The last few years have seen a significant increase in antisemitic attacks in the U.S. and worldwide. Some have been violent, while others have been verbal or rhetorical. Furthermore, they’ve come from different ideological directions, although the worst violence has come from the white nationalist, Trumpist right wing. Nevertheless, many Jews have not felt sufficiently supported when antisemitism has come from the "pro-Palestinian" or "left" perspective.
One such incident of antisemitism occurred recently in Boston. In early June, we saw a local affiliate of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement focused on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians—treatment that, as I’ve written multiple times, is certainly worthy of criticism—endorsing and repeatedly promoting the work of their “friends” at The Mapping Project, an anonymous group of pro-Palestinian activists in the area. This “map” brands a whole host of Jewish institutions as being responsible for all sorts of injustices. It calls on its audience to “dismantle” and “disrupt” the “local entities and networks that enact devastation.” Most ominously, it emphasizes that “every entity has an address.” I don’t think they were encouraging people to send flowers.
One of the oldest and most pernicious forms of antisemitism is the notion that Jewish groups exercise an outsized influence on society, locally as well as globally. The falsehood that Jews control the world as nefarious puppet masters from behind the scenes stands at the dark heart of the antisemitic poison, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document first published in Russia over 100 years ago. The antisemitic bile from the Boston BDS-endorsed Mapping Project draws on tropes all too similar to the aforementioned piece of hateful fiction.
The map under discussion here, which bears the title “Zionism, Policing and Empire,” is part of the Boston group’s larger efforts. This one specifically claims to show “ways in which institutional support for the colonization of Palestine is structurally tied to policing and systemic white supremacy here where we live, and to US imperialist projects in other countries.” Note that in the image below, the Anti-Defamation League is at the center of a web that reaches out, with its tentacles stretching far and wide into the power structure of eastern Massachusetts, a conglomerate that includes the media as well as government. Also somehow connected are, to cite a couple of examples, the Jewish Art Collaborative and the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston. Really?
The Mapping Project notes: “Our map will also show extensive links between police agencies and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).” Jews control the Boston-area police, in other words. Lovely. From another document: “We have shown physical addresses, named officers and leaders, and mapped connections. These entities exist in the physical world and can be disrupted in the physical world. We hope people will use our map to help figure out how to push back effectively.” This map, among other things, tells where the powerful Jooz operate.
Additionally, in its closing, the document specifically endorses not peaceful resistance, but “resistance in all its forms.” Essentially, they are encouraging people to go to these places and take action—which may or may not be nonviolent. This is incredibly inflammatory and, depending on who gets ahold of this information, a possible catalyst for bloodshed.
One egregious problem with this kind of rhetoric is that it conflates all Jewish groups and institutions with the State of Israel, as if Jews are a monolith whose status as Americans is meaningless—all of us are somehow in thrall to a government thousands of miles away with policies every Jew, according to these antisemites, blindly supports.
The American Jewish Committee laid out in great depth why The Mapping Project is “dangerous for Jews (and everyone else).” Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the aforementioned Anti-Defamation League, likewise went into detail in a Boston Globe op-ed, calling this example of hate “vile and sinister. … Reminiscent of the worst kind of targeting and isolation of the Jewish people. … It plays into the notion that Jews act in conspiratorial ways, that Jews have excessive poisonous power, and that Jews therefore are legitimate targets.” Speaking further about this matter at an ADL-organized event, Trestan added: “The danger is that there are people in our midst who want to commit violence, even if the mappers didn’t intend that.”
As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, “The BDS-promoted Mapping Project is just the latest manifestation of an antisemitic canard alleging secret, hidden Jewish control of, and the buying of influence over, academia, the media, corporations, charities, law enforcement and more.” Milbank added: “The Mapping Project is ludicrous in its attempt to implicate Jews. It includes JewishBoston, a publication of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, because it “pushes propaganda which glories Israel.” Such as? “JewishBoston helped promote ‘Taste of Israel 2022’ … which featured Boston area restaurants serving and promoting ‘Israel’s diverse culinary landscape.’” Ludicrous indeed.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents about three-quarters of the city of Boston, condemned this hate, which is particularly significant given that she has strongly criticized Israeli government policy:
It is not acceptable to target or make vulnerable Jewish institutions or organizations, full stop. There is no doubt that antisemitism and organized, violent white supremacy are at a boiling point in this nation and threaten our communities, so we must be vigilant when it comes to keeping each other safe.
I know what it is like for my safety and that of my family to be under threat, and I take concerns about the safety of our faith houses and community organizations very seriously. Our community is reeling from acts of targeted violence, including the assault of a visiting Rabbi just last summer. We are at our strongest when we are building a diverse, intersectional coalition dedicated to peace and justice for all marginalized communities.
In 2021, Massachusetts saw a 48% increase in antisemitic incidents—harassment, vandalism, and acts of violence—over 2020, including the stabbing, which Pressley mentioned, of a rabbi in the vicinity of a Jewish school located in Boston. Nationally, such acts have been at record-high levels in recent years, beginning with a spike in 2016 when Donald Trump emerged as the leader of the Republican Party. A year ago, there was a series of attacks on Jews in America directly connected to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Pressley’s approach demonstrates the difference between legitimate criticism of a state's actions and spreading hatred against a people, which she has consistently and clearly rejected. Sens. Warren and Markey of Massachusetts have likewise rebuked The Mapping Project’s antisemitism, as have other House Democrats from Massachusetts as well as New York's Rep. Ritchie Torres and Rep. Grace Meng, and Rhode Island’s Rep. David Cicilline. These Democrats include Jews and non-Jews, those who are white and people of color, straight and gay, all standing together. Republicans have also issued similar statements.
A bipartisan group of 37 members of Congress, led by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, called on federal law enforcement to begin investigating how the map might be used by those inclined to commit violence, and to increase security for targets listed on the map.
Beyond elected officials, Jewish community groups in Boston have spoken out against The Mapping Project. Jeremy Burton, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, stated: “We see this as an explicit effort to name and identify and put a target on physical Jewish spaces in Greater Boston, with the purpose, explicitly in their own words, of dismantling our Jewish community,” something that might “inspire others to dangerous action.” Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, described this antisemitic venom as “a threat to all of us. It’s outrageous and downright scary to see ourselves and our organizations on this list, to see the schools where we send our kids, arts and culture organizations where we are literally creating Jewish life.”
The FBI has begun to keep track of The Mapping Project and the possible consequences of its publication. During a recent Zoom meeting of Boston Jewish community group leaders, FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta explained that federal authorities are “very well aware and are tracking the Mapping Project website, and are working to identify additional information regarding this website.” He added that, thankfully, “at this time, we have not observed any direct threats of violence in open sources related to this map as of its publication.” However, we do know that the map has already found its way into the hands of people who want to do harm to Jews:
It’s very important to note that the greater BDS movement declared on June 22 that it does not endorse The Mapping Project, and demanded that BDS Boston—which vigorously promoted it—do the same or no longer use BDS in its name. The Boston BDS, for its part, put out a tweet a few hours later pointing out that, on the one hand, The Mapping Project “works autonomously from Boston BDS,” but which added nonetheless that the Boston BDS “continues to feel that the Mapping Project is an important source of information and a useful organizing tool.” In other words, they still believe these hateful lies represent the truth.
The global BDS organization did something positive here. Just because one BDS affiliate wholeheartedly endorsed something horrifically antisemitic, that doesn't apply to all of BDS. The German government has, for what it's worth, characterized the entire BDS movement as antisemitic. Although there are certainly problematic elements within BDS, not just in Boston, I don’t see things as that black and white, especially since we're talking about a government making that characterization.
Unfortunately, the Boston BDS/Mapping Project outrage isn’t the only recent incident of antisemitic hate coming from the pro-Palestinian camp or the hard left. (Bear in mind that the Boston Young Communist League proudly defended The Mapping Project.) To cite just one other example, at Documenta, one of the world’s most important art events that takes place in Germany, one of the works of art employed blatantly antisemitic imagery. It depicted a man with fangs, bloodshot eyes, and a dagger between his teeth who is clearly identifiable as an Orthodox Jew with the sidelocks, or payes/payot, and wearing a black hat. Oh, and his hat has the Nazi SS insignia emblazoned on it.
The same mural also included a pig wearing a helmet identifying it as the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Here, Israel is directly equated to both an animal—dehumanizing Israelis—and to all Jews, and of course the images of the Jewish men themselves are sickening. It caused such a controversy that Claudia Roth, Germany’s minister of culture, labeled the work “antisemitic imagery.” Documenta’s director general resigned in mid-July with almost three-quarters of the festival’s run still remaining.
As noted previously, there has been much more violence perpetrated against Jews in our country by right-wing antisemitism connected to white supremacy, white nationalism, and so-called Replacement Theory—all of which the Trump administration shamefully ignored over its four years in power. Furthermore, Trump himself stokes antisemitism with his own language. However, antisemitism from the anti-Israel side is dangerous as well. We’ve seen this in particular in Europe, where there have been terrible acts of violence, but also in the U.S.
For our politics, it is vital to highlight that elected Democrats—both Jewish and non-Jewish—are denouncing this hate. We know that right-wing Trumpists want to paint progressives—in particular those of color like Pressley and other "Squad" members—as antisemitic simply because they criticize Israel. These Republicans are desperate to drive a wedge between Jewish and Black Americans, and are willing to lie to accomplish that goal.
Rep. Ilhan Omar has been called out by myself and others when she used some problematic tropes a few years back, but I also praised her when she recognized what she'd done, apologized, and promised to do better—which she has. Omar, along with fellow Squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were absolutely terrific in May 2021, when they powerfully and unequivocally condemned the antisemitic attacks that followed bloodshed in Israel/Palestine.
On The Mapping Project, Pressley—who has never used language or rhetoric that resembles antisemitism in any way, and has consistently condemned such hate—stepped up big time. We need to remember these things when Republicans despicably and falsely attack these women of color as haters of Jewish people.
If there’s anything positive to be taken from what happened in Boston, it’s that we saw Democrats powerfully reject antisemitic hate. Democrats from across the party spectrum are standing up to it, and standing with Jews, who do not have to stand alone.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)