The ‘Mapping Project’ of Boston area Jewish organizations including schools, youth groups, and philanthropic organizations, as well as entities such as corporations, is a new escalation by the BDS movement. With an all-encompassing and conspiratorial concept of entities tainted by Zionist connections and manipulations, the map raised fears from the Jewish community and law enforcement. By aiming to “reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them” it represents an implicit threat to the Jewish community. Coupled with more subtle economic threats from BDS influenced ‘Economic, Social, and Governance’ ratings that downgrade companies working in Israel, there is a twin threat, from above and below, that crosses social and class boundaries.
One of the most significant and sinister BDS developments occurred in June with the release of the ‘Mapping Project,’ which created a literal diagram of Boston area Jewish institutions and entities purportedly involved in “local institutional support for the colonization of Palestine and harms that we see as linked, such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement/ethnic cleansing.”
The map, which was endorsed by the Boston BDS movement and by ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ includes 483 entities from local Jewish institutions and organizations such as schools, synagogues, communal groups, NGOs and philanthropists, to an immense range of public and private institutions, from major corporations like Apple and General Dynamics to local police departments and firms. Essays on the themes of “The Architecture of Banishment,” “Boston’s Colonial Universities Grab Land for Profit, War, and Medical Apartheid,” “Zionism, Policing and Empire: A Dispatch from the Mapping Project,” “Mapping US Imperialism,” “The Police Executive Research Forum, the ACLU, and Counterinsurgency,” and “Charity is Theft: The Gann Foundation and Boston’s Zionist NGO circuit,” provide background for the sophisticated visualizations.
The project alleges that the listed entities and concepts are connected through funding and ownership, collaborations, and other forms of real or imagined linkages, around the common project of supporting ‘oppression.’ At the center is Zionism, which the project defines
As ideology, we understand Zionism to be a form of white supremacy that supports the colonization of Palestine by a settler population. Zionism begins in the 19th century; both its origins and its continuing political power are in Europe and the United States (also a colonial-settler state). As a material project, Zionism is the continued presence of settler-colonists on land in Palestine and their dominance over land, resources and politics. Support for the continued existence of a colonial-settler state anywhere in historic Palestine, or for colonial-settlers continuing to hold land there – whether on land colonized through various processes before 1948, land on which a settler-state was declared in 1948, or on land under occupation and colonization since 1967 – is Zionism.
The map goes far beyond the usual BDS emphasis on multinational corporations, universities, and police departments by accusing unexceptional entities of unique evil thanks to connections with ‘Zionism.’ One example is the Jewish Teen Foundation of Boston that “hosts events for Boston area teenagers which promote and normalize Israel’s ongoing colonial subjugation of Palestinians and theft of Palestinian land and resources.” Another, the Kleinfelder Northeast construction and design firm, is accused of providing services to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and proposing to construct a prison for the Commonwealth that “attempted to whitewash over the inherently violent and dehumanizing realities of caging human beings in prions (sic).” The Harpoon brewery is accused of ‘propaganda/normalization’ and ‘Zionism’ for partnering with an Israeli firm that specialized in desalinization.
The project, which is anonymous, thus represents a new level of both ‘intersectional’ and conspiratorial thinking. As one observer noted, the project alleges that “Boston’s Zionist leaders and powerhouse NGOs, which buy legitimacy and support from universities, use their influence to enable a range of oppressive agendas: supporting the Israeli army and Israeli settlements in Palestine; criminalizing Palestine liberation activists on college campuses; funding U.S. police departments and cop unions; extracting wealth from colonized Puerto Rico; and advancing the privatization of U.S. public schools.”
The project’s stated goal, to “reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them,” explicitly targets Jewish entities and individuals, both conceptually and practically, while the maps themselves locate them directly. The project’s creators and defenders claimed that this is standard left wing language and that criticism “was a cynical attempt to delegitimize campaigns targeting Israel by highlighting a sloppy one that was easy to paint as antisemitic.”
Though several Massachusetts politicians support BDS, the map drew widespread condemnation including from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Representatives Ayanna Pressley Jake Auchincloss and others, such as Rep. Seth Moulton, who described it as “an antisemitic enemies list with a map attached.” A bipartisan group of 37 House members also called on Federal law enforcement officials to investigate the project and its potential use by extremist groups. Local and national media and Jewish leaders also denounced the project. Local FBI officials claimed to be aware of the project and were investigating but stated that no direct threat had been identified.
Finally, in a surprising twist that reflected the unanticipated reaction, the National BDS movement sent a letter to the Boston BDS franchise demanding that it remove the Mapping Project from its social media. The letter complained that the project “indirectly advocates for armed resistance” which “inadvertently but gratuitously opens the door wife for the ear Israel lobby to intensify to unprecedented levels its legal warfare (lawfare), smears and bullying.” Even more surprising was the refusal to do so by BDS Boston, the project itself and a series of supporters, including Code Pink, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) associated Samidoun, and the PFLP itself.
The demand for disassociation by a national organization acknowledges the tactical misstep and the uniquely bad optics that resulted. The refusal to acknowledge this at the local level points to deepening radicalization. These dynamics, and the strident unrealism and unwillingness to compromise that permeates the BDS movement, have been acknowledged by supporters but show no sign of changing.
There were a number of BDS developments on campus. A recent University of Illinois graduate, Sayed Quraishi, was charged with a hate crime after throwing a rock at students outside the Hillel building during a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protest that targeted the organization.
At Yale University the ‘Yale Postdoc Association’ published a statement pushing back against a BDS endorsement issued in 2021 by the association’s ‘Racial Justice Subcommittee.’ At Oxford University a group called ‘Jewish Students Against Antisemitism’ protested the appearance of Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, deeming her ‘racist.’ The ‘Junior Common Room’ at Exeter College, Oxford passed a resolution condemning Israel for the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May and resolved to purchase a Palestinian flag for display in the room and to donate funds to a Palestinian medical organization. At University College London candidates for the student government were asked to pledge support for BDS at the risk of being publicly shamed.
The student government at Simon Fraser University adopted a BDS policy. The statement noted that “Anti-zionism fits in the wider anti-colonial framework globally, including within Turtle Island,” a term for North and Central America. In contrast, the student government at La Trobe University adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) antisemitism definition.
At the Harvard University commencement, BDS supporters heckled actor Ashton Kutcher at an event over his support for Israel. Duke University deleted photos of a student Birthright trip to Israel from an Instagram page after complaints from BDS supporters.
In response to the continuing antisemitism crisis at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, City Council member Inna Vernikov redirected funds earmarked for the school. The move came after the student government and the entire faculty endorsed BDS and a commencement speaker condemned Israel. The CUNY chancellor issued a statement that did not condemn the student or faculty moves, noting merely that “We believe the best way to counter the resulting discord is to expand upon the work we do across our campuses to encourage scholarship, dialogue, tolerance and civil engagement that fosters understanding and a way forward.” The New York City Council’s Higher Education Committee scheduled a hearing to discuss the antisemitism situation at CUNY but this was postponed when the chancellor claimed to have a scheduling conflict. The heading has reportedly been rescheduled for 30 June.
The spread of BDS and antisemitism into K-12 education was also evident in June. Concerns continue in California regarding the use of a ‘Liberated Ethnic Studies’ curriculum despite the opposition of the state legislature and governor. Reports indicate that the curriculum, which labels Jews as ‘privileged’ and vilifies Israel as a ‘colonial’ state, is being marketed quietly to school districts while labeling opponents as part of a ‘Zionist conspiracy.’
This type of grassroots anti-Israel activism was also evidence in the Passaic County Education Associations’ email to members “Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students and Staff” and promoting an “Educators for Palestine Summer Series” scheduled for July hosted by the “Democratic Socialists of America BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group.” One session, “Palestine: The History of a People,” notes that “In order to teach about Palestine authentically and critically, we must understand the history of its people and their heroic resistance to Zionism.”
Another session notes that “Learning Toward Liberation discusses some best practices for helping students understand how Palestine fits into historical and contemporary discussions of concepts from settler colonialism to water rights.” A third promises to prepare teachers “for the all too frequent backlash we can face from various sources and directions. We will hear from several educators who have navigated this difficult part of the crucial work of teaching about Palestine, as well as from organizations with the expertise and resources educators will find helpful should they encounter opposition, as Learning Toward Liberation discusses important issues for educators of conscience.”
In the economic sphere, the connection between BDS and rapidly emerging ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) ‘standards’ or ‘risk ratings’ is becoming clearer. After criticism from a Jewish investors group and the State of Illinois’s Investment Policy Board, the ratings firm Morningstar dropped a product called ‘Human Rights Radar,’ which it had acquired in its purchase of Sustainalytics. Morningstar had retained the White & Case law firm to investigate ‘Human Rights Radar’ after critics noted that it had placed a number of Israeli firms on a watch list. While the White & Case report claimed to find no “pervasive or systemic bias” it noted that ‘Human Rights Radar’ “sometimes used inflammatory language and failed to provide sourcing attribution clearly and consistently.” In a statement Morningstar’s leadership added that the firm does not support BDS.
Observers noted, however, that the evidence presented in the White & Case report indicate that Sustainalytics relies heavily on ‘human rights’ organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which are pervasively anti-Israel, and that “Companies that are in any way involved in the Israeli economy are automatically identified as complicit in human rights abuses in all Sustainalytics’ core products and are thus disproportionately punished in Sustainalytics ratings compared to companies doing business in any other country.” Ending reliance on the ‘human rights’ industry and the United Nations for information are important first steps to remedy the situation. The Illinois board voted not to add the firm to a list of those in which the state would not invest but conditioned the decision on additional reforms.
ESG ratings and ‘audits’ have become an increasingly powerful and malleable tool for corporate leaders and investment firms to create a positive façade of ‘social responsibility’ and ‘sustainability’ and to manipulate the broader political economy. By creating new sets of standards beyond profitability and fiduciary responsibility, corporations have been pressured or some have been eager to disengage from certain sectors, such as weapons manufacturers. Ratings agencies and corporate leaders then reward themselves with bonuses for meeting these new targets. While, as the Morningstar leadership put it, products like Sustainalytics are charged with evaluating “controversial or ethically ambiguous matters,” at worst they serve as new vectors for traditional biases such as anti-Zionism. In other cases ratings serve as tools for managers to simply tout products or to disguise abuses by favored companies at the expense.
After receding, the issue of Ben & Jerry’s support for BDS came again to the forefront with reports that new employees of the ice cream company are required to watch four video lectures on the Arab-Israeli conflict as part of their on-boarding. One of the videos features Omar Shakir, ‘Human Rights Watch’s’ ‘Israel and Palestine’ director, who had been the original source of the recommendation that the company cease operations in Israel. While Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, had attempted to defuse concerns by reassuring investors that it would continue to do business in Israel, a series of lawsuits are continuing, as are threats from various states, including New York, to sell its holdings in the company.
In a new statement, however, the company affirmed “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement and have no intention of changing that position.” The company added that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will also continue to be sold in Israel and the Palestinian territories under the current license agreement.
In other business news, General Mills sold a small Israeli subsidiary, which set off claims by the BDS movement that the conglomerate had done so as a result of pressure. General Mills then issued a clarification that the move was part of a global restructuring and had nothing to do with BDS. Even after the company’s statement, however, the BDS movement insisted that the decision had been a result of pressure and that the company was dissembling to avoid political ramifications.
In the political sphere, the second round of primaries continued to highlight the role of BDS in American politics. But while prospective ‘Squad’ members and allies such as scandal ridden Rep. Marie Newman continued to be defeated, there are signs that other Democratic candidates, such as the four currently competing in Chicago to replace retiring Rep. Bobby Rush – either through conviction or self-interest –are declining to support the BDS movement.
While BDS might be muted in the context of national politics, observers suggest that the partisan gaps are now permanent. This is reflected in the continued rise in BDS activities in local politics, including the selection of Emily Mayer, former political director for the BDS organization ‘IfNotNow,’ as the director of the New York City Council’s ‘Progressive Caucus.’
Elsewhere, in its list of resolutions the North Carolina Democratic Party included a call for individual Israelis to be sanctioned for ‘human rights violations’ and to condition aid to Israel on “on Israeli authorities taking concrete and verifiable steps towards ending their commission of the crimes of apartheid and persecution.” Other resolutions demand that the US investigate the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and to “Commemorate May 15 as Nakba Remembrance Day.” Local Jewish leaders expressed alarm over the development.
Both the state of Israel and the Canadian province of British Columbia adopted the IHRA definition while the British Association of Social Workers canceled a vote to suspend its endorsement of the definition after Jewish members expressed fears over rising antisemitism. In the legal sphere a Federal circuit court upheld Alabama’s anti-BDS law as addressing commercial behavior and not free speech.
In the international sphere, Norway announced that it would require labels on Israeli goods to specify where they were made, a policy aimed at communities across the ‘green Line.’ Norwegian authorities defended the decision as being in line with a 2019 ruling by the European Court of Justice while Israeli and other authorities attacked it as discriminatory.
In the cultural sphere the BDS movement threatened to disrupt singer Justin Bieber’s South African concerts after he announced that he would be performing in Israel later this year. The band Big Thief – which has an Israeli member who resides in Tel Aviv – was also pressured into canceling its performances in Israel. A new book, “Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel” by Lana Melman, has detailed the BDS movement’s pressure aimed at artists who plan to perform in Israel, including death threats. It notes that younger artists are dominated by social media and obsessed with reputational harm.
Finally, a new Pew survey indicates that only 5% of Americans support the BDS movement with only 2% expressing strong support. Eighty four percent of Americans have never heard of BDS. Some commentators regard the results as positive indicators of how well Jewish communities have responded. A closer reading of the results shows that younger Americans and Democrats are more positively inclined towards the Palestinians than previously.