Faculty Denounce McCarthyist Blacklist Targeting Student Campaigners for Palestinian Rights

News & Politics

Over 1,000 university admissions faculty from across the United States declared Tuesday that the secretive Canary Mission website—which blacklists and defames U.S.-based students, academics, and activists who campaign for Palestinian human rights—“should not be trusted as a resource to evaluate students’ qualifications.”

In a joint statement, faculty members who say they “serve, have served, or are likely to serve on an admissions committee at graduate and undergraduate university programs” denounced the website’s “McCarthyist tactics” and called on their colleagues to stand "against such bullying and attempts to shut down civic engagement and freedom of speech.”

“Canary Mission is a website and social media initiative designed to slander student, faculty, and community activists for Palestinian rights as extremist, anti-Semitic, and sympathetic to terrorism,” reads the statement. “By publicizing the names, social media accounts, employment history, and other personal information about student activists, Canary Mission mobilizes a small online community of pro-Israel advocates to harass and threaten these activists.”

While the people and organizations behind Canary Mission are anonymous, AlterNet senior editor Max Blumenthal and journalist Julia Carmel revealed in September that the Jerusalem-based Aish World Center—an Islamophobic, pro-settler organization—appears to be an administrator of the site. Jonathan Bash, a former Aish staffer and current CEO of Video Activism, was named by reporter Joshua Nathan-Kazis in September 2015 as one potential administrator.

Meanwhile, some have publicly endorsed Canary Mission, among them Daniel Pipes, who was labeled an anti-Muslim extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to the joint statement from faculty, the two-year-old website continues to expand, adding more than 100 students in the last six weeks alone. “As of this writing, in the first half of 2016, Canary Mission has on over 30 occasions tweeted the names of employers in order to rally their followers to intimidate students,” their letter states. “In a few cases, Canary Mission also has contacted the prospective graduate schools of these students, claiming without evidence that the students are anti-Semites, terrorists, or both.”

Sumaya Awad was a lead organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine at Williams College, where she recently graduated. She told AlterNet that, when she discovered in February 2016 that she was blacklisted on Canary Mission, it took a psychological toll.

“My first reaction was shock to see a detailed profile of everything I had done, from Facebook posts and tweets to articles I wrote and events I participated in,” she said. “The real threat started to creep up on me because I am looking for jobs, and I am not a U.S. citizen. As a non-citizen from the Middle East and a visible Muslim, I’m trying to navigate the employment domain while Islamophobia and discrimination are on the rise. It’s scary to think of how my political viewpoint could be targeted.”

According to Awad, the strong statement from faculty “really helps students who are targeted by Canary Mission feel supported, with faculty from schools all over the U.S. supporting my right to free speech, to defend Palestinian rights. That support is extremely important.”

Rahul Saksena, staff attorney with Palestine Legal, noted in a statement released Tuesday that Canary Mission is part of a broader climate of intimidation. “The Israeli government and other defenders of Israeli policy have invested tens of millions of dollars into intimidating and silencing Palestine solidarity activists with false accusations intended to undermine an entire human rights movement,” he wrote. “All of us who believe in free expression and open debate about our world’s most pressing conflicts must oppose Canary Mission and similar suppression tactics that hearken back to the dark days of McCarthyism."

Meanwhile, there already appears to be a copycat across the Atlantic. At the beginning of 2016, a group calling itself the “European Institute Against Incitement” launched its own separate blacklist which claims—without evidence—to tie Palestinian journalists and activists, as well as a handful of Western Europeans, to violent Islamic extremism.

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