ADL legal effort to shut down Mapping Project website fails in Icelandic court

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  May 24, 2023

An Anti-Defamation League injunction described as an “attack on the freedom of expression” has been dismissed by a court in Iceland, but it is appealing the decision.

An Anti-Defamation League (ADL) legal effort to shut down the website of the Mapping Project has been dismissed by an Icelandic court. The ADL’s injunction, which aimed to have the website taken down for alleged antisemitism, was filed against the Icelandic internet company 1984, which hosts the Mapping Project’s website.

The Mapping Project, which is run by an anonymous group of Boston-area activists, caused controversy in 2022 when it published an interactive map listing local institutions that they believe are connected to Zionism or imperialism.

“We would like to emphasize that we would under no circumstances host material that advocated violence, anti-semitism, racism or hate,” 1984 told Mondoweiss in a statement. “We take down multiple such sites per year and we do not tolerate it on our networks or systems.”

1984 Hosting was founded in 2006 by supporters of civil liberties and refers to itself as “a freedom of speech host.” The hosting company’s About page explains, “Unwavering loyalty to our customers and their fundamental rights is a core value of 1984, hence the name to remind us of what can happen if we fall asleep on our watch. We state that 1984 as a company and its officers will always go the extra mile to protect our customers’ civil rights, including the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, the right to anonymity and privacy.” In an effort to publicize to “neutralize attacks on the freedom of expression,” 1984 created a webpage to release the legal documents connected to the ADL case.

“We feel that it is important to display, with this example, how we mitigate and neutralize attacks on the freedom of expression by extremely powerful interests. We do that both for our current customers as well as for those seeking to publish or express themselves under challenging conditions or oppression,” reads a statement put out by the company.

The ADL has publicly called on Icelandic lawmakers to shut down the website without success. “We deeply regret the apparent lackadaisical attitude of Icelandic officials toward this threat to the Jewish community and ask that your government take expeditious measures to prevent this website from being hosted in your country,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in a 2022 letter to the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The ADL injunction attempted to implement Icelandic hate speech law to take down the project. It claims that the content of the website “ultimately leads to the purpose of encouraging action against those who belong to the Jewish community in Boston and its surrounding areas, which should not be interpreted in any other way than as threats or incitements to actionable misconduct against the respondent and others identified or referred to on the website.”

“The defendant believes it is necessary to point out that the website does not contain criticism of Jews,” said 1984 attorney Ólafur Örn Svansson in his reply to the injunction. “For example, educational institutions such as Harvard and MIT are on the list. Specific public institutions are also mentioned. Thus, it is inappropriate to assert that the discussion is directed at Jews, but the plaintiff is primarily aiming to support the assertion that the website contains anti-Semitism. Here, specific companies, organizations, and institutions are simply being pointed out that, according to the perception of the service user, are openly or covertly opposing the interests of certain activists that appear to be behind the website when viewed.”

1984 also rebuffed criticisms of antisemitism in its statement. “When we started getting accusations of anti-Semitism, and allegations of there being instigation to violence on to the web site, we took that very seriously. These are very serious accusations. We investigated the site ourselves and found nothing of the sort,” the statement reads. “This site is legal, legitimate political speech and there is no instigation to violence or hatred on it.”

“Although at first glance the map might seem overwhelming, it actually reveals that US imperialism isn’t an abstraction, or something that happens far away, but a concrete project that’s being advanced right where we live, by entities that have physical addresses,” members of the group told Mondoweiss shortly after the map was put up. “There is simply no way to protect so many nodes of oppression from a movement that is determined to interfere with them. We hope this recognition will stimulate creative action. We also hope that we can build more power to dismantle these systems by seeing how our struggles our connected – because we’re fighting the same oppressors – rather than working in silos.”

The map faced criticism within the Palestine advocacy movement, but it was condemned in the harshest terms by pro-Israel organizations like the ADL. New England ADL head Robert Trestan claimed that the map constituted a “Jewish hit list.” New England ADL Deputy Regional Director Peggy Shukur said it used “some of the oldest antisemitic tropes around, scapegoating the Jewish community and blaming it for a range of social ills.”

In 2020 a coalition of human rights organizations launched a campaign calling on groups to sever ties with the ADL over its long track-record of anti-Palestinian sentiment, racism, and law enforcement collaboration. “We are deeply concerned that the ADL’s credibility in some social justice movements and communities is precisely what allows it to undermine the rights of marginalized communities, shielding it from criticism and accountability while boosting its legitimacy and resources,” reads an open letter from the organizations. “Even when it may seem that our work is benefiting from access to some resources or participation from the ADL, given the destructive role that it too often plays in undermining struggles for justice, we believe that we cannot collaborate with the ADL without betraying our movements.”

“This litigation is just the latest example within the ADL’s over a century-long effort to support colonialism and silence opposition, as we have previously described,” the Mapping Project collective told Mondoweiss in a statement.

Although they’ve been quiet about their legal battle publicly, the ADL is appealing the dismissal of the injunction via a lawsuit.

The 1984 team, however, does not seem deterred. “We will defend our hosting of this website all the way to the highest court in the land, if necessary, as we have done before and will doubtless have to do again,” the organization said in its statement.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss