Countering the Canary Mission blacklist

April 20, 2018

Sumaya A. and Bill Mullen announce the launching of a new website to counter the smears of an online blacklist, in an article first published at Mondoweiss.

IN APRIL of 2015, an anonymous website sprang to life from the basement of the internet. Slickly produced, but with no public authorship or attribution, it carried photographic profiles of mostly young Arab, Black, and Jewish student activists who were open supporters of Palestinian human rights.

The profiles were accompanied by textual sound bites accusing the students of crimes ranging from the political to the legal. "Terrorist," "racist," "Jew-hater," "anti-Semite," the profiles read. Accompanying was a short, expensively produced promotional video. Narrated by a woman, the video flashed "scare" images of Palestinian protesters and warned in conspiratorial, loyalist tones: "It is your duty to ensure that today's radicals are not tomorrow's employees." The overt blacklisting logic of the site and its eerie rhetorical echoes of Cold War anti-communism was underscored by a repeated refrain that Palestinian human rights advocates were "un-American."

Within one year of launching, the website, called "Canary Mission," included profiles of more than 1,800 young activists: Black, Brown, Jewish, Arab, Muslim. Its scope expanded to include more frequent attacks on pro-Palestinian organizations--for example, Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Student Associations--while also targeting the rapidly expanding boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The site disproportionately targets people of color and women. Of the 1,870 individuals profiled on the site, about 80 percent are people of color.

Students stand up against Israeli apartheid at Ohio State University
Students stand up against Israeli apartheid at Ohio State University (Ken Nurenburg | SJPOSU)

From the start, Canary Mission used Twitter to blast out names and photographs of activists with its allegations of "racism" or "terrorism," sometimes targeting employers of students, hoping to get them fired. Today, more than 18,000 supporters of Palestinian human rights are profiled are on the site, but the list is still growing there.

Canary Mission is a settler-colonial scam, an ethnonationalist slur, and a malicious, well-funded, underground machine set to destroy the lives and careers of real people. Its existence reflects the sheer desperation of Israel defenders who have seen public opinion shift steadily against the continued illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel's apartheid state. In the face of new generational global empathy among young people for occupied Palestinian lives, the Canary Mission blacklist is an admission of political defeat and symptomatic of a dying racist state.

Now, at long last, and on time, organized opposition to Canary Mission has arrived: Today will see the launch of Against Canary Mission, a website dedicated to representing, in truthful detail, the lives of activists in support of Palestinian liberation, and to narrating accurately the conditions of Israel's occupation.


WHY IS it important to do this?

Because whole groups of Palestinian and Arab students, including entire chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, have been bullied into silence or even quitting activism altogether by Canary Mission.

In addition to this, the massacre that has been unfolding in Gaza for three consecutive weeks now, and which has been met with lethal silence by most of the mainstream media, is a testament to how critical it is that the voices speaking up in favor of Palestinian liberation are magnified and heard, not silenced and suppressed.

This is for several reasons.

First, Palestinian students who seek to return home to Palestine must worry about public smears of "terrorism" while under the watchful eyes of U.S. and Israeli security forces, from the IDF to TSA. Canary Mission basically seeks to create a global internet "surveillance" system based on smears and lies that follow activists everywhere. Certain individuals profiled on the site are undocumented or have precarious immigration statuses. The smears and lies labeling them "terrorists" and invoking violence in their name increase their risk of detention or deportation.

Second, Israel's law banning supporters of BDS from entering Israel--already being exercised by the state--can prevent activists from even considering visiting Palestine. In fact, Canary Mission appeared as a direct counter-campaign to the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and precipitated Israel's own law banning those who support the country from entering it.

Third, Canary Mission's explicit threat to students' livelihood is an extreme menace taking into account normative racial, religious or ethnic discrimination that Arab and non-white students especially may face in the job market. For most individuals profiled on the site, Google search results for their name list their Canary profile. Imagine your employer being told you are racist and that you support white supremacy.

Fourth, many students fear their application to graduate or professional school may be compromised by a simple internet search.

Indeed, it was specifically to protest the latter that more than 1,000 professional academics, including professors and administrators, signed an open petition last year rejecting Canary Mission's smear tactics, and vowing that nothing from the site would ever be used in their evaluation of a student. As the petition stated:

As faculty who serve, have served, or are likely to serve on an admissions committee at graduate and undergraduate university programs across the country, we unequivocally assert that the Canary Mission website should not be trusted as a resource to evaluate students' qualifications for admission. We condemn Canary Mission as an effort to intimidate and blacklist students and faculty who stand for justice for Palestinians.

Signatories to the petition included some of the most prominent academics in the United States and around the world: Joan Scott, the late Arif Dirlik, Rosaura Sanchez, Colin Dayan, Lailah Farah, Neferti Tadair, Amy Kaplan, Tithi Bhattacharya, David Lloyd, Curtis Marez, Russell Rickford, George Yudice, Barbara Foley and Wendy Kozol.


WE ALSO need this new site because anyone who has been subject to an internet smear campaign knows that projecting public resistance is a critical counter to the silencing efforts of the attackers. Israel's "hasbara" campaigns against its enemies--Steven Salaita, for example--depend upon a confidence that lies against Arabs and Muslims or opponents of Israel will pass without scrutiny in America. They presume a hegemonic, racist, Islamophobic context for reception that never has been stable, and is especially less so now when Americans have demonstrated a capacity to protest spontaneously in support of Arabs and Muslims banned from entering the country.

Finally, and most importantly, Against Canary Mission exists to preserve, celebrate, and advance the extraordinary momentum of an unrelenting public, global campaign against Israel's ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine.

Since 2013, dozens of academic associations, graduate student unions, university student governments, teachers' unions and trade unions have passed resolutions calling for boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel. BDS has become one of the most important global civil rights movements of our time.

Our website is a virtual landmark to this moment in history, an electronic festival of the people who have put Palestinian liberation at the forefront and in the mainstream of global discussions about human rights.

Against Canary Mission also stands with Palestinians everywhere, including the West Bank and Gaza, under constant surveillance, restriction of movement, trampling of human rights. It exists to respect the martyrs of Palestine murdered by the state of Israel, like those killed in cold blood during the March of Return on Land Day.

We thus invite everyone active in Palestinian liberation struggle to send us a profile for feature on our page. Join our community of proud activists: AgainstCanaryMission.org

We also ask that you share the link to our site widely. Tell friends and fellow organizers about the site. Tell them to join and support our project.

A Free Palestine depends on many things, including that we never cease to sing freedom songs and tell stories about heroes in the movement for Palestinian liberation.

First published at Mondoweiss.

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