Opposition to the targeting of Jews by mainstream Democrats was a rejection of anti-Zionist extremism. But the real problem is this effort’s roots in critical race theory and intersectionality.
On the face of it, the “Mapping Project” undertaken by Boston BDS was a disaster for the antisemitic movement. In recent years, many on the political left had begun drifting from the sort of harsh critiques of Israel championed by groups like J Street towards the openly anti-Zionist stance of Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. But the colorful map published by the group that targeted the entire Jewish community was enough to shock even many of those on the left wing of the Democratic Party into condemning the project.
Indeed, the Massachusetts Democratic Party seemed to speak almost with one voice denouncing the map. It wasn’t just moderates with pro-Israel records like Rep. Jake Auchincloss, who represents a heavily Jewish Boston suburb. Even Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a charter member of the leftist congressional “Squad,” issued a statement against the map. With Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, who are both firmly on the left of their party’s Senate caucus, joining the pushback against the project, it seemed to be an object lesson in how not to win friends and influence people.
It further symbolizes not just how ill-conceived this stunt was, but how far the BDS movement is from going fully mainstream. If BDS has lost the Democrats in one of the deepest blue regions of the country, then they are still a long way away from achieving their goal of completing the project of converting the Democratic Party into a bastion of opposition to the Jewish state.
But as much as this development is to be welcomed, those in the pro-Israel movement who have been increasingly concerned by the way anti-Israel sentiments have gained increasing acceptance among left-wing Democrats shouldn’t stop worrying. By the same token, pro-Israel Democrats, who have been working overtime in recent years trying to put a positive spin on the way their party has become a haven for Israel-haters, should also not be declaring victory. BDS may have suffered a defeat in Boston this month, but it is far from beaten, let alone appropriately stigmatized as an expression of Jew-hatred.
While Boston BDS went so far as to force liberal and even left-wing Democrats to oppose them, the ideological foundation for the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism in the Democratic Party is still intact. So long as ideas like critical race theory (CRT) and intersectionality are not only accepted by liberal Democrats but ardently defended as a legitimate and even necessary expression of anti-racism and America’s irredeemable racism, then BDS supporters know they are far from defeated. These concepts that are essential underpinnings of BDS are also part and parcel of the arsenal of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since BLM remains not only popular on the left but a sacred cow that no Democrat dares to criticize, friends of Israel shouldn’t be surprised about the way mainstream progressive Democrats are not only still welcoming supporters of BDS into their ranks but parroting many of their attacks on Israel’s policy and legitimacy.
It’s important to note that the critical comments from Democrats about the Mapping Project were not directed at the purpose of the project itself, but merely about the means they chose to pursue. By creating a map that included virtually every Jewish institution in the state including synagogues, schools and social-service organizations with left-wing groups that are critical or even hostile to Israel along with those that are ardently Zionist, BDS activists opened themselves up to charges that all they had done was to create a Jewish enemies list. At a time of rising antisemitism from both the left and the right, it seemed an invitation not only to hound Jews out of the public square but also to encourage violence against them.
It was that aspect of the map that drove even Pressley, who is close with BDS advocates like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), to say that she understood the danger of threats to communal safety.
But almost all of the broad-based condemnations of the map stopped short of drawing a direct line from BDS, which seeks to legitimize boycotts of Israel, Israelis and companies and institutions that do business with the Jewish state to this sort of open antisemitism. The impression these statements left with the public was not that the BDS movement is itself inherently antisemitic, which it is, but that the map was merely an example of over-the-top activism that could incite violence.
While the map is certainly an example of extremism, it is also a product of the same ideology that produced the BLM critique of America, such as that illustrated by The New York Times’ fallacious “1619 Project.” It is, in effect, a textbook example of intersectional thinking that falsely analogizes the Palestinian war to destroy Israel with the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It links all struggles of so-called “indigenous people”—a designation that pointedly and libelously claims that Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel—together as examples of imperialism. It not only labels all Jews living in Israel—both inside the Green Line in cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, as well as the most remote settlements in Judea and Samaria—as practicing colonialism. It treats the existence of the United States as similarly illegitimate.
It may be more open in its willingness to label anyone remotely connected to Israel—as is the case with the entire Jewish community other than anti-Zionists—as criminally complicit with the effort to defend the Jewish state and to an America that they see as a bastion of racism. But there is no real difference between this map, and the labeling of Jews and Israel as examples of “white privilege” that is the engine of oppression that is part of CRT indoctrination and intersectional propaganda heard elsewhere.
It is those ideas that helped motivate 83 House Democrats to sign a joint letter last month demanding that the United States oppose the demolition of an illegal encampment in the West Bank that has been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court. Weeks before, 57 members of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus signed a similar letter demanding an “independent” investigation into the death of a Palestinian journalist who was killed in the crossfire during an Israeli counter-terrorism operation in Jenin.
Both efforts illustrate the way increasingly large numbers of Democrats are taking up Palestinian propaganda attacks against Israel. These letters, promoted by anti-Israel groups, show how the same ideological arguments that back up CRT and intersectionality have resonance on the political left when applied to Israel.
If pro-Israel Democrats want to go on the offensive against antisemitic BDS groups, they shouldn’t be satisfied with a few statements condemning one map. Instead, they should be joining with centrists and conservatives in attacking the ideas that make such efforts possible. But so long as that means confronting both the BLM movement, and the way CRT and intersectionality grant a permission slip for antisemitism, then most liberals and left-wingers want nothing to do with it. And as long as that is true, anti-Zionism and antisemitism will continue to make inroads on the political left and the Democratic Party.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.