The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion BDS detours into old-school antisemitism

A rally against antisemitism on the National Mall in Washington on July 11, 2021. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The BDS movement, which aims to “boycott, divest and sanction” Israel and those who do business there, has long walked a line between opposing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and fomenting hatred of Jews and Jewish culture.

But now one of its affiliates has plunged headlong into outright antisemitic bigotry, conspiracy theories and implicit invitations to violence.

Late Tuesday, Boston’s arm of the loosely organized movement urged its followers, as it had several times before, to explore an interactive “Mapping Project,” which it said would show “how imperialism, racism, militarism & Zionism are systemically connected in our communities.”

It does none of those things. 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.

The project is, as Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said, “an antisemitic enemies list with a map attached.”

Follow Dana Milbank's opinionsFollow

Its targets go beyond the usual Zionist groups to include the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (which covers liberal congregations opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians), the Jewish Community Relations Council (whose affiliated groups include Holocaust survivors and Jewish war veterans), the Jewish Arts Collaborative, the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston — and even J Street, a liberal-Jewish-inspired group avowedly opposing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

The creators of the map, a crazy collection of interconnecting, colored dots, call the project “a resource for gathering intelligence on the agents of oppression” to “form our own networks of resistance.”

“We have shown physical addresses, named officers and leaders,” the map says. “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.”

And how might they do that? It continues: “We view U.S. police on all levels as white-supremacist, colonial institutions that have no role in our communities; we support non-cooperation, community self-defense, and resistance in all its forms.”

In all its forms.

I repeatedly contacted the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the closest thing to an umbrella organization for the movement, to ask about this implicit call to violence — and received no reply. In the nearly two weeks it has known about the Boston map, the larger BDS has evidently offered no pushback. (The Boston chapter couldn’t be reached for comment.)

I contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, too, a BDS-supportive rights group with which I have worked to fight anti-Muslim bigotry — and was told “this is not an issue we’re dealing with at this time.” Why not?

Happily, some leaders on the left have stood against this approach. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a member of the progressive Squad, said of the map: “It is not acceptable to target or make vulnerable Jewish institutions or organizations, full stop.”

I’ve spent much of recent years condemning the conspiracy theories, lies, hatred and violence on the right. But the battle will never be won if the left is going to adopt the same means.

In terms of the sheer size of the threat, there’s no parallel: Political violence on the right is far greater, in both occurrences and lethality, than on the left. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged the man accused of the racist massacre in Buffalo of 26 counts of hate crimes and weapons violations. Since Buffalo, a man described as “anti-government” killed a retired judge in Wisconsin and had a bipartisan list of other targets. And police in Idaho arrested 31 people believed to be affiliated with the white-nationalist Patriot Front group before an allegedly planned riot at a Pride parade.

But there was also the man who, upset by the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, hatched a plot to kill Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh before turning himself in.

There is no place in civilized society for such acts — nor for rhetoric that motivates the unstable to do the terrible. Nor is there a place for a BDS movement if it is going to use (justified) anger with Israel’s policies to foment antisemitic conspiracy theories and to implicitly call for violence against “agents of oppression,” including Jewish entities.

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.’ ”

The long list of groups “systemically connected” with supposed Zionist oppressors includes: the AFL-CIO, Apple, Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, the Boston Globe, the City of Boston, Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, the FBI, the Harpoon Brewery, the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Pfizer and Moderna, an interminable collection of businesses, universities and police departments, and seemingly every Jewish group under the sun.

If the broader movement isn’t willing to step in and condemn those among them fanning antisemitic conspiracy theories and violence against Jews, then BDS will become nothing more than BS.

Loading...