An unidentified group has launched a website profiling people mainly living in the US who are linked with pro-Palestinian student groups on American campuses, in a bid to sabotage their future job prospects, a move described by one prominent group as “McCarthyite”.
Canary Mission, which went live in mid-May, started mainly identifying students and professors by publishing their names and photos, as well as sometimes their universities and majors – at times even linking to their social media profiles.
Fifty-five individuals have been identified, in addition to 12 organisations.
In a video posted on the website, the unknown group says it created the database because “college campuses are filled with anti-Semitic and anti-American radicals … a few years later, these individuals are applying for jobs within your company”.
Although the website goes to great lengths to identify pro-Palestinian activists, it does not reveal its own source of funding nor the group directly behind it.
No names of members, volunteers or donors are listed and only a generic email and an electronic subscription box are available.
The site only says it is run by students and “concerned citizens” worried about the impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS movement grows
The BDS movement is a grassroots-based Palestinian campaign that encourages groups to boycott and divest from Israel so it is pressured to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, and give equal treatment to its own Palestinian citizens.
The movement issued a statement saying the site was harassing students through repressive tactics.
“Such McCarthyite measures show … that Israel and its apologists are worried about the impact of the Palestinian-led BDS movement on mainstream opinion,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC).
Launched almost a decade ago, the BDS movement has been successful in dissuading various artists, financial institutions and companies from dealing with Israel.
“This is also part of an ongoing effort to respond to the growth and success of the BDS movement,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Occupation.
“We’re seeing it in a number of areas – even through legislation on the state and federal level.”
In recent weeks, Illinois passed legislation that prevents the state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel.
On a federal level, a “Boycott Our Enemies, Not Israel Act” was introduced in the House in March.
If passed, it would require government contractors to certify that they are not boycotting Israel.
Munayyer said BDS is a constitutionally protected, nonviolent activity.
“It’s very difficult to prevent that. [Canary Mission] can do that by trying to threaten potential job opportunities,” he said.
“It needs to be taken a bit more seriously when it crosses the libel and defamation line – legal action needs to be taken.
“But it will go down as another cowardly attempt to stymie a movement that is only growing.”
The website also includes videos and quotes by the people it targets, and includes a history of their association with BDS initiatives.
Some have called it “a new form of McCarthyism” that only serves to silence people working for a just cause.
“It’s disturbing to see that those who choose to work for a social justice cause are basically being demonised, blacklisted and essentially threatened for espousing a particular belief,” said Deanna Othman, a journalist and board member of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) in Chicago.
US-based student groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, have been active in recent years in pushing for BDS measures on campuses.
Many students and professors have called for divestment from businesses that benefit from the Israeli military occupation, but the movement has especially been strong at University of California (UC) campuses, where formal votes took place to ask that endowment funds be removed from companies that deal with the Israeli army.
So far, seven UC student bodies have approved resolutions to support divestment.
Othman said many people, including academics, have been intimidated at their workplace, or fired from their jobs, for challenging the Israeli narrative on conflict-related issues.
“There have been multiple cases of academics who have lost their positions because of their very public stances on Palestine,” she said.
“This has become a scare tactic and form of bullying but people are not going to keep quiet to appease such bullies.”