By Syed Zafar Mehdi
A path-breaking initiative by pro-Palestine advocacy groups in Massachusetts that seeks to connect the dots between Zionism and Western imperialism has created tremors in the power corridors of the US as well as the pro-Israel lobbies in the country.
Stung by the tremendous impact it is creating, a group of 37 US Congress members on Tuesday issued a brusque statement, urging federal law enforcement agencies to investigate ‘The Mapping Project’.
Josh Gottheimer, who represents New Jersey’s fifth congressional district in the US Congress and is spearheading the group, in a tweet on Thursday termed the initiative a “roadmap for terrorists and violent extremists to intentionally target Jewish groups”.
His rhetoric, however, has no takers. The anonymous, multi-generational collective of activists and organizers involved in the Mapping Project has found support from many known and unknown quarters.
Rawan Masri, a Ramallah-based activist and co-founder of the website Decolonize Palestine, said they stand in complete solidarity with the Mapping Project and its “incredible and detailed work highlighting interlinking systems of violence and oppression between the United States and Occupied Palestine".
"We are not surprised that the US House members see the Mapping Project outing institutional support for Israel worthy of investigation, but not the Canary Mission, which doxxes students and faculty, smearing them as racists and calling their schools and jobs demanding they be punished for their views," Masri told the Press TV website, referring to the infamous Zionist website that blacklists and harasses activists advocating the cause of Palestine.
"It's all part of the same push to censor Palestinian advocacy in the United States."
Stanley Cohen, a Massachusetts-based activist and attorney, who identifies himself as an "anti-Zionist Jew", also called out the blatant double standards of US politicians.
"It's entirely appropriate and protected first amendment speech for the Zionist Canary Project to identify supporters of BDS and pro-Palestinian activists and to seek to have them lose their jobs, funding, and venues to meet but the problem is the Boston Mapping Project," Cohen stated.
The Mapping Project, unveiled earlier this month, identifies policing institutions, universities, weapons manufacturers, and Zionist lobby groups in the New England region that work in tandem to fortify structures of oppression and occupation in Palestine and across the world.
The hallmark of the project that is creating ripples is an interactive map that shows the physical locations of pro-Zionist groups in the Massachusetts area, sparking fears and concerns among pro-Israel lobbyists.
According to key members of the project, the idea is to build a knowledge base of institutions, corporations, and other entities that contribute to the colonization of Palestine, US imperialism, policing displacement, and other interlocking systems of oppression.
The project seeks to help local movements in Massachusetts identify loopholes in the existing structures of power and imperial violence to weaken and dismantle them, which has clearly stumped the enablers of Israeli apartheid and US imperialism.
Masri said she hopes the project will eventually "expand to cover institutions nationwide" by laying bare "the financial and ideological foundations that make it possible for Israel to be the US imperialist outpost".
"It helps expose US imperialist policies around the world because as we know, the violence of US imperialism, as represented by surveillance industries and weapons exchanges, for example, is not limited to Israel," she told the Press TV website.
‘Useful educational tool’
In response to the intransigent move by US House members, a group of pro-Palestine organizations on Thursday issued a joint statement, affirming their support for the initiative, and condemning attempts to censor what they termed a “useful educational tool.”
Endorsed by advocacy groups including the Palestinian Youth Movement, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Center for the Study and Preservation of Palestine, US Palestinian Community Network, Canadian BDS Coalition, and National Students for Justice in Palestine among others, the statement notes that the project to “uncover the relationships between policing, Zionism, and imperialism" is a "critical movement work that should be uplifted.”
It also asserts that the “mischaracterization” of the project by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other Zionist organizations is essentially meant to “distract from what the project exposes”.
The Mapping Project identifies itself as a “multi-generational collective of activists and organizers” who seek a “deeper understanding of local institutional support for the colonization of Palestine and harms that we see as linked, such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement/ethnic cleansing”.
Its work is based on the realization that oppressors “share tactics and institutions” and that people’s liberation struggles and solidarities are somehow interlinked.
“We wanted to visualize these connections so that our struggles intersect and to strategically grow our local organizing capacities,” reads the account on The Mapping Project website.
The interactive map points to ways in which institutional support for the colonization of Palestine is structurally tied to policing and white supremacy and to US imperialist projects across the world.
“Our goal in pursuing this collective mapping was to reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them. Every entity has an address, every network can be disrupted,” adds the detailed description on the project website.
Joe Catron, the US coordinator for Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, one of the signatories of the joint statement, told the Press TV website that the research is "invaluable" for the supporters of Palestine and its liberation.
"The Mapping Project is doing crucial work to expose the connections between US imperialism, the Zionist movement, and oppression in both occupied Palestine and the United States," he stressed.
Inter-linked struggles and resistance
The Mapping Project, while primarily focusing on the Israeli military occupation of Palestine, also highlights the US policy of interventionism, the manufacture of weapons that aid the US military-industrial complex, and activities that undermine anti-colonial resistance movements and promote US military-industrial-complex's business interests.
It calls out colleges and universities in the New England region that have confiscated land belonging to Black and Brown working-class people and transformed themselves into colonial real estate agents.
For instance, it says, the Berklee College of Music owns more than 100 acres of real estate in central Boston valued at $261 million, and the college draws faculty and students that are predominantly “wealthier and whiter” than residents living in the Boston area communities, which has led to rising housing, rental, and living costs in the area, and displaced Black and Brown working-class residents.
Harvard University, it notes, owns land all over the world – “from vineyards in Washington state to farmlands in Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, and Romania” adding that the varsity’s “land-grabbing machine has harmed indigenous communities, poisoning their water and crops in Brazil, and denying access to burial sites and pasture land in South Africa.”
It slams the US police force for using its military and surveillance power to “enforce the intersecting systems of white supremacy and capitalism” and reveals the extent of their networking with each other, as well as networking with universities, weapons companies, and certain NGOs.
“The Department of Homeland Security, with its use of "counterterrorism" as a catch-all for programs of surveillance and militarization, has played a central role in organizing and funding these networks, often using Israel as a point of reference for ideology, policy, technology, and organization,” the project website states.
It goes on to denounce the US imperialism, calling it the “greatest threat to life on the planet, a force of ecological devastation and disaster impacting not only human beings but also our non-human relatives”, referring specifically to "dollar hegemony" and the use of "soft power" state organizations such as the USAID in suppressing and undermining anti-imperialist struggles inside "friendly" countries.
Catron told the Press TV website that these are all "critical challenges" that movements in the United States have been "confronting for decades, if not centuries".
"The analysis of initiatives like the Mapping Project helps to show how the interests driving each of them are related, and often the same," he remarked.
The project has created ripples across the US, even outside the country, pitting Zionism apologists against those strongly and fearlessly advocating the cause of Palestine.
Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, describes it as a “first of its kind” project to help activists “draw lines to connect companies and institutions to real and defined harm, both domestically and globally.”
“It's the radical truth-telling we need to be emulated around the country,” Abulhawa wrote on Twitter.
Nooran Alhamdan, a research fellow on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli affairs at the Middle East Institute, also endorses the initiative, which she said “identifies major academic and cultural institutions, corporations, and police and government agencies that aid and abet Israel in Massachusetts.”
EM Cohen, a writer, and blogger on Palestine dismisses claims that the project targets Jewish institutions, saying of the 483 entities highlighted, over half are police departments, 40 are universities, 14 are construction companies, 10 are military, 10 are banks, and 10 are large healthcare firms.
“Only 6 percent of the 483 entities included in The Mapping Project are Jewish. Jews make up 7 percent of Boston’s population,” Cohen wrote in a Twitter post.
“Anyone claiming that The Mapping Project “targets Jews” or is “a map of where Jews live” is blatantly lying. Of the Jewish organizations that were included, none were included because they are Jewish. Every inclusion is accompanied by a clear, specific, and truthful description of exactly why they were included," he hastened to add.
Calla Walsh, a pro-Palestine activist and organizer, seconds Cohen, saying “99 percent of the people hating on the map have not even clicked on it.”
Adam Horowitz, an executive editor at Mondoweiss news portal, said the project outlines the “material and political support the American Jewish community has provided to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”, terming the Israeli occupation “an American Jewish achievement.”
“It (the project) charts the ways, in just one city, that for over 50 years Zionist organizations inside the Jewish community representing the overwhelming sentiments of American Jews have supported Israeli violations of international law in Gaza, the Golan, and the West Bank including of course East Jerusalem, and assured that those violations will never be the basis of punishment by international bodies, let alone cited by American politicians,” Horowitz and Philip Weiss wrote in a joint article in Mondoweiss.
Francesca Recchia, founding member, editor, and creative director at Polis Project, an independent research and journalism organization, describes the idea of the Mapping Project as "amazing".
"What seems very interesting is to look at the networks of complicities that allow the implementation of the colonial project, how ideology and economic interests are deeply intertwined. It is also revealing the efforts at silencing every form of critique that aims at reaffirming the Palestinian right of self-determination," Recchia told the Press TV website.
"The other thing is that mapping proves an important tool to visualize and make apparent interconnections that often happen underneath the visible and reveal how they are all well planned and intentional and not accidental."
BDS Movement under Zionist pressure?
Quite interestingly, weeks after the project was unveiled and a day after the US House members called for an inquiry into it, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement distanced itself from it and the movement’s Boston chapter, which strongly backed the project.
“The BDS Movement has no connection to and does not endorse the Mapping Project in Boston, Massachusetts. Simultaneously, we reject and condemn the cynical use of this project as a pretext for repressive attacks on the Palestine solidarity movement,” the BDS said in a statement, raising many eyebrows.
The shocking stance of the BDS Movement, clearly under the pressure of Zionist lobby groups in the US didn't go well with pro-Palestine activists and campaigners.
Susan said the BDS mandate was "not to set the parameters for Palestinian liberation" but to “clarify when and where someone crosses our picket line”.
“They should immediately retract that cowardly repudiation of the Boston Mapping Project, a brilliant and radical study that visualizes the intersections of tactics, institutions, and funders of oppression against marginalized communities in the US and Palestinians under Apartheid Israel,” she said on Twitter.
“This project wholly comports with emancipatory principles of truth-telling. The BNC is not and must not be allowed to become the arbiters of acceptable resistance. Enough. We've been silent long enough in the name of not airing laundry, but maybe our silence is what emboldened this egregious overstep.”
Nooran termed the BDS statement “shameful” and “embarrassing” and said the movement owes the principled activists behind the Mapping Project an apology.
“Regardless of this statement, keep boycotting Israel and its institutions, but always remember that BDS is the floor, not the ceiling,” she wrote.
Walsh said it was sad to see “the supposed leadership of the anti-Zionist movement caving into pressure and hysteria from the Zionist lobby.”
“Reformism will never win, and reformists at the top will never be able to crush the revolutionary organizing happening in BDS movements on the ground like in Boston,” she declared.
Sarah Wilkinson, a prominent British human rights activist, told the Press TV website that those who got involved with the project and its campaign have faced "tumultuous smear campaigns" against them and are "always awaiting the next attack".
"I noticed Palestine Action signed and supported it. I was shocked over the BDS statement which just played right into the Zionist hands," she said.
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Tehran-based journalist, blogger, commentator and author. He has reported for more than 12 years from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Iran for leading publications worldwide.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)