So, you’ve been profiled by Canary Mission, a group of anonymous stalkers who post online dossiers of students and professors they deem insufficiently enamored of Israel.
What should you do?
We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s examine what Canary Mission hopes to accomplish with these dossiers.
According to its website, the goal “is to expose those who promote lies and attacks on Israel and the Jewish people” for the purpose of … nothing, apparently: by accessing these profiles, “the public will become better informed about those involved in hate movements in their communities.”
In earlier incarnations, Canary Mission was more forthright about its desire to punish the employed and to damage the employment prospects of those still in college, who dare to speak out for Palestinian rights. This intent is obviously unchanged despite the high-minded rhetoric about public service.
All settler-colonial movements sanitize violence with declarations of altruism. Canary Mission’s attempt is laughable, although, to be fair, Zionists have never been good at concealing their aggression.
More than punishment
Canary Mission’s desire isn’t simply to punish. We misread the confluence of myth and power on campus when we reduce Zionist thuggery to frameworks of individual punishment. This misreading is understandable because getting profiled forces us into stances of self-preservation.
While Zionist thugs indeed aim to punish individuals, they do so on behalf of a greater purpose, which is to render themselves ubiquitous in deliberations about life and learning. By identifying anti-Zionists as deviant, they also identify themselves as normative to those who oversee and legislate campus life.
In their minds, awash with the messianic compulsions of settler-colonization, they alone should determine campus customs and cultures, ethics and etiquette, curriculums and syllabuses, inclusions and expulsions. They want decision-makers to constantly feel on the brink of being shamed. And they are aware that despite their uncivil language, most upper administrators are sympathetic to their cause. They therefore attempt to conjoin the genteel affectations of the ivory tower with the sleaze of political repression.
Another function of Canary Mission’s profiles is to facilitate sexist, racist and homophobic abuse.
The site is kind of like a navigation system for trolls. Canary Mission names people who run afoul of its genocidal preferences knowing that those people (and, with luck, their employers) will likely enjoy spectacular invective.
Whenever Canary Mission tweets at me, which happens regularly, my mentions get inundated with assholes, bullies and Roseanne Barr.
In a sense, Canary Mission plays a vital role in the corporate university. By targeting students, the organization conditions them for a postgraduate existence in which dissent is fiercely opposed.
A useful skill for corporate advancement is knowing how not to offend sites of power. Canary Mission is contemptible for reinforcing this coercive system, but it isn’t crazy for suggesting that potential employers want to root out troublemakers.
The era of online dossiers, then, provides students a sort of pre-professional training extraneous to the curriculum but central to the spirit of preparing impressionable youngsters for the demands of good citizenship.
To confront or ignore?
In some instances – when one has been libeled or antagonized in person, for example – it may be useful to directly confront Canary Mission, but on the whole I am skeptical of this strategy.
Attempting to convince Zionist thugs not to engage in thuggery seems pointless. Besides, asking Palestinians to interact with Canary Mission feels a bit like asking saplings to have a chat with the logging company.
Another strategy is to ignore Canary Mission altogether. Until now, this has been my approach for both philosophical and personal reasons.
Philosophically, I don’t like validating fanaticism as something that can be arbitrated through dialogue or debate. It’s also a bad idea to center Zionists in such a way that they occupy the subject position in conversations about Palestine.
Personally, I don’t care to spend energy on those who wish to harm students and colleagues. That energy is better spent protecting people from harm.
With Canary Mission’s increased activity, however, students and instructors are expressing concern about being targeted for punishment. They aren’t necessarily afraid of Canary Mission; they simply don’t trust the management at their own institutions.
Plenty of universities, after all, have admonished students and employees selected for abuse by outsiders. It’s important, then, to think together about how to do intellectual and activist work in difficult conditions.
We should honor the personal choices of Canary Mission’s victims and continue building support systems that are both inclusive and unassailable.
Whatever anybody chooses to do, it’s critical never to lose sight of the fact that we’re first and foremost in opposition to Israeli settler-colonization, the progenitor of rinky-dink groups like Canary Mission.
The unity of repression
Canary Mission exemplifies the problems of the corporate university more broadly: donor meddling, institutional racism, adamant Zionism, right-wing structures, top-down governance, arbitrary decision-making, shadowy influences and political suppression.
Those interested in justice for Palestinians (and other colonized peoples) can pursue different values. Ask department heads, deans and provosts on your campus to release statements reaffirming our right to criticize Israel (or any other state) and disavowing public blacklists as anathema to pedagogical custom, scholarly interchange and academic freedom.
Given the history of successful Zionist meddling in campus affairs, administrative silence can rightly be seen as a form of tacit approval. Zionists who meddle certainly view it that way.
University administrators love discussing their devotion to open inquiry, campus safety and principles of community. It should therefore be a no-brainer for such noble characters to vocally oppose efforts to harm their own faculty and students.
Anonymous known entities
Websites that profile leftists raise interesting questions about the role of anonymity in public debate. The proprietors of Canary Mission, for example, aim to publicize individuals (often with outlandish hyperbole) but insist on remaining anonymous.
Canary Mission has been linked to the far-right, pro-Israel and anti-Muslim demagogue Daniel Pipes and other pro-Israel organizations and individuals, but no one has explicitly taken responsibility for it.
The obvious takeaway is that those proprietors are cowards and hypocrites. But we do well to move beyond the obvious and consider broader structures of power.
No matter how much they protest to the contrary, the basis of sites like Canary Mission is defamation. They identify sentient individuals and then transform them into fixed, sortable profiles.
The individuals are embellished and manipulated into sensationalized political objects under constant scrutiny, a type of surveillance, really. The content of the profiles can change, but the aspersions they generate are permanent. Anonymity entails a lack of personal accountability.
The supporter of justice in Palestine can be named, but the accuser purports to occupy a universal position of virtue that requires no identification.
Anonymity, then, is an implicit profession of establishmentarian principles. The colonial state makes it a point to name those who challenge it.
Targets of Canary Mission harassment needn’t attempt to out the precise individuals behind the site, though for journalists it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor.
Their individual identities matter less than their collective performance of colonial violence. Anonymity is the perfect symbol of their adamant commitment to dehumanization.
Upon being targeted for recrimination, think about an ethical disinvestment from those who want to cause you harm.
Canary Mission’s proprietors are clearly terrible people, so accept the occasion to distance yourself from the organization in the concrete.
When Palestine is liberated, we want it to be better than Israel.
The very basis of our activism is creating something more just and humane than the Zionist state and its corollaries.
We can perform that desire by enacting an ethics of democracy and empathy. Doing so is a rebuke of those accustomed to getting their way through insult and intimidation.
It is also a reaffirmation of the values that led us to decolonial politics. In other words, as unpleasant as it is, getting attacked by Zionists is an opportunity to become an even better activist, scholar, and community member.
It’s a reminder to be mindful of not reproducing in our own communities the techniques and strategies central to Zionist organizing, which thrives on authoritarianism and coercion.
The very notion of a free Palestine is useless if we can’t model integrity and generosity in the communities that prefigure its liberation.
Canary Mission isn’t a threat to Palestine activism.
By trying to stifle individuals who represent a movement, the organization merely amplifies its own weakness in the presence of ideas. It is fully in our power to make this work more satisfying than dangerous.
What to do if you’re profiled on Canary Mission?
The same thing that got you noticed in the first place, of course: criticize the hell out of Israel.