UC Davis students fight back against Canary Mission

UC Davis students celebrate the passage of a resolution to safeguard activism on campus. (Muslim Students Association at UC Davis)

Students at the University of California, Davis are fighting back against threats and cyberbullying by Canary Mission, a shadowy website that aims to tarnish the reputations of educators and students who speak out for Palestinian rights and compromise their future careers.

Almost 1,900 students, professors and community activists have been added to the website, according to the civil rights group Palestine Legal.

The UC Davis student senate passed a resolution on 24 May that aims to safeguard students’ right to engage in political activism.

The resolution says that Canary Mission and similar sites “threaten the security of student activists, as well as create a toxic atmosphere of fear and paranoia among fellow students, thus infringing upon students’ ability to freely express their opinions.”

It also condemns student organizations that inform on fellow students to groups like Canary Mission and denounces surveillance and intimidation on campus by police and US immigration authorities.

Although the University of California, including UC Davis, has committed to not aid or assist US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the resolution says that some student organizations have “encouraged peers in reporting undocumented classmates to ICE.”

It also notes that UC Davis “allows plainclothes police officers to operate on campus” and points out the historical collaborations between local police departments and federal agents to harass student activists.

Canary Mission apparently relies on Israel-aligned individuals to feed information on students and academics supportive of Palestinian rights to the anonymous blacklisting site.

Students targeted by the website “have reported being questioned by current and prospective employers and schools about their support for Palestinian rights” after Canary Mission tagged them on Twitter, according to Palestine Legal.

Others have been put on leave, denied bank accounts, received death threats and been denied entry to Israeli-controlled territory, the group says.

This strong condemnation of Canary Mission is the first of its kind in the US, according to the Muslim Student Association at UC Davis, the group that helped present the resolution to the student senate.

It is the first step “in abolishing the use of watch lists, plainclothes officers and ICE,” said Kauser Adenwala, a leading member of the association. “It passed unanimously simply because of the cohort of students that continuously fight the good fight.”

More than a dozen campus groups representing social justice causes and immigrant and Black communities backed the resolution, students say.

“In connecting these circuits of surveillance and policing, this diverse coalition of students has recognized the ways in which state agents collude with Zionist groups to clamp down on progressive movements,” Sunaina Maira, a professor at UC Davis, told The Electronic Intifada.

Maira is also a member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

She said she has witnessed the chilling effect that Canary Mission and other surveillance groups have had on students, especially those who are Palestinian, Arab or Muslim.

Students are afraid to participate in public protests or use their names in campaigns “for fear of blacklisting and of losing jobs or admission to graduate school,” she explained.

“Under Trump, many [left-wing] faculty and students are concerned about white supremacists, nativists, and neo-fascist groups, but we also need to challenge the role that Zionist activists play in this creeping fascism,” Maira added.

“Campaign of vilification”

Canary Mission’s “campaign of vilification” should alarm university leaders “who value academic freedom and free speech rights in their classrooms and on their campuses,” the Middle East Studies Association stated in April.

This kind of targeted harassment and intimidation can “compel vulnerable individuals to censor or silence themselves rather than speak their conscience,” the academic association added, and it could “inflict long-term damage on undergraduate students when they enter the job market.”

The association called on university administrators to actively condemn Canary Mission and other Israel lobby groups that slander and defame students and faculty.

In an effort to counteract Canary Mission’s harassment, activists have launched AgainstCanaryMission.org which celebrates Palestine solidarity activists in “a playful and humane rebuttal to the original’s bad faith intentions.”


Palestinian rights activism at UC Davis has been gaining momentum despite the harassment and intimidation.

In 2015, the student senate passed a resolution to urge the University of California to divest from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian rights.

It was the second time in five months that the senate approved the resolution. At the beginning of the year, after the senate initially passed divestment by a landslide, the student court favored a complaint by a student with strong ties to a right-wing Zionist fraternity and overturned the resolution.

A barrage of hateful, Islamophobic and racist attacks were launched against Arab and Muslim students, which students say went ignored by the university’s chancellor.

Roseanne Barr, whose revived sitcom was recently canceled by ABC due to her racist comments about a former Obama administration official, joined the attacks against Palestinian rights supporters on campus.

In 2015, Barr tweeted, “I hope all the Jews leave UC Davis and then it gets nuked!”

The previous year, the administration appeared receptive to pressure by the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Israel lobby group, to repress boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activism on campuses.

To date, eight out of nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California system have passed divestment resolutions.

Students in California, Oregon pass divestment

Meanwhile, students at California State University, East Bay voted unanimously on 23 May in favor of a resolution calling for divestment.

The measure urges university trustees to review investments and divest from any companies found to be complicit in the violation of international law in Palestine.

Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, G4S and Motorola Solutions are amongst the corporations named for their involvement in the construction of Jewish-only settlements, checkpoints and Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank.

The resolution cites the university’s mission “to effectively and responsibly represent its diverse student population and promote student welfare,” noting that many students have family who live subject to the “dangerous and inhumane” conditions of Israeli occupation.

East Bay joins CSU campuses at Long Beach and San Jose, which have both passed similar resolutions since 2015.

And at the University of Oregon in Eugene on 24 May, student senators passed a resolution by 12-6 to ensure that student funds are divested from 10 companies that profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

More than 200 students attended the debate, according to campus media.

The resolution also commits the student government not to purchase products from companies linked to Israel’s human rights abuses, including hummus makers Sabra and Tribe, technology corporations Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions, and SodaStream, Caterpillar, G4S and Elbit Systems.

“As a university, it is time that we take a stand to reject colonialist oppression in all forms – and today UO students showed that this is possible,” Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) at the University of Oregon stated.

SUPER said 30 campus organizations threw their support behind the divestment bill which it sponsored.

The university’s president responded to this broad movement with Israel lobby talking points smearing the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights as divisive.

Michael Schill called the resolution “inconsistent” with the university’s values of inclusion.

But Cressa Perloff of SUPER explained to the campus newspaper that “the university doesn’t do enough to create an inclusive environment for people of color.”

The student government voted in accordance with students’ hopes, Perloff added.




I'd like to suggest a worthy project for a team of researchers with advanced skills in computer technology. Discover and reveal to the world the identities of those persons funding and operating the poisonous site known as Canary Mission. They've made a point of never disclosing their names, as a means of spreading fear. It's time to strip the covers off these thugs and expose them for the cowards and bullies we know them to be. Let's have it all- names, employment, funding.

And congratulations to all the students who are making a difference, one resolution at a time, at American colleges and universities.

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).