As a Pew Research Institute study recently revealed, the overwhelming majority of Americans have little or no idea what the debate about the BDS movement is about. With 84% of those polled confessing ignorance about the topic, that left only 11% to express an opinion about it one way or the other. Those who understand the anti-Semitic nature of BDS activism may take some cold comfort from the fact that its supporters haven’t made all that much headway in the public square. But the fact that only 6% opposed it, while a mere 5% backed it, is a frightening result when one considers the consequences of the way many on the left-wing of the Democratic Party are buying into exactly the sort of intersectional ideology that is the foundation of BDS lies about Israel.
That’s the context for the news that a Boston BDS group is promoting a “Mapping Project” that is supposed to illustrate “how local support for the colonization of Palestine is structurally tied to policing, evictions and privatization locally, and to U.S. imperialist projects worldwide.”
It’s not clear whether such extremism has much support even in the most woke sectors of one of the country’s most liberal communities. But what makes it truly sinister is the way that it creates maps of synagogues and other Jewish institutions, including schools in the state of Massachusetts, and attempts to hold them out as bastions of “harms” such as “racism,” “policing, “U.S. imperialism” and “ethnic cleansing.”
It should be understood clearly what Boston BDS and its leftist allies are doing here. They are placing a target on American Jews—declaring that anything and everything associated with Jewish life in this country is fair game for false accusations of crimes against minorities, delegitimization, and, at the very least, hounding out of the public square and, perhaps, ultimately violence. This is tangible evidence of the way elements of the ideological left have crossed over to the kind of open anti-Semitism that many Jews are only prepared to acknowledge when it comes from the far-right.
Some on the Jewish left have urged Americans to understand BDS as a cry of protest against what they mischaracterize as oppressive Israeli policies and a way to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. They say that progressives who either support BDS—like the members of the left-wing congressional “Squad”—should not be treated as anti-Semites or beyond the pale of normal politics. But it should be noted that the kind of rhetoric from the BDS movement—in which talk of “colonization of Palestine” refers to Tel Aviv, not remote settlements in the territories—actually reflects exactly the sort of toxic stuff that is routinely spouted by both the Hamas terrorists who rule the Gaza Strip and their supposedly moderate rivals of the Palestinian Authority that autonomously governs the Arab population of the West Bank in their official media.
So, while the instincts of much of the organized Jewish world will be to ignore or downplay this story, it is actually quite important. For those in the 84% of the American public that is ignorant of BDS—a demographic that probably includes a great many secular and unaffiliated Jews—the Mapping Project is telling you exactly what BDS means. It is pure, unadulterated hatred for Jews that engages in the sort of eliminationist rhetoric about Israel and Zionism that matches even the most extreme screeds heard on the far-right.
What’s more, it also is reflected in the actions and positions of anti-Zionist groups that have been demanding that they be given a place at the communal Jewish table, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
When JVP first unveiled its “Deadly Exchange” campaign in the last decade, few American Jews understood just how far ahead of the leftist curve the organization really was. Launched after the Black Lives Matter movement emerged from protests over a 2014 police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that despite the claims of most of the group’s supporters in the media proved to be entirely justified, “Deadly Exchange” was a classic anti-Semitic blood libel cloaked in the language of human rights and “anti-racism.”
Its conceit was that Jewish and non-Jewish groups that help fund trips to Israel by American first responders were racist actions that led to the slaughter of African-Americans on the streets of American cities by police trained to kill by the Jewish state. As with blood libels of the past in which Jews were blamed for crimes—both real and mythical—in which they had no role, the point was to demonize both Israel and its supporters, and to falsely accuse them of murder. The irony that a group with the word “Jewish” in its title was employing a classic trope of Jew-haters was lost on the group, which was banking on the idea that when it comes to defaming Israel, no limits on rhetorical excess or fabulism need be observed by those whose cause it is to work for its destruction.
That this claim was pure fiction was beside the point. Those who were sent to Israel in various programs—a practice that was encouraged and subsidized by largely liberal groups like local Jewish Community Relations Councils or the Anti-Defamation League—were able to benefit from the country’s unfortunately vast store of knowledge about dealing with public emergencies, including terrorist attacks that resulted in mass casualties. They were not taught how to deliberately kill innocent civilians without cause—something that, despite the libels hurled at the Israel Defense Forces for its actions in seeking to suppress the efforts of terrorists like Hamas—the Jewish state forbids.
JVP hasn’t gotten many communities to heed their slanders and ban public employees from going to Israel for training. But the group is undeterred and got a huge boost when, in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, BLM went mainstream. It was even supported by many Jewish organizations, even if not all of them endorsed the movement’s calls for defunding of the police, which dovetails with the anti-Zionist group’s assumption that law enforcement is inherently racist.
The pro-BDS JVP has been stealing the thunder of liberal Jewish groups like J Street in recent years on college campuses and other woke precincts, where it is allied with the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group. Its ardent support of BLM and its “Deadly Exchange” libel illustrate how intersectional ideology works. Those who believe that all struggles of oppressed people of color are linked and that all “white privilege” oppressors are similarly united believe that the Palestinian war on Israel’s existence is morally equivalent to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. BLM and its associated ideologies are predicated on the absurd yet somehow fashionable notion that the cure for racism that the overwhelming majority of Americans rejected generations ago is more racism.
By the same token, the BDS movement believes that the one people on the planet who must be deprived of sovereignty in their ancient homeland and left defenseless against genocidal Islamist and nationalist Arab movements are the Jews. Far from promoting peace, its platform is a path to Jewish genocide in Israel.
All of this amounts to a wake-up call for American Jews, both those that are affiliated with the organized community and those who never visit any of the sites that the Mapping Project seeks to target as bastions of everything they think the woke should protest. BDS seeks the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet and is, by definition, anti-Semitic. But its intersectional ideas lead this movement inevitably to a position that treats Jews as hateful oppressors and legitimate objects of protest—something that always leads to violence. BDS isn’t about human rights, helping the Palestinians, peace or justice. At its core and in action, it is a hate group, and it and all who support it should be treated accordingly.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @Jonathans_tobin.