In August, Rabbi Daniel Cohen fumed when he read that the BDS App, which helps smartphone users identify and boycott products made in Israel, had been downloaded over 450,000 times.
“It just didn’t sit well with me,” Cohen told NJJN. He went looking for apps with a pro-Israel perspective. Although there are various apps featuring news from Israel and travel tips — plus others that warn of incoming missiles — he couldn’t find one that specifically responded to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign.
He decided to create one.
In the new app, Am Yisrael BUY, you can find products made in Israel, get the latest news on Israel, and read analysis from advocacy and media watchdog groups.
The tech-savvy Cohen is senior rabbi of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange.
“My goal is that in every possible platform, we can make clear our support for the Jewish state and dispel falsehoods. In an increasingly app- and Twitter-driven world, there needs to be a presence there,” he said.
At first, Cohen hired an app developer who had what he described as “cool ideas” — but who didn’t move fast enough for Cohen. The rabbi wanted the app out in time for Rosh Hashana.
The High Holy Days “are a time when people are thinking about last year and about the new year,” he said. “It’s a time to put things like this in front of people, when people are saying, ‘What can I do?’”
He also wanted to give students returning to college some accessible tools to use in response to BDS campaigns on campuses.
So he used a simple platform to create the app himself. It is now available as a free download for Android and Apple phones.
It includes links to websites selling all kinds of made-in-Israel products, including clothing, books, groceries, and cosmetics. Included are links to four news sites: Times of Israel, Ynet News, Ha’aretz, and the Jerusalem Post and links to advocacy organizations like AIPAC, CAMERA, HonestReporting, Israel 21C, The Israel Project, and the Tower.
In the process of getting approval from Apple, he had to remove the links for donations to pro-Israel organizations across the denominational spectrum (though the organizations themselves are still listed).
The app has already been downloaded over 1,000 times, including in places as unlikely as Sri Lanka, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates.
It’s a little more basic than he would have liked, he said, and he hopes someone with a love for Israel and tech know-how will take the app and “run with it,” adding more sophisticated features.
Still, he said, Am Yisrael BUY serves his purpose. “More than anything, it’s a statement in the face of BDS. It is absolutely clear that BDS is not about policy; it’s about isolating and ultimately destroying Israel,” he said.