Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
The Mapping Project
0:00 / 53:25
June 30, 2022

In early June, an anonymous collective of Boston-area activists published “The Mapping Project,” an interactive map listing various institutions in Massachusetts and descriptions of their complicity in Zionism or US imperialism. The list includes universities, foundations, nonprofits, schools, and police departments. The group said they set out to deepen activist “understanding of local institutional support for the colonization of Palestine,” as well as how Israel’s colonization of Palestine is connected to US policing, US foreign policy, and the displacement of local communities. Mainstream Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League reacted to the map with outrage, claiming that listing Jewish foundations, nonprofits, and the like—alongside their addresses—could incite antisemitic violence. Jewish establishment groups were particularly incensed at The Mapping Project’s call to “dismantle” and “disrupt” the institutions listed. Dozens of congressional lawmakers also denounced the project, and the FBI announced it was investigating it. Meanwhile, the map also sparked controversy from an unexpected source: the Palestinian-led Boycott National Commitee, which distanced itself from the website and, in a private letter to BDS Boston, a local group that endorsed the project, said the project will lead to backlash and open up Palestinian rights groups to “infiltration” and “repression.”

Jewish Currents editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, contributing editor Josh Leifer, assistant editor Mari Cohen, and senior reporter Alex Kane convened to discuss the accusations against The Mapping Project, whether the website is an effective way to counter Israeli apartheid, and the political divisions that have come to the fore because of the controversy over the project.

Articles, Statements and Websites Mentioned:

The Mapping Project

House lawmakers urge federal inquiry into ‘Mapping Project’” by Marc Rod

FBI looking into ‘The Mapping Project,’ pro-Palestinian site targeting ‘Zionist leaders’ in Boston by Forward staff

Boycott National Committe’s letter to BDS Boston

Palestinian BDS National Committee Has No Connection To and Does Not Endorse The Mapping Project” by Palestinian BDS National Committee

‘Our struggles are truly connected’: an interview with the Mapping Project by Adam Horowitz

The Mapping Project is not antisemitic but it is destructive activism” by Nora Lester Murad

Sunrise, Sunset” podcast by Jewish Currents staff

Thanks to Sophia Steinert-Evoy for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Arielle Angel: Hello, and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. I’m your host for today, Arielle Angel, the editor in chief of Jewish Currents. I’m joined by Mari Cohen, our assistant editor, Alex Kane, our senior reporter, and Josh Leifer, contributing editor.

Today we’re gonna be talking about “The Mapping Project,” which is an anonymous project out of Boston that, in their own words–and I’m quoting their multigenerational collective of activists and organizers–and they wanted, quote, “to develop a deeper understanding of local, institutional support for the colonization of Palestine, and harms that we see as links, such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement, ethnic cleansing.” They created a map. It’s a visual aid that also has a textual component, that tries to chart all of the ways that support for the colonization of Palestine and policing, and weapons manufacturing, pharmaceutical industries, biomedical industries, real estate–a whole host of other centers of power on different issues–are connected to one another.

And, as you may imagine, this did not go over well. First, there was a very serious outcry in the Jewish world, with many people accusing the map of being antisemitic and adopting a conspiratorial framing–you know, connecting Zionism to every other societal ill–and also accusing the map of consolidating information that could be used by antisemitic attackers, by listing the names of board members of different organizations, for example, including addresses and stuff like that in the descriptions. And the result has been a major backlash against the project, including a call by 37 lawmakers–a bipartisan call–for federal law enforcement to investigate The Mapping Project. And also, now the FBI has actually announced that they will be investigating.

So I think the other important thing that has happened is that, three weeks since The Mapping Project was posted, the BDS National Committee came out with a statement distancing themselves from the project, which they said that they weren’t able to contact. They said that the project, quote, “unstrategically targets and provides names and physical addresses of institutions and individuals, and promotes messaging that includes phrases such as ‘resistance in all its forms,’ ” which they think will open the door to a wider backlash and to infiltration by law enforcement, putting them, really, in the crosshairs. We wanted to talk today about the broader strategy here. and the kind of backlash and counter-backlash to all of this. Of course, the BDS movement has also provoked a lot of backlash online since putting out their statement. Maybe the place to start is with the accusation that this project is antisemitic on its face. And I wanted to kick that question to the three of you.

Joshua Leifer: I don’t think it’s antisemitic. I was looking over the ADL’s critique of it and there was a line that stuck out to me, where it says, “many familiar, antisemitic tropes are woven into this project, including myths of Jewish wealth, power, and control, through the project’s inordinate focus on revealing the identity of Jewish philanthropists, doctors, and media.” But also it’s like, these foundations are dispersing a huge amount of money, and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies is one of the largest philanthropic bodies in the country. And this is also true of the Jewish Federation as well.

So I don’t think it’s antisemitic to point out that American Jewish organizations do wield a lot of power in public life. On the other hand, there is like an aesthetic problem with the project, I think. The first is that there is an air of conspiracy that they seem to convey. None of this information is secret. For example, my reaction to this was: if you’ve grown up in the American Jewish community, all of this is basically common knowledge and very accessible on the websites of the organizations. It doesn’t strike me that a lot of research was actually required to obtain this information. And so the packaging of it–as if it was hidden intentionally and the act of revealing it is some kind of revolutionary, political practice–that does strike me as wrongheaded and conspiratorial. I think that gets the way this works wrong.

Alex Kane: Josh, I just want to push back a little bit on that. Even though I think you’re right, that the presentation is sort of off and incoherent for different reasons. But I guess I’m not quite sure why you think it’s so conspiratorial, and why you sort of seem to imply that it’s more useless than useful. Like it is a project that collects a lot of information that is in disparate forms, and it’s locale-specific, and it’s collecting financial information and links to, say, the Israeli settlement project, and putting them in one simple place. So I’m not saying that the project was useful in terms of digesting that information, but I guess I just wanted to hear a little bit more about why you think it took on a conspiratorial tone?

JL: Well, I think part of it is because some of the presentation–the literal links, the mapping–feels, in some ways, like noise. I mean, yes, it’s true that major Jewish donors also donate to the major local hospitals in Boston. I don’t think that says very much about how the occupation in Israel/Palestine is being reinforced. In some ways, it leads you away from the locus of oppression rather than to it. I mean, that–

AA: I think another way of saying that is that like, it’s a map of power, but it’s called a map that is tracing the colonization of Palestine. And I think that both of those things are true. But for that to be the kind of organizing lens for looking at police violence, looking at gentrification, looking at medical apartheid. I mean, for example, from their own page on the site about their takeaways or how to use the map, they start out talking about how Boston’s Zionist leaders and NGOs function in relationship to the university system, and how they function in relation to criminalizing Palestine liberation activists on campuses, all this, and funding police departments–we kind of know all this stuff.

But as you get further down this list of four bullets, the last thing on the list is major local hospitals and biomedical research centers, which promote the privatization of medicine and health care, also work with the US government to develop biological weapons. Now, that’s true. But in kind of a concatenation, we’ve started with this locus of Zionist organizing and ended up in the weapons industry and biomedical industry. And again, it’s not like those relationships don’t exist; they do exist. But when the lens is Zionist–when that’s the organizing principle, is Zionism, as opposed to American imperialism, or capitalism, or whatever, any of these other organizing principles–I think that that’s where it gets uncomfortable.

Again, I think that I agree with Josh that that’s mostly aesthetic. Like I don’t actually think that the people who made this are antisemitic. But I do think that it reads, to me, as a bit naive, especially because the tool itself doesn’t feel user friendly or useful. I think, just particularly because of how hegemonic Zionism is in American society and the power structures, it’s sort of like they’ve just shown us a complete mirror of our world. It’s almost like they gave us the street view of Google Maps or something. And they’re like, “Use this to organize.” I think that the fact that it’s not useful is the thing that leaves it open to this accusation, at the end of the day.

Mari Cohen: Quickly, on the bullet points thing, I do want to say my understanding was that these points that they’re making are intended to be separate. Like, it’s supposed to be partly about links between colonization of Palestine and Zionism, and like, US domestic policing. But it’s also, I think, supposed to be about the War on Terror and US imperialism more broadly. So I’m not sure that the stuff about hospitals contributing to biological weapons abroad is necessarily supposed to be linked to Zionism. But I agree that it’s very unclear in terms of the aesthetic and the way that it’s put together. So it’s not totally clear that that’s the case.

AA: No, I think they understand the ways that these things are all interlocking. Like I don’t think that they think that Zionism is the center of it. But it is an organizing principle of the map. And that’s where it opens them up, I would say,

AK: Yeah. I think the sloppiness of the presentation was very easily exploited by mainstream Jewish actors in order to delegitimize the entire Palestinian rights movement. And that is a flaw within The Mapping Project, in that in purporting to make these connections, they’ve left themselves quite open to a deliberate strategy to undermine not only them, but the people that that they’re allied with. And I’m not sure how useful it is, for organizing, to just make all of these connections, that may well exist, but don’t really give much to do about it in a strategic fashion.

AA: Well, what’s interesting, actually, is that in an interview with Mondoweiss, the folks who made the map really did actually intend this as a critique of the way that the current BDS movement functions. Like they basically have felt like the BDS movement is limited by focusing on one corporation or institution at a time. This is a quote from the interview. And without kind of looking at the sort of broader picture, they felt that, quote, “The BDS efforts missed the full picture of how the corporations, institutions, and other entities sustaining Zionism and other oppressions operate: not in isolation from one another, but through the web of connections they established with one another to more effectively carry out their oppressive agendas.”

So I think they were intentionally trying to say like, “Here’s the full picture, and activists can use this as they want. They can draw the connections, they can use all of these as nodes, in terms of being able to target them.” I mean, I think that’s the other uncomfortable thing about this, is this question of dismantling and targeting all of these institutions. There’s a lot of institutions listed–people have reached out to us talking about, for example, Black churches that have like, once hosted an AIPAC event. Or even places like NIF or J Street, which, these are Zionist organizations, no question about it. But what it would mean to target them instead of, or at the expense of, some some other targets on this list, like major funders of hardline, right-wing, Zionist causes. I mean, I don’t know. The activist that The Mapping Project has in mind would have to have a really strong sense of their own strategy and what what they were actually going after here.

AK: I think that’s an important quote, Arielle, because they critique the BDS movement for focusing on one target. And so their answer is to focus on every target without outlining exactly why that matters, or how that could help the broader left or the Palestinian rights movement. Like it doesn’t follow for me, I guess, that mapping out this dizzying sense of connections gets you any closer to advancing your struggle than anything else. And the second thing, on the New Israel Fund thing, which I think is important to point out, is in their entry on the New Israel Fund, they say that the New Israel Fund basically functions as a soft way to like–

AA: A normalizer.

AK: Normalize Zionism, in liberal circles, because they fund these projects that are anti-occupation but don’t oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. But the New Israel Fund funds Adalah, for instance, which is the main legal center for Palestinian citizens of Israel within Israel. And Adalah has advanced anti-colonial critiques of Israel, of course, working within Israeli institutions because that’s where they’re situated. But they label Israel an apartheid state, they produce legal analyses about Israeli apartheid, they continually research and put out widely-disseminated reports that show, really, Israel as a colonial project. And yet, they’re attacking the New Israel Fund, who are, yes, liberal Zionists, but at the same time, they’re also liberal Zionists that are funding an institution that, arguably, undermines liberal Zionism. So, I mean, this is–

AA: Well, so I think this is a question that we really want to ask, which is like, we know that there is broad based, hegemonic support for Zionism in the Jewish community. And, I would I would also add, outside the Jewish community, in centers of power, but let’s just stick with the Jewish community. And like, what is the effective way to deal with, or target, those institutions? I mean, I remember, back in the day–actually, I heard some outcry, or maybe I saw this on Twitter or something, people talking about schools in particular, like how a major Pluralistic Day School was on this list. Is that a fair target because they get money from one of the major funders and one of the major nodes of the map, the Gann family?

But you know, I remember like with IfNotNow, one of the main campaigns was organizing in day schools, was recognizing that summer camps and day schools were a prime pillar of where some of the cultural and educational basis for Zionism comes from in the community. And, you know, targeting school kids, like in high school and stuff, to try to challenge that within their schools. So, I mean, obviously, that’s a different kind of targeting. It’s like students from within, trying to bring the fight into their schools and into their camps. And alumni of those schools and camps. But still, what is the appropriate way to target Jewish institutions? And should there be a sort of spectrum, of how you deal with organizations like J Street, versus how you deal with huge philanthropies like the Kraft Family Philanthropy or the ADL?

MC: One thing I want to say on that is I do think these questions are just going to continue to become more live, because I think that we’re going to continue to see this. I think this is the direction in which a lot of grassroots Palestinian activism is going. For example, at Tufts recently, there was a student campaign around boycotting certain Zionist-affiliated groups. And J Street was on the list, and so that was something that came up. And I think that some of those campaigns are going to continue to happen. It’s not that those groups were necessarily cozy with J Street ever in the past–in fact, there were times when J Street used to participate in opposing divestment campaigns on campus. I don’t think they really do that anymore.

AA: I don’t think they do that anymore. Yeah.

MC: So obviously, there was always tension. But I think having J Street really be more of an explicit target is a bit of a newer thing. And I think that’s going to continue to come up with some of these organizations. And so I think it’s just, these questions are going to be continued to be worked out. I think part of it probably does have to do with the way in which the increasing, entrenched situation does produce increased response. Sort of the sense that like, typical methods aren’t working anymore, like an exhaustion with any kind of sense of accommodation-ism, or anything like that.

AA: We also saw it with Sunrise, right? I mean, this is like a very similar question, when Sunrise, earlier this year, decided they didn’t want to participate in the Voter Rights Coalition because of the existence of groups like, I don’t know, was it Bend the Arc? Or?

MC: No, it wasn’t Bend the Arc because they don’t take– It was like National Council on Jewish Women, they have a liberal Zionist position. URJ, Reform Action Council. Yeah. So I think, in some ways, it’s kind of similar– Well, with Bowman–the Jamaal Bowman and DSA thing– it’s a little bit different, because that’s more about him, partly about him voting for Iron Dome funding, but also has to do with his affiliation with J Street and a willingness to go on one of their trips. So I think this is going to continue to come up.

And I think, in general, the question is a really challenging one. I think, also what you’re asking, Arielle, in terms of how we deal with these different places like day schools, that do have this level of complicity in terms ofvwhat they teach regarding Israel and Zionism, the kind of trips that they do. But all of these Jewish institutions, I mean, I think that’s like the most challenging question for those of us who are looking at this from this perspective. I think that is one of the big things that we have to think about. It’s just this kind of inconvenient fact that right now, the majority of institutional Jewish life in America–and the majority of Jewish people–is and are Zionist. And it’s like, I think there’s often a lot of–

AA: It has come, the point in every podcast where Mari has to point out that most Jews are Zionist.

MC: Well, I just think there’s often attempt to avoid this fact. Because it’s like–well, first of all, because we want to lift up the fact that many Jews aren’t Zionist, and that’s often erased. And so we want to emphasize that. And also, we want to avoid– it’s a lot easier to just be like, “Oh, yeah, not all Jews are Zionists, not all Zionists are Jews.” Saying Zionist has nothing to do with Jewish, because that does make a certain political point, to refute accusations of antisemitism. But then we still have this sort of inconvenient fact that contemporary Jewish life in the US is very much based around Zionism, and not just the-most outwardly political institutions. And so it doesn’t always get so easy to make those distinctions. And so then the question is, how do we target that? What do we do about it?

JL: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I agree with you, Mari. I think part of what feels inadequate about The Mapping Project is just the feeling that there is a rhetorical call for the dismantling and disruption, but there isn’t really an elaboration of what that might mean. And so back in the day, with IfNotNow, it was–I don’t think this ever went into action–but one of the later phases of the movement was supposed to have a mass walkout of students at day schools, to protest the community’s complicity in the occupation. That never happened, in part because I don’t think IfNotNow ever made its politics hegemonic within these institutions, and it ran up against the massive resistance of a Jewish community that is largely supportive of the status quo.

But that at least was an inside strategy, where it felt like we had a sense of what the goal of identifying this as a site of struggle was. And what’s not clear with The Mapping Project is like, okay, so if the same day schools are are part of this broader infrastructure, what does that mean? It makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I mean, after all, these are students, they are children. What is the nature of this targeting? And I think that leads me to my–what I meant, I think–by my aesthetic critique of the project, is that there’s an element of radical-chic here. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the bad way, although I think it went a little bit over the top. Like, there’s a sort of, “we’re gonna bring the war home” sensibility. We’re gonna bring the– you know, the occupation is this violent thing, and so we’re going to disrupt it here, where the financial base is.

But again, without a lot of elaboration about what that means, and that opens them up to criticism. I think if there had been a more robust, strategic thinking around this–what we mean when we say disrupt, vis-a-vis this institution, might look like this–I think it would have been less vulnerable to the kind of critique. This always surprises me, when things like this happen on the left, is that there’s like a outrage by supporters of the initiative, that it’s being critiqued along these lines, they are being accused of antisemitism. It’s like, what do you expect to happen when you do these sorts of things? I mean, the response to the accusation of antisemitism should be part of the strategic rollout from the beginning. And that we’re doing this nth iteration of this sort of thing without anyone seeming to take that seriously. You don’t have to think that it actually is antisemitic or that the criticism is legitimate. But if you’re operating in like, the realm of of hegemonic contestation, you do have to answer to the critique. You can’t just hand-wave and say, “All of that’s bad faith” and refuse to respond to it. I think it just opens up the project to failing from the get go, basically.

JL: I mean, one other thing I’ll say is I think there are clear, strategic limits to what we might call the strategy of ostracization of Zionist organizations. Because support for Israel and acceptance of Zionism is just mainstream in American political life. It’s actually having the reverse effect, where I feel like anti-Zionist Palestine Solidarity groups, by saying we’re not going to work with groups with even sort of tangential ties to Zionist organizations, end up self-marginalizing, and end up outside of activist spheres. I mean, that to me, I feel like Sunrise ended up coming out of that scandal–pseudo-scandal–looking less credible and less powerful than the Zionist organizations that it sought to target. I mean, maybe that’s how it starts and then eventually it picks up steam. But at least right now, it seems like it’s having the opposite effect.

MC: Well, I think– Okay, I’m having deja vu. I feel like we’ve had this exchange on this podcast before. Which just goes to show that all the same things just happen again, and again, and we’re just trapped in an ouroboros in that way. And that sucks for all of us, and especially, I think, for Palestine solidarity organizers to deal with this. But I think what’s hard is the question–I actually agree with you, in a lot of ways, Josh–I think the question again, though, is like: how much can you incorporate anticipating antisemitism arguments into your strategy, when that’s going to be a slur that’s going to be tossed around no matter what you do? Even though I still do think there’s ways in which this project, specifically, could have been handled differently, I do have sympathy for the argument that it doesn’t matter what we do, they’re gonna call us these things anyway. So we might as well take back this project, take back the activism and do what we want. And I do think that that, maybe, is the broad trend that we’re seeing now, in terms of grassroots organizers and younger people in the movement, is just like, I’m not going to sit around and play by these rules anymore.

AA: No, but what I think is really interesting about this is that we’re actually seeing–I’m assuming slightly older–Palestinians hit back at this. Hopefully, if you listen to this podcast, it’s clear that the response from government, the FBI investigation, the lawmakers kind of specifically calling for a response, is terrifying and horrible. And the fact that lots of people on the left–including us, including organizations like JVP–who initially supported it, and then retreated and said, “We don’t take a position on this map,” is a little bit scary, because it means that there’s like nobody who’s coming to the defense of people who, again, are up against an enormous amount of power. Who really, at worst, made kind of an ineffective tool.

At the end of the day, this is the kind of thing that could have been ignored. Just roundly ignored. Like, if the Jewish community didn’t get off on this kind of controversy, this is the kind of thing that is ultimately sort of fringe, and is so over-the-top, and confusing, and hard to figure out how to use, that it could have literally been ignored. And so I just want to say that, that there’s support for these activists who are being targeted, who may feel–I mean, I’m really hoping that they don’t–but who may feel the weight of the state coming down on them.

But what I think is really interesting is seeing these older–and again, I’m assuming that they’re older–Palestinians kind of clapping back on the basis of strategy, and taking issue, Mari, with that kind of strategy. I think that that’s sort of interesting. And also, by the way, not just generational, but also diaspora-versus-on the ground. I mean, you have the BDS National–the BNC–saying like, “We are the people who are affected. We are here, and nobody consulted us about how that’s going to affect us.” And I think that there’s something interesting there. Especially because Josh and I just got back from this conference in Berlin and had a few conversations with different Palestinians who were there–and of course, they were at this conference that was largely organized by Jews.

But I think that there is a kind of bafflement, or frustration, with a kind of nonstrategic way that, particularly, the American or diaspora revolutionary movement, and maybe like more youth oriented movement, is approaching this now. I’m not taking a side in either of these, and it’s really not, I don’t feel like, my place to comment. But you can look at this as a disconnect between the grassroots BDS movements, who may or may not have to coordinate with a national committee, or you could look at this as a situation where it would have been more effective to do some consulting. And I actually am not sure.

MC: Yeah, I mean, if it’s the backlash to the BDS Movement, criticizing The Mapping Project has been very intense. In full transparency, the reason I know that is because of Twitter, and always there’s the question of what about Twitter is real life and what isn’t. But it’s clear that that provoked a lot of dissent. And some organizations like the Palestinian Youth Movement did put out statements defending The Mapping Project and criticizing BDS Movement for getting involved. And part of that, too, is also, in some ways, a strategic concern. Like is it the best strategy for the BDS Movement to pile on to this project that’s already being criticized, when other things are happening?

Wait, sorry, I just want to bring in Alex. Because Alex, you had a point about the fact that the BDS movement is essentially a liberal institutional movement, and I wanted to give you a chance to voice that.

Like in Arkansas, the court has ruled to uphold this anti-BDS law that makes it so that state contractors can be barred from boycotting Israel, or they have to say that they wont boycott Israel to get state contracts. And it’s a pretty major decision for the right to boycott in the US that could have more consequences down the line. Probably going to go to the Supreme Court, with this current court, hard to feel optimistic about that. Anyway. So that’s the context that’s going on yesterday–is it most strategic for BDS Movement to come out against this? So these conversations are happening at different layers. But it does feel frustrating, sometimes, when any talk about strategy gets responded to as if it’s like, “You’re just trying to be like a liberal NGO,” whatever, or like any talk about thinking about these dynamics gets responded to as if you’re just left-punching. Because I mean, this is part of winning and building power. And I don’t know, maybe I am just a true liberal, NGO-lover at heart, but I just find it a little bit frustrating when conversations get shut down in that way.

AK: Yeah, the context for that–for my comment in within our Slack–was looking at both the BDS National Committee’s public statement on Twitter and what they thought was a private letter that they sent to BDS Boston, which is a local group of BDS organizers in Boston that had promoted The Mapping Project. And they–the Boycott National Committee, which is based in Ramallah–sent them a letter saying: don’t promote this as BDS Boston, because, as Arielle referenced, we’re the Boycott National Committee and we’re going to be feeling the backlash to this. And our movement partners in the United States are also going to be feeling the backlash to what is, ultimately, an unstrategic project that uses language that undermines our movement.

AK: And the letter goes on to say that the language, in particular, is about resistance and resistance in any form, which The Mapping Project uses, they encourage resistance in any form. And the BNC saw that as a potential endorsement of armed resistance, which they, in the letter, distance themselves from and emphasize that they’re a nonviolent movement, and that this kind of rhetoric could be harmful to the larger BDS movement. And, you know, for me, that was like, “Oh, well, okay.” This is really a prime example of the Palestinian BDS strategy being a liberal strategy, meaning that it’s a strategy that depends on succeeding within the current American centers of power. So the BDS Movement goes to pension funds. They say, “Divest from these corporations that do business with the Israeli military.” They go to churches and ask the same thing. They’re not–

AA: They’re looking to build to sanctions from the American government.

AK: They’re not saying, “Let’s overthrow the US government because it’s an Imperial Force.” They’re saying, “Let’s convince the US government to impose sanctions on our oppressor, and let’s convince these pension funds, which are probably invested in all sorts of nefarious things, of divesting from Israel, because that will serve the cause of Palestinian Liberation.” So it’s a liberal strategy because it’s not about changing US society’s economic structure or overall structures. It’s like, let’s basically work within the system.

And it’s sort of funny, because the opponents of BDS on the right paint the BDS movement as this illiberal, reactionary, pro-violent, pro-terrorist force. They often point to the inclusion of what’s called the Council of National Islamic Forces on the Boycott National Committee’s coalition that powers it, and that council includes the political movements of Hamas and the PFLP. So I mean, it’s a real kind of haunted house of mirrors here, where the interpretations of the BDS Movement are all over the place depending on how you look at it. But you know, I think the correct perspective is to say that it is, fundamentally, a reformist, liberal movement. And that letter about The Mapping Project brought that home.

AA: Yeah, and I think it’s kind of amazing, actually, to see people on all sides responding to it. I mean, like, because it was leaked somehow to the Jewish Journal, which is a very far-right newspaper, if you can call it that, out of Los Angeles–which, BDS Boston, you guys need to really get your security in order, because that is a weird place for it to end up. Unless it was, for some reason, intentional, which I don’t understand.

MC: At least send it to Jewish Currents next time.

AA: Yeah, send it to Jewish Currents next time, for God’s sakes. Still, because it was leaked to the Jewish Journal, and a lot of that guy’s followers are just like the hardest of hardcore Zionists, you see so much confusion in the quote tweets, about how it’s possible that the terrorist BDS organization, you know, that it’s too little too late, or they’re backtracking. It’s like you see the misunderstanding in real time. But I also think you may see it from the left in a similar way, like, just a misunderstanding of what this tactic is really about.

I actually haven’t really thought about this until now, but it does seem like The Mapping Project is, self-consciously, an expression of frustration with the BDS movement. And so it’s not surprising that the BDS Movement would jump in and say, like, “Hey, you’re both using our frame and taking it to a place we don’t want to go. And doing it anonymously, where we end up absorbing the backlash to something that we didn’t create.”

But it does raise this question of what the answer is, actually. Because I think we’ve talked before about the limitations of the BDS movement. I mean, we share some of the sense that it hasn’t actually delivered the wins while also provoking a lot of backlash. And we’ve also talked on this podcast before about the ways that it feels like the ground instead of the ceiling. And so what are the ways to build up from that, that don’t look the way that The Mapping Project looks, that doesn’t sort of cast too wide a net, in terms of targets and in terms of information, but that allows for a real strategy.

MC: Just one thing I will say. I mean, I think if you are a right-wing Zionist–or a centrist, whatever, anti-BDS activist, pro-Israel advocate in the United States–congratulations. Your best opportunity to have a movement fighting Israel that you’re probably more comfortable with, or that is more on your political terms in terms of things around nonviolent resistance–like even liberal coexistence, framing, that sort of thing–you have missed that opportunity 1,000 times over. Like you have accused those people of being bloodthirsty terrorists, anti-Jew terrorists, 1,000 times, and now you’re gonna get versions of resistance that are a lot less palatable, and that are more uncomfortable. And so it’s just, it is quite ironic to think about it in that way. And that there are these moments that have gone by, and anything that actually was really presented in this framework that probably could, theoretically, be politically palatable to some of those people who oppose it, those people have been calling it terrorism and have basically marginalized it, and shamed it, and tried to stamp it out and pound it into the ground. So good job.

JL: Yeah. Mari, I think that’s a great point. Actually, Peter Beinart, our editor at large, made that point in Germany last week, in this debate with Danny Cohn-Bendit, where Cohn-Bendit was talking about his opposition to BDS. And Peter was like, “But this is a nonviolent movement,” and was basically making the point you made, Mari, that the alternative to BDS is much more unpalatable to these folks. Unless, strategically, they would prefer to have a violent adversary that they can totally delegitimize, rather than having to deal with the Palestinian movement, writ large, as you know, violent and terroristic.

JL: I do think, Arielle, what you said about this being an expression of frustration is totally right. It strikes me, following our conversation about what was happening on campus, it’s kind of a turn in the totally opposite direction. That whereas campus BDS resolutions had actually become–I don’t want to say watered down–but certainly much more strategic and oriented around specific companies. And also not even singling out Israel, you know, it’d be against Egypt or whatever, groups in countries supporting the occupation. This is kind of a turn in the opposite direction. I think you do see similar things happening on other campuses, occasionally with having to do with like Hillel as a legitimate institution at all, because of its ties to the Israeli government. And perhaps there will be some kind of strategic parting of ways or internal reckoning within the BDS movement, as it tries to negotiate whether it wants the liberal paradigm or whether there’s a kind of hardline, anti-normalization position.

AA: Why now, though? I mean, obviously, no one thinks that BDS is delivering the changes on the ground that everyone wants, but BDS has had a number of high-profile wins recently. Like with Ben & Jerry’s, with Big Thief, the band, just after announcing their shows in Israel rescinded them because of the cultural boycott. I mean, you know, Sally Rooney. I’m just thinking of stuff in the last year, I mean, there actually has been more and more movement. And you can see how, in a little bit of time, that might snowball, on some level, to have the intended effect. Obviously, it’s not delivering changes. And if anything, if you look at what’s happening in Israel, it’s not clear whether the Israeli government–even if they were harmed, even if there were sanctions–how they would respond to that kind of financial pressure, because there is a existential, siege mentality, or whatever. But I do wonder why this frustration would come up, particularly now?

JL: I feel like it’s not mirrored, though, in the realm of geopolitics or power politics. Like yes, it’s certainly true, I think, in America, that among young people it is probably unpopular to describe oneself as a Zionist and support the actions of the Israeli state. On the other hand, there’s been reports recently about Israel being part of a strategic missile defense with Arabs, with some of the countries in the Gulf. There’s a looming normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia–maybe it’ll happen soon, maybe it won’t. Like, at least in the realm of geopolitics, and as the United States tries to cobble together this alliance to counterbalance Iran, there’s no sense that Israel is suffering at all for maintaining the occupation. If anything, the Arab states and the region have decided that it doesn’t really matter that the occupation persists. And so I feel like we’re in this weird moment where, in some sense, BDS is, if not winning, has gained a lot of really important ground in the cultural realm in the West. But it’s made almost no material difference geopolitically.

AA: But then, all the more reason to be really selective about targets, you know? Because in the face of all that, like, what is knowing that the Gann Day School got money from whoever and teaches– what does that help us? It seems like, in that regard, like it’s really about the donors. And that could be a very useful piece of this Mapping Project, is just the donor list itself, and the large NGOs, and the ones who are the worst offenders like the ADL, and the entities within the US government. And specifically, in terms of the question about the the entities in the US government, distinguishing there between those that can be pushed, and those that can’t. I mean, this was something that came out of the piece in Mondoweiss by Nora Lester Murad, who is talking about–similar to what we talked about with NAF and J Street–including people like Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey on the map as targets, as opposed to people who could be cultivated, or people that we really think that we need to move, essentially.

AK: Yeah. I mean, I think this is the larger, sort of meta context, which is not necessarily like–you sort of have to be embedded in or covering these movements as we do to kind of understand it as as such, because it’s not really clear within The Mapping Project itself. If you just looked at it, you wouldn’t see that this is also a sort of proxy fight between different wings of the Palestinian rights movement. But I do see it as such, because over the past decade or so–since Operation Cast Lead–there has been a more concerted effort to focus on Washington by a small group of organizations, but that includes Jewish Voice for Peace and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. American Muslims for Palestine, now. Many of the major Palestinian rights NGOs have turned their focus to Washington, to say, “We do actually have some allies. We have Betty McCollum, who authored a bill to condition US Military aid to Israel. We have Rashida Talib now, these sorts of lawmakers. And so let’s lobby them and let’s focus on building relationships with them.

So that’s one wing of the movement that has turned their eyes towards Washington over the past decade, for the first time. And seeing, to them, what looks like success in the introduction of these resolutions that, ultimately, don’t go anywhere, but they see as successful because it’s attracting headlines and bringing up the debate about US Military aid.

Versus a wing of the Palestinian rights movement that rejects that turn towards Washington because they see it as useless. They see it as basically having to collaborate with politicians whose larger agenda they don’t agree with, or who may not share their views on Zionism. Like Betty McCollum is not an anti-Zionist, she believes in a two-state solution, the same with many of the other lawmakers that are backing her legislation. These are not exactly–you’re not exactly the most radical person if you’re working within on these legislation, which is like, the long slog of moving legislation through Congress. And so I think that the reaction to The Mapping Project has, predictably, split along the lines of those who want to focus on Washington, or focus on liberal institutions, or institutions that are centers of power, versus those who want to throw everything out and somehow advance a revolutionary politics that aims at dismantling it, rather than working from within. And I think that that is where some of this fight is coming from.

AA: I feel like there’s no question that the electoral track has not created the results that we want to see. But I do think that, considering how dire everything is, and also considering, seeing the havoc that comes from allowing the electoral space and institutional space to just...to abandon that space on some level is pretty striking. And also, recognizing that institutions, on their own create, the opportunity for building or for exercising more power, they’ve already concentrated those resources, so without being too sanguine about the ability to completely change those organizations.

And so I do feel a little bit like saying, “The map is a tool, use it how you want,” is very frustrating in that regard. Because again, the onus is really on these revolutionary or insurrectionary groups to advance a strategy for building power without utilizing any kind of institutional frame. I don’t know if the DSA continues to be that, and I think it has split largely, again, and again, along these same questions. But if it’s not the DSA, then what is it, you know? Is it organized labor? Where can you actually create the basis? There has to be one somewhere. And that seems to me like the fundamentals, that sometimes feel like they’re being ignored, particularly online and in some of the way that these arguments play out.

And really, I believe in the inside-outside strategy, and I think a lot of people in Jewish Currents do as well. But I would just say, the onus, I think, is, on some level, on these more revolutionary elements to express a clear strategy for how they’re going to build, and what the basis is that they’re going to build on. I mean, if the map shows anything, it’s that power is arrayed in such a way where everything is interconnected, and blah, blah, blah, exactly, as they say, and they don’t have the numbers to really execute on something that will significantly put a dent in that.

MC: Meanwhile, what we see in the backlash is that the right has these power relationships on lock. Like the Boston institutional, kind of establishment, Zionist Jewish community can see this map–like the ADL can get upset about it and, a couple days later, they can have all of these elected officials on their side writing articles. They can have the FBI starting to pilot an investigation into it. And they really do have the ear of power in that way. And I’m not being antisemitic, it’s not only the case for Jewish groups or anything, it’s just these broader right forces, in general, really have a lot of support in the halls of power.

And then, meanwhile, there’s this attempt to say that Jews aren’t taken seriously when they talk about antisemitism. Which can be the case if you’re going after certain types of white supremacy, and obviously it depends who’s talking and if you’re complaining about the Republican Party, often whatever, good luck. But it is kind of striking that that’s this narrative that’s been pushed. But then these organizations in Boston, like the ADL, can pretty much–they’ve consolidated all this power that it’s like pretty easy for them to turn around and make this happen, when they’re complaining about something.

JL: Yeah, I think that’s right, Mari. I also think–though I know that I began this with a critique of the project, but I also don’t want to join in on the pile on to this. Because at the end of the day–like, Arielle, you said–it shouldn’t really be that big of a deal. And in some ways, like if had been kept private, as an educational tool for movements to understand the interconnectedness of NGOs, like that strikes me as totally fine. I think it’s the feeling–this is how I feel about it–like a lack of preparation for an eventual backlash and messaging around what the goal of revealing this was, other than saying, like, “Here are the nodes, do what you want.” Like that feels inadequate.

I also think that, because there is this taboo against talking about the real political power that Jewish organizations have worked, over decades, to accrue, there has to be an extra sensitivity around it. But also, at the same time, I think the one thing that’s missing for me here–and it’s part of the lack of a broader strategy–is a sense of how this focus on civil society actually does relate to state power. And I think we ran into this back in the early days of IfNotNow, as well.

IfNotNow worked on this model where there were pillars that upheld the occupation. One of them was the American Jewish community, but not all of them. And the focus of IfNotNow, as a strategic intervention within the broader movement ecosystem of anti-occupation and Palestine Solidarity activism, was to target this specific pillar. And I think, for all of the faults of the original DNA, I think that was very helpful, in its specificity of understanding the point of intervention. And I think one of the things that you see with The Mapping Project is a little bit of a blurring of the lines, or a lack of clarity, around how, actually, this power is being wielded to do the things that it says it’s doing. It isn’t at all clear to me how these civil society Zionist NGOs, even through their donations, end up entrenching, or deepening, or exacerbating the colonization of Palestine.

I mean, obviously, that’s true, that it does in a macro sense. But I think if we were to want to really disrupt those processes, we would need to know how it functions on the ground, or what the relationship is–where where does it intersect with state power? In some ways, the research felt like it went in the wrong direction and is more confusing than clarifying. I mean, maybe that’s too harsh. But I think, in general, in addition to the electoral insurrectionary access of strategic conflict, I think there is also a state-versus-civil society focus. Like there’s a sense that if we build strong social movements, if we engage in the sort of hegemonic realm, then we’ll somehow win. And that, oftentimes, neglects the more state-oriented focus.

I mean, for whatever the limitations of the Sanders campaign, that came pretty close to putting the issue of conditional aid on the table. I mean, it did put conditional aid on the table, which swung the conversation on what could be done to put pressure on the Israeli government, in a way that it really hadn’t for a long time. And so, I guess I don’t know what the best use of energy is. But I do think that maybe, in the left’s disillusionment with electoralism and with the state, there has been an overcorrection. And now there’s too much of a focus on civil society, where it’s like, “If we just figure out where the bad nonprofits are, then we’ll be able to solve the problem.” But I think there’s a way of overstating the power that those those groups have.

MC: I think it is important to note that the backlash has involved this idea that there’s these violent, revolutionary BDS groups that are just waiting to commit an armed attack on Jewish institutions. That was some of the vibe of the ADL statement, the JCRC in Boston, just a lot of the coverage in that way. And I just want to say that that’s really distanced from reality. I mean, obviously, we live in a violent country. We’ve got a lot of guns, things can happen. But we have not seen a BDS activist, antisemitic, violent attack on a Jewish institution. In the US, I guess. There’s been some altercations and there have been some attacks during street protests last year. And that is something that did happen. But like, in terms of the idea that like there’s these groups of BDS activists that are just waiting to find the addresses of synagogues and attack them? I mean, that’s just–

AA: That they can’t use Google for on their own.

MC: Right.

JL: But, at the same time, we know that there is a conversation about the legitimacy of armed struggle happening on the US left, with regards to Israel/Palestine, and The Mapping Project does have a “by any means” rhetoric.

AA: Do we actually think that they meant that people should be like, physically attacking these targets? It’s not really clear to me. And, Alex, you were talking about this earlier, about the language that’s being used. And actually Nora Lester Murad in her Mondoweiss piece also talks about that, basically saying like, “I know what they mean, as a leftist, when they say dismantle these things, or disrupt these things, or whatever.” At these addresses or whatever. But on some level, who were they speaking to with this language? And should they be thinking about what that looks like? It really mirrors some of these other questions about language more broadly on the left, and who the audience is, and whether you’re talking to the broadest possible audience or not. And whether people are really prepared to own up to the implications of the words that are being used, essentially,

JL: I mean, that’s what I meant by radical chic. It’s like, if you’re going to intimate towards physical disruption, then when people say, “Are you intimating towards physical disruption?” You should have a sense of what you meant by that. But if it’s just rhetorical inflation and we want to like, exhort people to do something, but it’s actually amorphous–we didn’t mean show up at the headquarters of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and do something, you know? Like that should have been specified as a strategy–

AA: Well, really quickly, like, “do something” is one thing, dismantle is another thing. And look, I think all these places should be dismantled. I think most of these organizations, at this point, are doing what The Mapping Project says that they’re doing, which is supporting the ongoing apartheid in Palestine. And not all of them. If you’re looking at some of these philanthropies, they give to a lot of different things, and blah, blah, blah. But you know, there is a lot of money there that’s ending up in places that none of us would support, and the question of whether these organizations should be essentially destroyed and rebuilt? I mean, I don’t know what it would mean to take over this. Not least of which because younger people don’t even have the money anymore, to do these kinds of things, and because we’re really talking about such a small group of donors running the show here. Like IfNotNow used to disrupt these organizations all the time, and stage arrests there, and whatever, but it just isn’t clear, within the context of the rest of this revolutionary rhetoric, what’s actually being proposed. And I would suspect that this group of people would look at the old school IfNotNow, actions, where people sat in lobbies and got arrested, and think that that was kind of lame. And I would agree with them. But then the question is, well, then what? And what are we really talking about? And again, I think the onus is on these groups to not hide behind that language and to say what they mean.

AK: And then of course, the flip side is the vagueness of that allows your enemies to project their most violent fantasies of what you actually mean, and then use that to undermine what you’re trying to do. Which is exactly what happened, where you have columns in the Washington Post claiming that this will incite antisemitic violence, the same claims made by the Anti-Defamation League, and the unclear language plays into that.

AA: Well, I think we’re gonna have to wrap up. I think the last thing that I want to say is sending a hug to the people who did The Mapping Project, if you’re listening to this. Obviously, we have some strategic disagreements, it’s probably a really tough time. At least personally, I sort of want to end there. This has been On the Nose, thank you for joining us. If you enjoyed this podcast, share it with someone, leave us a review, like it. Yeah, and see you next time. Bye bye.

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