Canary Mission: Suppressing Activism and Stifling Freedom of Speech
By: Malorie Lewis / Arab American Contributing Writer
Established in the Spring of 2015, Canary Mission was devised as a tool to combat the growing popularity and spread of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Under the guise of fighting antisemitism, this anonymous website collects data on people who are accused of criticizing Israeli policies, supporting the BDS Movement, those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, those who publicly call for an end to the ongoing occupation. These are just a few of the accusations that attract the attention of this organization.
The origins of the website and its owner remain in a shadowy veil. A lot of effort is put into to maintaining its secrecy as well. However, it is notable to mention where some of its funding has historically come from. The Canary Mission is linked closely to the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC). The ICC is supported and receives funds from organizations that might be familiar to you. Pro-Israeli organizations such as Hillel International, AIPAC, and Stand with Us, to name a few. These powerful organizations and many more have donated in support of Canary Mission and its goals. This allows the website to continue to defame activists and tread heavily on the toes of freedom of speech.
Check out the Ethics policy of the Canary Mission here. Some of the more interesting qualifiers, in the Ethics policy, for landing yourself a profile on Canary Mission include: “Anti-Semitic according to the U.S. State Department’s Definition”, “Disrupting Jewish or pro-Israel speakers or events”, and “Promoting or enabling BDS in any of its forms, including: … The academic or cultural boycott of Israel, voting for or choosing to allow campus divestment resolutions to be carried out anonymously or via secret ballot”.
The website focuses its defamatory claims majorly on university students and professors. Canary Mission also includes a section on its website for professionals and organizations. Some of the notable organizations that this shady group targets include: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and many others you can find here.
The process behind the list
Those individuals who are unlucky enough to be placed on this blacklist are marked as racist, anti-Semitic, or supporters of terrorism. Canary Mission organizes volunteers and staff to compile detailed dossiers on the people identified by anonymous tipsters. They scour the internet for any mention of positive support for Palestine, photographs of pro-Palestinian events, or people speaking critical of Israel.
Some of the information compiled by the Canary Mission includes: Name, location, university, job, list of affiliated organization, history of Activism, and links to all of their social media accounts. Photographs are attached of the individual to make identification easier for those who search the names of the individual.
The organization then takes to the internet with their lists and releases the names and other information to its large follower base on platforms like Twitter. Then the result is a mob-like mentality begins to grow amongst its largely pro-Zionist base followers, leading to extreme cases of cyberbullying. Cases which include instances of cyber harassment, reception of hate messages often centered around race, and in some cases death threats.
Another facet of their shady tactics includes reaching out to companies hiring and graduate schools who have offered admission to these activists. They do this in order to relay inflamed defamatory claims about those on the list. This tactic poses a detrimental threat to the reputations and careers of professionals, activists, and the average citizen who may have attended an event one time. Canary Mission literally threatens the very livelihood of these people and they are proud of it.
“The students targeted by Canary Mission are overwhelmingly Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and/or students of color. In a national climate marked by rising Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-black racism, Canary Mission’s smear campaign only adds fuel to the fire, exposing already marginalized campus communities to additional surveillance, harassment and even physical danger.”Jewish Voice for Peace
There is also the issue of governments utilizing this website as a sort of “watch list”. Notably, the FBI and the Israeli Government use the site to target certain groups of people. Here is a terrifying reality to consider. It seems that Israel uses the Canary list as a blacklist for entering the country. If you find yourself on this list there is a strong chance that you will never be allowed to enter Palestine or Israel. This might be an inconvenience to the average person; however, imagine being a Palestinian American with family still residing in the country. You would be unable to return to Palestine without fear of arrest or deportation. This is happening and it is truly an abhorrent tool furthering oppression.
Combating the List
Well, the website has another section called ex-canary. You can write a public statement renouncing your past mistakes, apologizing for your “antisemitic” ways. Please note the sarcasm. The website will then post your statement and remove your profile. Ironically, the website states that they hide the identities of Ex-Canaries in order to protect them from harassment.
However, there has been a big push from organizations to encourage hiring officials and academic institutions to educate themselves on Canary Mission and its history of defamation. Here is a resource distributed by the Middle East Studies Association with great resources. They offer advice for dealing with being on the Canary list and urge hiring and academic boards to consider the goals of Canary Mission. Another great source for resources compiled by The Jewish Voice for Peace is located here. In addition to those, The Electronic Intifada created a guide to surviving the Canary list as well. The Against Canary Mission website provides a counter measure against the Canary Mission website in an interesting way too. Check their website out!
Control of information is one of the greatest weapons in use today. The damage done by this organization is much worse than what is written here. A quick internet search will show you the true impact of the Canary Mission. The impact on the right to free speech, academic integrity, and many other beloved American rights. Rights like freedom of assembly. Students have publicly stated this list has heightened their anxiety. The fear impacts their daily lives and their ability to perform well in classes. The Canary Mission website has been levied as a threat towards Palestinian students in campus student government organizations. Fear mongering and terrorizing activists is its agenda.
This website needs more equitable attention in order to prevent further erosion of American values. As well as to begin to undo the damage caused by these underhanded tactics. Tactics that ruin the lives of anyone who would speak critical of Israel or in support human rights. The takeaway is that it is imperative to remember that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.
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