Jewish Community Federation admits it secretly funded Canary Mission

Israel and US-based lobby groups have waged a war on the growing movement for Palestinian rights. (Joe Catron)

The once-shadowy funding structures and partnerships between US-based Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government to spy on, blacklist and threaten American activists are increasingly emerging into the cold hard light of day, as revelation has followed revelation over the past weeks.

An investigation by The Forward on Wednesday revealed that a major San Francisco-based Jewish communal organization has been a top funder of Canary Mission, the anonymous website that aims to tarnish the reputations of US supporters of Palestinian rights.

Meanwhile, documents now prove that Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs has been using Canary Mission “to bar political activists from entering Israel,” according to Israeli daily Haaretz, corroborating testimonies by activists, students and human rights lawyers.

The ministry is in charge of Israel’s global war against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, an effort that reportedly involves the use of clandestine “black ops.”

Barring entry

The documents were released as part of a legal appeal filed by Florida graduate student Lara Alqasem, who was detained by Israeli airport officials earlier this week.

Alqasem lost the appeal on Thursday and could be deported based on information compiled by Canary Mission, which listed her support of the BDS campaign and her involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Florida.

She has appealed her deportation order.

Upon her entry to Ben Gurion airport, she was reportedly racially profiled on the basis of her perceived Palestinian ancestry. Airport officials searched for her on Canary Mission, then “passed her name on for ‘continued handling’ by the ministry because of ‘suspicion of boycott activity,’” Haaretz reports.

Alqasem had a visa, granted by the Israeli consulate in Miami, Florida, to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The ministry also cited the SJP chapter’s 2016 call for a boycott of Sabra hummus, even though Alqasem said she had not taken an active part in the campaign, according to Haaretz.

This past January, Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan announced a blacklist specifically barring members of 20 human rights organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine, from territory it controls.

In 2017, Israel passed a law that bars entry or residency to non-Israelis who advocate for a boycott, including a boycott of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Coordinating activities

The latest revelations about Canary Mission follow those coming out of a censored Al Jazeera investigative film.

In late August, The Electronic Intifada published exclusive excerpts that reveal that operatives who rely on information provided by Canary Mission “coordinate” their activities with the Israeli government.

The revelations helped to explain recent reports that Canary Mission profiles are being used by Israeli border officials to deny Palestinian Americans entry to their homeland.

The Al Jazeera film also exposed one major funder of Canary Mission: Adam Milstein, a high-profile figure in the Israel lobby, and the head of The Israel Project.

His foundation funds such anti-Palestinian organizations as the Israel on Campus Coalition, StandWithUs, CAMERA, the AMCHA Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Milstein has denied any links to Canary Mission.

“Within their own ranks”

On Wednesday, The Forward revealed another top donor to the blacklisting website: the Helen Diller Family Foundation, controlled by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

Jaclyn Saifer, president of the Diller Foundation board, has also been a member of the board of visitors of the University of California, Berkeley since 2015.

“Mainstream American Jewish leaders have claimed not to know who funds Canary Mission. As it turns out, a big chunk of the money came from within their own ranks,” noted reporter Josh Nathan-Kazis in The Forward.

According to tax filings, the Diller Foundation gave $100,000 to Canary Mission in 2016 via the Central Fund of Israel, a major donor to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Central Fund of Israel was named in a 2013 lawsuit brought by Palestinians as one of several US-based Jewish charities accused of supporting violent Israeli settlers with tax-exempt donations from Americans.

The Diller Foundation listed the purpose of the $100,000 grant as “Canary Mission for Megamot Shalom,” according to the tax filings.

Megamot Shalom, The Forward reports, whose address leads to an abandoned office west of Jerusalem, “appears to be an Israeli public benefit corporation that operates or operated Canary Mission.”

Its 2016 financial reports were signed by Jonathan Bash, a British-born Jerusalem resident who Nathan-Kazis had identified in August as Canary Mission’s operator.

Just hours after The Forward’s article was published, the Jewish Community Federation issued a statement admitting that it had authorized the Diller Foundation to fund Canary Mission through the Central Fund of Israel.

The Federation noted that during an unspecified review process last year, it had found that the Central Fund of Israel “is not in compliance with our guidelines” and that neither it nor the Helen Diller Family Foundation would support Canary Mission “in the future.”

Rebecca Pierce, a filmmaker and contributor to The Electronic Intifada who has been targeted by Canary Mission, called on other mainstream Jewish communal groups to come forward.

Writing for The Forward in the wake of Nathan-Kazis’s published article, Pierce admonished the Federation’s attempt at hiding its involvement with the website until it was forced to admit it.

“While I welcome this announcement, it’s time for all mainstream Jewish groups to stop supporting Canary Mission, both financially and rhetorically,” Pierce wrote.

“It’s time for them to redirect their resources towards efforts that atone for both the deep harm this hate site and others like it have caused Palestinians, and the stunning betrayal of the Jewish communities they purport to represent,” she added.

On Thursday, the Israel lobby group J Street called on US Jewish leaders to denounce Canary Mission and “other federations and campus-based Jewish institutions” to follow the Federation’s “commitment” not to fund the blacklist.

A leader of the J Street chapter at UC Berkeley claimed she was not aware of the connection between Canary Mission and the campus’ Board of Visitors “and could not comment” on the involvement of the Diller Foundation’s president, according to the Daily Californian.

A top official of the Zionist Organization of America, however, boasted of his personal support of Canary Mission, smearing the activists and scholars it lists as “anti-Semites.”

Progressive Jewish activists slammed the financial support of Canary Mission by Jewish communal groups.

Simone Zimmerman of the anti-occupation organization IfNotNow told Haaretz that the Federation’s secretive funding of Canary Mission “highlights their desperation. They know how immoral this is and how bad it looks.”

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).