Defend Campus Free Speech: Oppose Canary Mission’s Blacklisting of Students and Scholars

For over a year, a growing number of students and faculty have become the target of the Canary Mission (CM), a clandestine organization that is devoted to monitoring and Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 3.51.22 PMharassing anti-Zionist activists and critics of Israel on university campuses (see here and here and here and here for recent coverage).  The organization, which operates anonymously, has been linked to and endorsed by well-known defenders of Israel, such as David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes. Horowitz’s Freedom Center maintains the Discover the Network page which lists individuals, among them an odd assort of academics, on the ostensible American Left. Pipes is associated with the controversial 2002 Campus Watch blacklists. Akin to Campus Watch, which focused primarily on Middle East Studies scholars, who questioned US policy in the Bush era, Canary Mission project is both more specific and more general; it is more specific in its focus on campus critiques of Israel, but it is more general in not limiting the list to Middle East Studies scholars.

Canary Mission is nothing but a blacklist, pure and simple.

The Canary Mission database includes often slanderous information about campus groups, students and scholars who have critiqued Israel, advocated (even mildly) for Palestinian rights, or endorsed BDS, smearing them as anti-Semites, terrorist-sympathizers, and even terrorists. CM specializes in targeting students, recent graduates and those in precarious positions, and among these singling out especially Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and students of color. In doing so, the database aims to besmirch the reputations of individuals and sabotage future careers. It also poses as a threat to other students committed to Palestinian rights, but fear the consequences of having their positions made public. CM often uses “Twitter rampages”—about students (suspected BDS activists, or even those expressing negative views about Israel) to influence graduate admissions committees and potential employers. The site has already compiled a blacklist of nearly 500 students and this list is rapidly growing: in just 6 weeks this past summer 112 students were added to the list.  Students are understandably anxious, and correctly see Canary Mission as another attempt to stifle free speech on campus.

Hank Reichman, professor of History at California State University at East Bay and chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and a critic of academic boycotts, writes unequivocally of this latest assault on academic freedom:

Canary Mission is nothing but a blacklist, pure and simple.  It echoes the long-discredited and horrific blacklists of the McCarthy era. It is shockingly reminiscent of the 1950s anti-Communist newsletter Counterattack, which published the original blacklist of the entertainment industry, Red ChannelsThose identified in Red Channels were denied employment across much or all of the movie and broadcast industries unless and until they cleared their names, the customary requirement being that they testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and name names, which the vast majority refused to do.  The blacklists in those days spread as well to academia…

Canary Mission’s own website makes it clear that this is a full-on blacklist campaign:

  • The Canary Mission database was created in order to document people and groups that are promoting hatred of the USA, Israel and the Jewish people, particularly on college campuses in North America.
  • Canary Mission is run by students and concerned citizens motivated by a desire to combat the rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses. The purpose of the website is to expose those who promote lies and attacks on Israel and the Jewish people. We pursue our mission by presenting the actions and records of individuals and organizations at the vanguard of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. By shining a light on hate group members and their activities, the public will become better informed about those involved in hate movements in their communities.
  • Canary Mission believes that we all have the right to know if an individual has been affiliated with movements that seek the destruction of Israel, routinely engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, and promote hatred of Jews.
  • Canary Mission provides freely available material gathered from publicly available sources. We have organized this information in a concise and easily searchable format for the easy access of the general public and anyone interested in tracking hate movements on college campuses.

The Canary Mission is not the first or only pro-Israel campus watchdog organization of this kind. The Amcha Initiative, for example, is “dedicated to documenting and combating anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in AmericScreen Shot 2016-08-22 at 3.51.49 PMa,” and has been strongly condemned (including by many Jewish Studies scholars, who issued a statement in 2014 deploring its activities as an assault on academic freedom and also objecting to its “undiscriminating definition of anti-Semitism.”)

In recent weeks hundreds of faculty have come forward to denounce the Canary Mission as an assault on freedom of speech and the First Amendment.

As faculty who serve, have served, or are likely to serve on an admissions committee at graduate and undergraduate university programs across the country, we unequivocally assert that the Canary Mission website should not be trusted as a resource to evaluate students’ qualifications for admission. We condemn Canary Mission as an effort to intimidate and blacklist students and faculty who stand for justice for Palestinians.

We reject the McCarthyist tactics used by Canary Mission. Canary Mission’s aim is to damage these students’ futures, and to punish them for their principled human rights activism. We urge our fellow admissions faculty, as well as university administrators, prospective employers, and all others, to join us in signing below and standing against such bullying and attempts to shut down civic engagement and freedom of speech.

MLA members committed to free speech must protest the blacklisting students and scholars who have taken principled positions in solidarity with Palestinians.  Click here to sign your name to the statement in opposition to Canary Mission’s tactic of blacklisting, which has no place on university campuses.