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Local extremists endorse antisemitic Mapping Project

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South African Jewish leaders and antisemitism experts are angered by anti-Israel organisation Africa4Palestine’s endorsement of the Mapping Project in Boston, Massachusetts, which has been called “antisemitic” and “dangerous”.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is monitoring the project, which lists the names and addresses of Massachusetts Jewish groups, including schools, community fundraisers, and shuls.

The project claims these organisations are promoting “local institutional support for the colonisation of Palestine” and “other harms”. Using dots and lines in different colours, it maps everything from a centre for people with disabilities to student groups, to newspapers, to Jewish-run charities, and even a Jewish art centre. The project has been denounced across the American political and denominational spectrum as antisemitic.

Even the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement officially distanced itself from the project, saying it “violated a key guideline” of the movement.

But on 23 June, Africa4Palestine officially endorsed the project. It was among only 15 organisations worldwide that did so in a statement titled “Reject repression: support the Mapping Project!”

The statement was shared on Facebook by a number of other South African anti-Israel organisations. The local Media Review Network (MRN) also posted articles in support of the Mapping Project on its Facebook page and website. MRN also labelled local Jewish organisations “Zio-Nazis” in 2021.

Local antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain, says, “In endorsing the Mapping Project, Africa4Palestine illustrates how easy it is to cross the thin divide between anti-Zionism and blatant Jew-hatred. In this action, we see a crude escalation of efforts that can only be deemed antisemitic. Overwhelmingly, it’s Jewish organisations that are targeted for ‘disruption and dismantling’. Jews are nefariously identified with the use of age-old antisemitic tropes, including Jewish power and wealth.”

David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, agrees. “Evidently, some BDS factions no longer feel the need even to pay lip service to the fiction that they are only against Israel, not Jews,” he says. “Instead, Jews are being openly identified as ‘the enemy’.”

Benji Shulman, the director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation, reiterates this, saying, “The Boston BDS Mapping Project is antisemitic, and Africa4Palestine’s support fits its hate-fuelled mandate.”

“This is nothing less than an endorsement to ‘cancel’ a whole community for who they are rather than what they believe. In my opinion, it’s antisemitic at its core,” says the Community Security Organisation’s Jevon Greenblatt.

“Just as importantly, it’s a clear attempt to highlight a specific group of individuals and organisations for targeting, whether that be politically or physically. Publishing information like this is tantamount to a call to action, but leaving it up to the individual to decide what that action is going to be. How many followers will choose to use violence, much like ISIS does when calling on its supporters to take matters into their own hands?”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the global leader in combating antisemitism, says “many familiar antisemitic tropes are woven into this project. This includes myths of Jewish wealth, power, and control through the project’s inordinate focus on revealing the identity of Jewish philanthropists, doctors, and media.” It scapegoats the Jewish community by claiming that Jews are overwhelmingly responsible for a range of societal ills, and advocates for the isolation and shunning of the entire Jewish community and those who interact with it. “Any campaign that blames and scapegoats Jews as a community for perceived ills is, by definition, antisemitic,” the organisation says.

“In all, about 400 organisations are named,” says the ADL, pointing out that the project intends to “expose and isolate” Jewish community institutions. “This BDS Boston-endorsed project includes a disturbing and antisemitic call to ‘dismantle’ and ‘disrupt’ most of Boston’s Jewish community, and concludes with a thinly veiled threat that ‘every entity has an address, every network can be disrupted’.”

The BDS National Committee (the Palestinian leadership of the BDS movement) said in a statement that “the project 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’. By having BDS in your group’s name, and yet promoting messaging which indirectly advocates for armed resistance and associating with groups that do, you have violated a key guideline of our movement.”

It threatened the Boston BDS chapter that it would no longer be able to use the BDS brand if it continued. This would follow its expulsion of Africa4Palestine, which was booted out of the international organisation because of a sexual-abuse scandal.

“The [Mapping] Project is, as Seth Moulton [of the United States House of Representatives] said, ‘an antisemitic enemies list with a map attached’,” wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank on 15 June. He said the project had “plunged headlong into outright antisemitic bigotry, conspiracy theories, and implicit invitations to violence. It’s 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.”

Thirty-seven members of Congress signed a letter urging an investigation of “the use of the Mapping Project by extremist organisations”. The letter was addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We fear that this map may be used as a roadmap for violent attacks,” they wrote.

US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey said in an official statement on 10 June, “At this moment of rising antisemitism, racist attacks, and political violence, this ‘mapping’ of the Jewish community is dangerous and irresponsible.”

The American Jewish Committee pointed out that, “The Mapping Project comes at a time when Americans are facing dangers from rising gun violence and mass shootings. Jewish institutions have increasingly become targets.”

Jeremy Burton, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told a local radio host, “They are using inflammatory language. They are engaging in classic antisemitic tropes of blaming Jews, Jewish institutions, [and] Jewish influence, for all of the evils of society. And then they’re pointing a finger at us and saying, ‘Go get them.’”

Back in South Africa, Sacks says, “The calculated, systematic way in which this is being done is itself quite frightening. As for the explicit linkages made between Jews and so-called systems of oppression like policing and global imperialism, this feeds directly into age-old antisemitic tropes about world domination. It’s extremely disturbing for Jews worldwide to see these reappearing in their modern guise, and for us in South Africa, to see Africa4Palestine importing this hate is shameful.”

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