They tried to smear me. Now I’m reclaiming my narrative

Doxing sites like Canary Mission are trying to counter growing pro-Palestinian activism on US campuses.

Sara Jawhari

As a young girl, my father warned me that speaking openly about the realities in Palestine would land a target on my back. My Palestinian identity could be weaponized against me, he said, so concealing it would keep me safe and protect my future.

He wasn’t wrong.

In July, amidst the COVID pandemic and America’s reckoning with anti-Black racism, Israel was expected to announce new plans to annex occupied Palestinian territories. Being Palestinian-American, this decision brought forth a frustratingly familiar pain, as it continues the systemic dehumanization that Palestinians have endured for decades.

As an American, I must grapple with the fact that my tax dollars fund an illegal military occupation. As a Palestinian, I live with the excruciating reality that this occupation has denied my family and ancestors the right to live freely, with dignity, since 1948.

While those in the homeland suffer directly the most egregious impact of injustice, the Palestinian diaspora is not immune. American media leans so heavily in Israel’s favor that Palestinians are often denied legitimacy, humanity and inclusion in the conversation surrounding their oppression. This is a result of systemic efforts by pro-Israel lobbyists and Zionist organizations who repress any disagreement with the occupation by using intimidation and harassment.

I have experienced the consequences of these tactics firsthand in my home state of Maryland.

In 2019, the University of Maryland’s student government debated a bill urging the university to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights.

I offered testimony at the hearing, public only to university staff and students, describing the occupation’s impact on my family and the inhumane circumstances characteristic of life in occupied Palestine. A believer in the First Amendment, I walked away with pride knowing that I had spoken my truth.

Two months after testifying, I was added to an anonymous pro-Israel doxing site called Canary Mission that targets professors, intellectuals and college students who dare to advocate for Palestinian human rights. These activists are framed as anti-Semites promoting “hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses.”

I spoke at a university meeting in support of human rights, citing only my first name, and still I got placed on a blacklisting site that intends to smear my name.

Canary Mission compiles information in a highly intrusive way using enterprise grade technology. My profile has screenshots of my pictures and social media posts, links to every single social media page I own and a propaganda-filled description of the organizations with which I’m involved.

The bottom line is that I was actively stalked for the purpose of being profiled. Now, that profile is one of the top links to appear when you Google my name.

Widely discredited and deeply problematic

Those behind the site, who do not identify themselves, clearly aim to dissuade prospective employers from hiring pro-Palestine advocates by wrongfully framing them as anti-Semitic haters of America.

Their paranoia-inducing strategy additionally strives to diminish support for Palestinian liberation, as college students might be hesitant to be vocal on this issue knowing they’ll be profiled. Even further, Israeli border patrol uses it to deny Palestinian-Americans entry to Israel and, ultimately, Palestine.

While Canary Mission is widely discredited, a blacklist linking human rights activism with anti-Semitism and hate is problematic on many levels.

First, it detracts from addressing real anti-Semitism. With white supremacy on the rise, our Jewish sisters and brothers need to be protected against hatred on all fronts. Equating Palestinian activism with anti-Semitism makes addressing hate against Jewish communities much more difficult.

Second, it creates false narratives. Being pro-Palestinian is not being anti-Jewish. Across the board, pro-Palestine activists are against the occupation of Palestine, not Jews.

There are many Jewish activists and organizations, like Jewish Voice for Peace, who are acutely pro-Palestinian. Does that make them anti-Jewish? Of course not. Being pro-Palestinian means being pro-human rights, pro-self-determination and pro-justice.

Third, doxing – publishing identifying information about someone – makes it tougher for Palestinians to speak their truth. Palestinians live with the fear that being targeted is a consequence of talking too loudly about their persecution. Blacklisting is another attempt to silence us.

It took me a long time to find the words to speak on this. Ultimately though, my need to stand for justice is stronger than any effort to silence me.

I am unapologetic about my activism. As an unequivocal believer in human rights, I stand for my Black sisters and brothers who are experiencing systemic racism, for indigenous peoples seeking equal representation under the law and, yes, for Palestinians.

Doxing human rights activists for their work to demand justice is an example of Israel’s desperate attempts to conceal the reality of Palestinian occupation. Let’s not let these blacklists determine who is good and who is evil.

As the government of Israel indiscriminately violates international law – by annexing Palestinian land, expanding illegal settlements with relative impunity, and maintaining a violent military occupation – it’s more important now than ever that we develop the courage to stand against the unjust profiling of human rights activists and speak for the truth.

Hanna Shraim is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland.