Jeremy Burton

A clarifying moment regarding BDS in Boston

This week, activists affiliated with the group “BDS Boston” released a so-called “Mapping Project” – an offensive and inflammatory list of Jewish communal organizations across Greater Boston; blaming our community for the existence of Israel, and for all sorts of ills in our society. The group says it is publishing this list of community organizations “so that we can dismantle them.”

BDS Boston is the same group that JCRC called out last October when, in an explicit display of antisemitism, they attacked then-candidate Michelle Wu for taking donations from “sinister” “Zionists” – i.e. Jews in Boston.

To be clear, this week they didn’t just name “pro-Israel” advocacy groups like AIPAC or criticize ADL and JCRC for our Israel study tours for civic leaders. Nor did they single out those who make statements defending certain actions by Israel’s government. They named day schools, cultural centers, disability service organizations, and synagogue networks. They targeted groups that explicitly oppose the occupation, such as J Street, and support grassroots Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, like New Israel Fund (NIF).

I want to make it clear how extreme this project is by quoting their descriptions of two of our community’s most progressive organizations. It targets NIF because they “stop short of challenging the fundamentally ethnocratic and settler colonial character of the state.”  The project also frames J Street as attempting to “relegate Palestinians to the position of a minority group who can at best aspire toward increased integration into Israel’s colonial political framework.”

As Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah (the progressive rabbinic human rights group), framed it this week:

You can protest Jewish organizational policies/positions vis-a-vis Israel all you want (or even boycott Israel), but once you call for dismantling the basic Jewish communal infrastructure, you’ve crossed the line to antisemitism. Ditto on imagining that Israel has outsized power or is to blame for US’s racist policing/incarceration infrastructure (which way predated the state of Israel). Criticize the ADL’s police exchange (which I agree they should not do), but racist policing goes back to slavery.

Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First for America (the folks who successfully sued the white supremacists behind the 2017 violence in Charlottesville) tweeted:

There are some who argue in bad faith that any criticism or boycott of Israel or the settlements is antisemitic. That is false. But this? This is antisemitism. Conflating Jews with Israel, seeking to “dismantle” Jewish community, age-old tropes about Jewish control…it’s classic.

We are grateful to the political leaders who have already made strong statements in opposition to the map. Congressman Seth Moulton called it “dangerous”  “irresponsible,” and “an antisemitic enemies list.” Congressman Ritchie Torres tweeted that “Scapegoating is a common symptom of Antisemitism, which at its core is a conspiracy theory.” Congresswoman Katherine Clark called it “alarming and reminiscent of a dangerous history of identifying and tracking Jewish people.”

And I want to draw your attention to this extended interview with Congressman Jake Auchincloss (in which I am also quoted), where he strongly condemns the map and the mappers:

“This is just chilling to me. It is tapping into millennia-old antisemitic tropes about nefarious Jewish wealth, control, conspiracy, media connections and political string-pulling’”

For those who had any doubt, this is a clarifying moment regarding the BDS agenda in Boston.  The movement indisputably seeks the elimination of the State of Israel, the removal of the Jewish people from our ancient homeland, and the dismantling of Boston’s Jewish communal infrastructure.  It targets our children and our religious, and cultural spaces.

There is no compromise to be found with them. There is no room for accommodating their pernicious hatred.

Now, some will reasonably question whether it is wise to amplify these attacks on our community, fearing that our condemnation might give them the air-time that they seek. Though I understand that concern, by the time our community came back online after Shavuot to learn about this map, it had already been covered by some major media outlets and had been condemned by Israel’s foreign ministry. More importantly, JCRC and our member organizations were hearing from many members of the community who had been named individually – as staff and board members of these organizations – and by those who worried about the safety of their own spaces and the places their children gather. We couldn’t ignore it.

But there’s another reason why it would be dangerous to ignore the project. BDS Boston may be a fringe group here in Boston.  However, (and not for the first time) groups with more credibility amplified the message and endorsed it.  Mass Peace Action (MPA), which also rushed to BDS Boston’s defense in October, retweeted support for it. MPA sits in certain alliances of progressives in our Commonwealth. They meet with and endorse candidates. There are public officials who amplify them and lend them credibility.

As I told Jewish Insider, there need to be “consequences” in the relationships that mainstream progressive leaders hold with those like MPA, who are actively in the business of defending and amplifying antisemitism. We cannot ignore extremist behavior on the left and tell ourselves it is only the marginal voices. When we do so, we allow the Overton Window to shift in regard to what is acceptable in our discourse. Six months ago, it was Jewish donors to local Democratic politics who were attacked, and that was ignored by most civic leaders (except for us and ADL). Now it’s the broad fabric of our community.

 JCRC and all of our friends and partners will continue to thrive in the face of attacks against our community. We will not be intimidated.  And we expect others to take a stand as well.

PS: Fortuitously, Robert Trestan of ADL New England and I had the opportunity to sit down with Rabbi Julie Bressler at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham for a wide-ranging conversation shining a light on antisemitism. I am grateful that they recorded the event and I encourage you to check out our conversation.

About the Author
Jeremy Burton is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), defining and advancing the values, interests and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. He has been published widely, including in the New York Jewish Week, the Jewish Forward, Zeek, Sh’ma, and the Washington Post: On Faith. The JTA included him in their 2010 “Twitter 100” list of the most influential Jewish voices on Twitter.
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