Created in 2015, the anonymously-run, pro-Israel website CanaryMission.org aims to “document individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.” The site is being used to suppress the free speech rights of those speaking out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians through blacklisting and harassment, a pro-Zionist form of “cancel culture.”
Using tactics generally reserved for extremist hate groups, Canary Mission lists activists, educators, professionals, and students as “terrorist supporters” and “anti-Semites” for participating in BDS efforts, effectively blacklisting them from professional and educational pursuits in an effort to thwart rising activist efforts to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis perpetuated by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and those of Palestinian descent living in Israel.
For instance, in October 2020, prominent international academic Valentina Azarova had an offer of a job at University of Toronto rescinded after a donor expressed concern over her work on Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights.
Canary Mission targets college campuses, student activists, and educators, investigating their social media accounts and memberships to clubs or activist groups, in order to create a misleading narrative that creates an online record visible to potential employers and government agencies. Government agencies are using these lists to profile individuals as potential threats; both the FBI and the Israeli government are believed to have used the list for intelligence gathering purposes. The list effectively limits individuals’ right to movement and effecting requests for citizenship/exchange programs/etc. without the proper vetting of sources or transparency regarding the funding, founding, and running of the website.
The information on the website has had long-term effects, threatening individuals’ immigration status, personal lives, careers, and freedom to travel. In 2019 an editorial published in the Brown Daily Herald, the school’s student newspaper, reported that Canary Mission disproportionately targets Black, Brown and Muslim students and academics.
As of November 2020, there has been little to no major US media coverage of these allegations. There have been several editorials speaking out against the United States’ blind eye to Israel’s foreign policy regarding Palestine. The New York Times featured an op-ed by Michelle Alexander in January 2019 in which Alexander compared Canary Mission to the McCarthyite tactics used against suspected Communist during the Cold War; in February 2019, the Washington Post published a critical piece by Mairav Zonszein, which mentioned Canary Mission. There are a brief mentions of Canary Mission in two other New York Times articles, both by Isabel Kershner, the first printed on August 14, 2018 about a US Jewish journalist being detained for questioning at an Israeli airport, and the second on October 9, 2018 regarding a US student being denied entry to attend a Hebrew University, but nothing substantive about the website is confirmed in either article. There was only one article—published by Haaretz on April 10, 2018—that specifically addressed the student’s detainment as a consequence of information found on the Canary Mission lists. A 2018 article published by The Intercept focused on the Canary Mission and its impact on the US student movement for Palestinian rights.
Murtaza Hussain, “The Real Cancel Culture: Pro-Israel Blacklists,” The Intercept, October 4, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/10/04/israel-palestine-blacklists-canary-mission/.
Student Researcher: Miranda Morgan (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Ford (Sonoma State University)