Against Canary Mission: Statement Condemning the Blacklisting of pro-BDS Student Activists

A milestone in the global BDS and Palestine solidarity movement was achieved in the last screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-8-58-33-amweek of September 2016 when more than 1,000 University faculty across the world signed a published petition condemning the Islamophobic, racist and sexist website Canary Mission:

As reported previously on the MLAboycott website in August, Canary Mission is an anonymous on-line website dedicated to smearing, blacklisting and harassing Palestine solidarity activists.

As of this writing, more than 500 University students, and more than 50 Professors, including many who are members of the Modern Language Association, have been “profiled” by Canary Mission.  The site explicitly states its intention of discouraging employers from hiring student activists once they graduate.  Canary Mission tactics include “tweeting” messages to employers where advocates for Palestinian civil rights, or BDS, may work accusing students of anti-semitism or Islamophobia.

The letter and petition condemning Canary Mission published this week was undertaken by a grassroots coalition of students, professors, and BDS activists.  The statement was specifically intended to discourage Universities from using Canary Mission as a source for evaluating applicants for graduate study.  The petition stated:

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.

Signatories to the petition included members of the Modern Language Association Paul Lauter, Trinity College; David Palumbo-Liu, Stanford University; David Lloyd, University of California Riverside; Rosaura Sanchez, University of California-San Diego; Alex Lubin, University of New Mexico; Barbara Foley, Rutgers University; Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt University and Gayatri Spivak, Columbia University.  Other prominent signatories including Robin D.G. Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History & Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History; Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of Law, Princeton; and Marc Lamont-Hill, Distinguished Professor of African-American Studies, Morehouse College.

Canary Mission emerged in February, 2015 primarily to try to combat the widespread effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel on college and University campuses.  Since 2013, the Association of Asian American Studies, American Studies Association, National Women’s Studies Association, National Association of Chicano/a Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies Association and several other academic organizations have all passed resolutions to boycott Israeli Universities.

Canary Mission’s targeting of students is a direct response to the emergence of more than 200 Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, which have often led the fight for passage of dozens of student government resolutions in support of boycott or divestment from Israel.  The tactics used against students have been particularly vicious. For example, more than 30 times Canary has “tweeted” messages to employers, including Harvard and Bank of America. Canary Mission has also tweeted at the FBI.

Canary Mission has profiled more than 500 students; a disproportionate number of them are Muslims or Palestinians.  A survey of students profiled on Canary Mission website revealed that Palestinian students in particular worried that material on Canary Mission could make it harder for them to return to Palestine.  As reported by Sofia Arias and Sumaya Awad in Socialist Worker, one former student and Palestine solidarity activist described her reaction to seeing her Canary Mission profile this way:

As a non-citizen and a recent graduate, I knew my future was threatened by this ominous and libelous website labeling me a “terrorist threat.” Work I am proud of was maliciously presented, distorted and maligned. Taking a stand against oppression, violations of international law, inhuman conditions and an end to apartheid was labeled as a sign of sympathy with terrorists.

The setup of the site also allows contributors to help sustain the efforts to suppress Palestinian activists while being guaranteed protection by the anonymity of the site.

Another another student quoted in the Electronic Intifada similarly noted:

Canary Mission was created to make students like me feel atomized and threatened, to push us away from activism, to make it difficult for students to mobilize.

Though I was timid about speaking up, faced with the threat of giving the site more ammunition to use against me, I realized that Canary Mission will continue to grow as more and more people support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian freedom.

Only through activism and continuous, collective struggle against this site and other blacklists, whether they target Muslims or BlackLivesMatter activists, can these tactics of intimidation and harassment be stopped.

University of Hawaii Professor and MLA member Cindy Franklin, who helped to author the petition, told the Electronic Intifada the statement against Canary Mission is “a reassurance to students that faculty have their back on this.”

“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 said.

The AgainstCanaryMission petition follows the condemnation of the on-line website by Hank Reichmann, Professor of History at California State University East Bay, and chair of the Association of American University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, who called Canary Mission a “blacklist, pure and simple.  It echoes the long-discredited and horrific blacklists of the McCarthy era”

More importantly, the petition represents a blow to efforts by pro-Israel supporters to resort to ad hominem, personal, slanderous, and anonymous attacks against supporters of Palestinian civil rights and BDS.  The mass support for the petition represents another tipping point in the defense of academic freedom, free speech, and the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israeli universities.

Supporters of the MLA resolution to boycott are encouraged to sign the petition if they have not do so already and circulate it widely.

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