On Friday June 3, as the Jewish holiday weekend of Shavuot began, an unusual website appeared: It showed a map of Massachusetts chock-full of dots interconnected by multicolored lines, like the corkboard of an overzealous detective or, perhaps, a conspiracy theorist.
Each dot represented an institution — a school, a corporation, a police department, a nonprofit — and the lines showed their ties to one another and to Jewish organizations or philanthropists. The institutions and their purported relationships were highlighted, the Mapping Project’s anonymous creators wrote, “so we can dismantle them.”
In the Boston-area Jewish community, the Mapping Project has been met with alarm. After fatal shootings at synagogues beyond Boston in recent years and arsons and a stabbing of a rabbi closer to home, Jewish leaders view the map as, at best, a provocation and, at worst, an incitement to violence.
“The map serves as a Jewish hit list,” said Robert Trestan, the head of the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. His level of concern about the website compared to other threats he has assessed is “extremely high,” he said. Trestan, like dozens of other Jewish leaders, philanthropists, and rabbis, is personally named on the map, alongside the address of his place of work.
The map’s creators have shielded their identity. When the web address was purchased, the buyer’s identity was not publicly recorded. The website describes the group as “a multi-generational collective of activists and organizers.” Organizations were included on the map, they wrote, because of their complicity in “the colonization of Palestine.”
But the links were sometimes tenuous. Gann Academy, which is listed on the map, is a Jewish high school in Waltham. Dalia Hochman, the head of school, said she found it “ironic” that Gann appeared on the list because of what she described as her school’s nuanced approach to teaching about Israel.
But irony was not Hochman’s main concern. In an environment of high-profile school shootings and an ongoing pandemic, the map adds yet another layer of concern for her students’ safety, she said, and will likely increase Gann’s expenditures on security.
“In our 25 years” since the school’s founding, she said, “we’ve never had this type of threat.”
At a web briefing hosted by the ADL on Monday, Joseph Bonavolonta, the head of the FBI’s Boston office, said that although there were no known threats stemming from the Mapping Project, the FBI was monitoring the situation and trying to learn more about the project.
Shortly after the website went live, Boston BDS, an anti-Israel group, promoted it on social media. Other left-wing groups, including Massachusetts Peace Action, a Cambridge antiwar nonprofit, soon followed.
As the map came to wider attention, a range of elected officials and Massachusetts leaders denounced it.
Representative Ayanna Pressley, who was endorsed by Mass. Peace Action and was the keynote speaker at a web event the group hosted in December, said in a statement, “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.”
Representative Jake Auchincloss, who is Jewish, called the map “archetypal” antisemitism. “This conviction that there are levers for secret power, money, and influence, particularly over politics, finance, and media is in line with every incitement to violence in the long history of the Jewish people,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The Globe was unable to reach Boston BDS, which keeps its members anonymous and does not list contact information online. The group has said on its social media accounts that it did not create the map.
The controversy feeds into an ongoing debate about where anti-Israel activism ends and antisemitism begins. Cole Harrison, the executive director of Mass. Peace Action, referred the Globe to a statement from the group that defends the Mapping Project. “Its stated purpose is to document ‘some 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,’” the statement said, quoting the map’s organizers.
The accusation that the map is antisemitic or targets Jews relies on “lies and slander,” it said.
Other progressives are not so sure.
“There are some who argue in bad faith that any criticism or boycott of Israel or the settlements is antisemitic. That is false,” Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, which brought a successful lawsuit against white nationalists and neo-Nazis who demonstrated in Charlottesville, Va., wrote on Twitter. “But this? This is antisemitism.”
There are some who argue in bad faith that any criticism or boycott of Israel or the settlements is antisemitic. That is false.— Amy Spitalnick (@amyspitalnick) June 9, 2022
But this? This is antisemitism. Conflating Jews with Israel, seeking to “dismantle” Jewish community, age-old tropes about Jewish control…it’s classic https://t.co/nxZIEVTB15
Jeremy Burton, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston, said that the release and promotion of the map have been “deeply clarifying with regard to the actual agenda of far-left proponents of BDS in Boston.” (BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a controversial pro-Palestine, anti-Israel movement.)
“People have different opinions about Israel-Palestine, about America’s role, about BDS, but this is a group of folks that has put something out there that targets not just organizations that work on US-Israel relations or Israeli security, but Jewish day schools, Jewish cultural centers, a Jewish disability services group,” Burton said.
What about the argument that not all of the organizations listed are Jewish? (The Boston Globe is listed, the map organizers wrote, for complicity in “Ethnic Cleansing/Displacement (‘Gentrification’), Privatization, Propaganda/Normalization, Zionism.”)
“Pardon my French, but that’s bull[expletive],” Burton said. Yes, there are non-Jewish institutions, such as universities and museums. “But take a look at why they’re there,” he said.
The map, for example, lists donations that cultural institutions have received from Jewish family foundations and collaborations between universities and Jewish nonprofits and suggests that the Jewish groups exert undue influence. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, this [project] isn’t nefarious because we also listed the targets of these evil [Jewish] organizations,” he said.
“People get inspired to do crazy things in this country from what they see online,” Burton added. “This is dangerous.”
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.