More than 1,000 members of faculty have condemned a website that blacklists students and educators who criticize Israel.
“We reject the McCarthyist tactics used by Canary Mission,” the scholars say in a statement initiated by students.
“We urge our fellow admissions faculty, as well as university administrators, prospective employers and all others, to join us in … standing against such bullying and attempts to shut down civic engagement and freedom of speech,” the scholars add.
Its anonymous administrators contact potential employers and graduate student admissions committees, claiming that the students are engaged in anti-Semitic bigotry and sympathy towards terrorism.
The site is part of an increasing wave of tactics by right-wing groups on US campuses intending to silence criticism of Israel.
While Canary Mission’s creators hide behind anonymity, notorious Islamophobic demagogue Daniel Pipes has admitted to journalists Max Blumenthal and Julia Carmel that he knows who is responsible for the site. Pipes also acted as a go-between, conveying comments he said came from Canary Mission’s administrators to the journalists.
The statement is “a reassurance to students that faculty have their back on this,” said Cynthia Franklin, an English professor at the University of Hawai’i.
“I really think it is incumbent on faculty to stand strongly in support of students and to do that in a very visible way, especially those of us with tenure,” Franklin told The Electronic Intifada.
Franklin helped author the statement along with other scholars, students and members of Jewish Voice for Peace.
“JVP advises potential employers, university administrators and other outside parties to disregard Canary Mission because it is not a legitimate source for student or faculty recommendation or evaluation,” the group has previously said.
“Going to continue”
While some students have felt a chilling effect on their public activism after being targeted by Canary Mission, others are speaking out.
“There’s been a split between graduate students who are so appalled by the ugliness of these tactics who are willing to say, ‘we’re not going to be silenced by this’ and those who have family in Palestine who worry that they will not be able to get home,” said Franklin, who is also a member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine.
Recent graduate Sumaya Awad told The Electronic Intifada that “without any collective struggle against this site, and other blacklists that exist that are continuing to target people, this harassment and intimidation is just going to continue.”
Awad, a founding member of Students for Justice in Palestine at Williams College, told The Electronic Intifada that she faced backlash “from the very start” both by the administration and various Israel-aligned groups on campus.
“I found out I was targeted by Canary Mission midway through my senior year,” she said. “I scrolled through my profile, which very meticulously documented every single political activity I participated in at Williams and [previously] at Columbia University.”
“I was very proud of all these things I had done,” she said. “But then the very real world effects of Canary Mission started to sink in.”
The first thing that comes up on a search of her name is her Canary Mission profile, Awad said.
She added that as a visible Muslim without US citizenship, she was overcome with “constant dread” over the profile and how it could impact her student or visa status.
“It was pretty terrifying that this is the first thing that employers would see if they googled me,” Awad said, “we’re already living in a world ravaged with Islamophobia and discrimination.”
But Awad is pleased to be part of a fight back: “This is the way to combat this site and other sites of this sort … whether they are targeting Black Lives Matter activists or Muslims.”
“A threatening place”
David Lloyd, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, told The Electronic Intifada that some students have faced attacks by anonymous users of the website who have threatened them with violence and sexual assault.
“For women students in particular, this is a very threatening place to end up,” he said.
The website’s creators are “covered by their anonymity and they’re attacking people who have had the courage to speak out on a controversial issue,” Lloyd added.
“Far from repelling graduate admissions committees or potential employers, the fact of someone’s engagement with social justice issues would actually be a sign of the very qualities one wants to include in a graduate program,” Lloyd said.
As Palestine solidarity activism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement continue to gain support, Awad said that the existence of sites like Canary Mission proves that activists are creating a threat for Israel-aligned groups:
“Their fear is what’s causing them to react this way. It should be a push for us to continue the struggle forward, to continue connecting it to the different movements that already exist in the US and elsewhere.”