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The insidious roots of the Boston ‘Mapping Project’

The real problem is how mainstream anti-Zionism has become - we must fight that new normal if we are to combat this domestic extremism
A map of purported connections between Jewish groups and other organizations in Massachusetts created by progressive activist group The Mapping Project, which says its goal is to map 'institutional support for the colonization of Palestine.' (Screenshot/JTA)
A map of purported connections between Jewish groups and other organizations in Massachusetts created by progressive activist group The Mapping Project, which says its goal is to map 'institutional support for the colonization of Palestine.' (Screenshot/JTA)

The appearance of the Mapping Project in Boston has generated an unusual reaction — even some of the most hostile anti-Israel forces have distanced themselves from it. Groups like the official international BDS Movement realize that this initiative, which singles out Jewish organizations and leaders for dismantling, rings of the worst kind of antisemitism, reminiscent of the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and could easily lead to violence against targeted institutions and leaders.

The rejection of this dangerous program should be welcomed wherever it comes from. Particularly worthy of praise is the Bulgarian government. When alerted by ADL that the project, which had been kicked off Google, moved to a Bulgarian website, the government acted expeditiously to do likewise. More problematic is the government of Iceland, which to date has not expelled the project now that it has moved to an Icelandic site.

Most significant, however, about this entire episode, despite these efforts by many anti-Israel forces to distance themselves from it, is the inevitable link between the character of broader anti-Israel activity and the emergence of this dangerous program.

So many elements of this project had their roots in other anti-Israel activity. The depiction of undue Jewish influence and power is a regular hallmark of anti-Israel propaganda. The notion that Jews control American foreign policy, hence US support for Israel, is pervasive and, of course, ignores the fact that the vast majority of the American people have long supported the Jewish state as a realization of Jewish self-determination in the historic Jewish homeland and as a democratic and strategic ally of the United States.

The idea that Jewish organizations and others that support the existence and legitimacy of a Jewish state should be excluded from coalitions and participation in social justice activities has become a hallmark of anti-Israel movements. We saw this in the women’s movement, in certain gay advocacy groups and on many campuses across the country. Indeed, specific individuals have been told that they are not welcome in coalition activity because of their support for Zionism.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement itself is animated by  the idea of dismantling Jewish support for Israel. BDS has never been about making Israel better but about using boycotts, divestments, and sanctions to eliminate the Jewish state. The Mapping Project takes this broad concept and personalizes it in a way that is particularly dangerous and offensive.

Connected to all this is the continuing effort, begun by the Soviet Union back in the 1970s, to label Zionism as racism. The latest version of that effort to delegitimize the Jewish state and thereby delegitimize all those who support Israel, is the widening use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel. This, of course, is an attempt to link Israel to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa and thereby create a path to take any and all steps to delegitimize the Jewish state.

What these steps ignore is that boycotts of South Africa were critical to actually dismantle racism, while boycotts of Israel actually are prime examples of promoting racism – that is, the powerful racism of antisemitism.

All of which brings us back to the connection between these anti-Israel activities and their natural fruition, the Mapping Project. It is helpful for any and all to denounce it. If we are going to prevent this insidious movement from spreading, however, we must go further than speaking about the project itself.

We must speak to the inevitability of such dangerous manifestations if the vicious anti-Israel activity spelled out here, reflecting offensive and biased views of the Jewish state and Jewish people, is allowed to spread and be legitimized.

It is this mainstreaming of anti-Zionism that must be addressed if we are to make progress in combating this new form of domestic extremism.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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