celebrate the new technological advance. Yaron Fishelson, head of Product and Community for act.il, explained to us how the app grew organically from work students were doing at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya during Operation Protective Edge. The app, initiated by the Israeli American Community (IAC), Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC) as well as Maccabis, was developed with a vision to create an international community which can take action online in, real time to defend the State of Israel.

The online campaign, for the 4IL platform, which is being launched simultaneously in the US and Israel and is coming soon in Europe as well as other countries, is aimed at creating an energized online community to combat the online lies, calls for boycotts and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

A billboard calling for the people to join act.il in defending Israel against online disinformation. (Alexi Rosenberg)

A billboard calling for the people to join act.il in defending Israel against online disinformation. (Alexi Rosenfeld)

“The State of Israel is under constant attack by delegitimizers working to demonize Israel online and undermine our legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” said Erdan.

A juggler at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenberg)

A juggler at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenfeld)

“For this reason I am initiating an international effort to unite Israel’s supporters around the globe and provide them with a platform that strengthens their activities, with tools that will help all of us fight hatred together, and with resources to spread the truth. As part of the campaign, we will provide Israel’s supporters with videos, graphics, articles and content. This is a true game changer in defending Israel online and changing the narrative.”

Since its establishment, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs has met dozens of public diplomacy organizations in Israel and around the world, which take an active part in civil pro-Israel activities. These organizations constitute a significant force in the pro-Israel network, and the aim of this campaign is to enhance their activities while providing Israel’s supporters in Israel and around the world with materials and methods for defending Israel online.

Both Mayor Bill De Blasio (much taller in person than you realize) and Governor Andrew Cuomo walked up 5th Avenue earlier in the sunnier part of the day. (Alas, the skies did not heed Barbra Streisand’s requests, and during the final third it indeed rained on our parade.) But it felt good to end the festival with action in addition to just words. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got to share a few things on Facebook.

Students from the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway march in the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenberg)

Students from the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway march in the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 4, 2017. (Alexi Rosenfeld)

This article is published in collaboration with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.