The Odious Mapping Project

Conspiratorial fantasies, Jew-hatred, and the paranoid style of politics.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Jew-Hatred Rising: The Perversities of the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.

As if further evidence was needed to reveal the fundamental anti-Semitic nature of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the recently-produced Boston “Mapping Project” proved conclusively that anti-Israel activists inhabit an ideological universe replete with conspiracies, delusions, and nihilistic hatred, both for Israel and the Jewish community as a whole.

The BDS Boston Facebook page, which promoted the map, enthusiastically cheered on this fantasy of oppression, wildly claiming, as they did, that the map “illustrate[s] how local support for the colonization of Palestine is structurally tied to policing, evictions, and privatization locally, and to US imperialist projects worldwide.”  

The map was not merely an ideological map that linked various ideas and entities in an effort to expose alleged collaboration, joint sponsorships, and inter-connected social, political, and educational institutions as a guide to understanding how the missions of various groups and institutions are related in a collective enterprise—in this case, the so-called “colonization” of Palestine.

What has drawn intense criticism of the map from many is that it is actually a geographical, not an ideological, map; in other words, the pernicious aspect of it is that it plots the actual physical locations and addresses of the institutions, universities, organizations, and individuals who, the activists contend, contribute to structural racism, apartheid, colonization, land theft, and overall oppression in a vast conspiracy of the power elites to suppress freedom and, in the case of the Palestinians, specifically, to deny self=determination.

More concerning was the language that makes it clear the intention of the map is not just to pinpoint the malign agents of oppressions included there, but to provide a guide by which that structural oppression can be “dismantled” and “disrupted,” as they put it. In fact, the Mapping Project is a call for dangerous, even violent, action. "As we built this project,” the BDS Boston post announced, “we were constantly asking ourselves: What actions can BDS activists take to meaningfully narrow, if not cut off, supply lines of material and ideological sustenance flowing from the Boston area to the zionist [sic] state? How can we impose a real material cost on the zionist [sic] project, from where we are located, in order to make it more possible for Palestinians on the ground to liberate themselves?"

The notion of the existence of a manipulative, powerful, and malign “Israel Lobby” has been part of the anti-Israel dialogue for some time, at least since the publication of a book with that title published by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in 2008. That book focused on the alleged power of Israel in contorting  U.S. lawmakers to its will, forcing it to behave, diplomatically and economically, in ways that harmed the United States and only benefited Israel.

The Mapping Project goes beyond that, first by focusing more broadly on the predations of Zionism, and, more odiously, linking a bucket full of Jewish communal organizations and others as furtive, conspiratorial agents of oppression, not only concerning the long-suffering Palestinians but also including other groups victimized by this Jewish cabal by colonization, land theft, racial injustice, anti-black policing, and a long list of alleged offenses blamed on Zionism, Israel, and, ultimately, Jews.

The characterization of pro-Israel lobbying by organizations and Jewish institutions and organizations as “manipulation”—coercive, underhanded actions whose end result would not otherwise honestly, fairly, or reasonably be achieved—this language is the very tone that has drawn such immediate and thunderous denunciation of the piece. And it is a particularly incendiary bit of language when discussing Israel, a Jewish state, for it parallels so invidiously the classic anti-Semitic canards, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that purport to reveal the intention of Jews to furtively rule and dominate the globe. And, as happens here, there is the double insult to Jews: first, that they achieve this supposed sway over governments and other people by indirection, betrayal, and stealth; and, second, that in the end they are not only not admired for accomplishing these extraordinary, nearly superhuman feats, but envied and reviled for having supposedly surreptitiously achieved them.

This pattern, of trying desperately to reveal the machinations of a subversive group or groups to a world of dupes who cannot see as clearly as the paranoid historian can, is consistent with what was characterized in 1964 by historian Richard Hofstadter as “the paranoid style” of politics.

In A Culture of Conspiracy, as another example, Michael Barkun suggested that "Conspiracism is, first and foremost, an explanation of politics. It purports to locate and identify the true loci of power and thereby illuminate previously hidden decision making. The conspirators, often referred to as a shadow government,” in the Mapping Project’s world of intrigue where divided loyalties and malign intentions account for pro-Israel lobbying, “operate a concealed political system behind the visible one, whose functionaries are either ciphers or puppets." Zionists and Jews, of course, are at the center of all of this, using their immense and limitless alleged influence and finances to promote a self-serving ideology that benefits Jews themselves and makes victims of the oppressed in the Middle East and worldwide.

Such thinking, of course, is both delusional and dangerous, since the names and physical addresses were published here of some of the perpetrators of this alleged Zionist scheme to manipulate governments and society and radiate despair as it evolved. And the intent of the map’s creators is clear: “Our goal in pursuing this collective mapping was to reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them,” it stated. “Every entity has an address, every network can be disrupted [emphasis added].”

One revelation made obvious with the publication of this map is that the enemies of Zionism and Israel, who usually mask their anti-Semitism by contending that criticism of the Jewish state is never anti-Semitic, now apparently feel comfortable enough to engage in public, blatant attacks on Jews, Judaism, and Jewish communal and civil rights organizations as part of their contention that it is Jews, not just the Jewish state, who are guiding and maintaining this oppression. Understandably, this is the principal reason that map has been so widely and vociferously denounced as anti-Semitic both in intent and effect, as former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers once put it.

The “mapping” of the Jewish lobby actually took place last year when David Miller, former professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at Britain’s Bristol University, enraged Jewish students and other external stakeholders with his vicious attacks on Zionism, Israel, and Jewish organizations in England.

At the time of the controversy, criticism was aimed at lecture slides Miller used in his “Harms of the Powerful” module, slides which Jewish students thought contained anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power, malignancy, and manipulation.  

One slide, for example, was a graphic that apparently sought to depict the Israel Lobby, and lists such nefarious groups as “ultra Zionist funders,” the Jewish National Fund, and even the Community Security Trust (CST), an organization roughly analogous to the U.S.’s benign ADL which fights anti-Semitism and addresses other Jewish communal issues—all organizations and individuals listed there purportedly working under the influence and to the benefit of the Israeli government.

The slide which drew the most attention, which perhaps served as the model for the Mapping Project’s version, was an elaborate diagram depicting dozens of organizations, all listed under the Israeli government. The structure of pro-Israel individuals, organizations, and agents delineated in the slide was complex, furtive, until now hidden from sight, and, in Miller’s paranoid fantasies, reveals a nefarious and powerful “British Zionist scene” that he had now exposed and which, he seemed to believe, proved some point about Jewish power and malignancy—exactly what the Mapping Project sought to accomplish with its own fantastical diagrams and delusional assertions about Jewish influence and power.

Miller’s slides and the Mapping Project’s map must be very meaningful to their creators, but it tells us nothing. It reveals nothing unknown, nothing sinister, nothing more than Jewish communal organizations and individuals working, sometimes alone, sometimes in concert, to protect Jewish interests, fight anti-Semitism, and support Israel. Any conspiracy or unlawful or immoral activity lives only in their minds, in the paranoic recesses of their anti-Semitic brains.

The characterization of pro-Israel lobbying by organizations and individuals as manipulation, dual loyalties, using power and influence behind the scenes, greed and money—this language is the very tone that drew an understandable thunderous denunciation of Miller’s wild ideas and the BDS activists promoting the map.

And these are examples of particularly incendiary language when discussing Zionism and Israel, a Jewish state, for it parallels so invidiously classic anti-Semitic canards, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that purport to reveal the intention of Jews to furtively rule and dominate the globe. And in both instances where this enmity was expressed, there is a double insult to Jews: first, that they achieve this supposed sway over governments and other people by indirection, betrayal, and stealth; and, second, that in the end they are not only not admired for accomplishing these extraordinary, nearly superhuman feats, but envied and reviled for having supposedly surreptitiously achieved them.

In tracking anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League has noted that, in 2021, “there were 2,717 incidents last year, representing an increase of 34% over 2020,” a sad all-time high for such incidents. So when the language in the Mapping Project promises to “disrupt the network” they have just identified, there is a not too veiled threat against some of the individuals and institutions they expose.

“We see our map and associated database as a resource for gathering intelligence on the agents of oppression,” the map read, and “their intersections offer possibilities for us to organize and connect our struggles” since they “support non-cooperation, community self-defense, and resistance in all its forms, [emphasis added],” “resistance,” of course, the euphemism used when activists define terror against Jews in Israel.

Paranoia and fantasies about Jewish power have been prevalent for millennia and the Mapping Project is the latest permutation of that noxious hatred. “We are all sufferers from history,” Hofstadter observed, “but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”

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