The revelation that mainstream Jewish organizations like the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco have been secretly funding Canary Mission, a widely-condemned online blacklist of students and professionals critical of Israel, pulls back the curtain on a stunning abuse of the trust and esteem placed on these groups by the Jewish communities they purport to represent.
It also speaks to a deep crisis within the US Jewish community, where unflinching support for even the worst acts of the Israeli government and its supporters from some of the community’s most mainstream organizations comes at the cost of Jewish anti-racist values and those who uphold them.
As a Jew of Color from the San Francisco Bay Area who is both active in my community and publicly critical of Israel, I’ve received everything from racist harassment to rape threats following targeting by Canary Mission.
For me, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco’s funding of this racist blacklist represents a deep and personal betrayal.
Canary Mission first surfaced in the spring of 2015 when I was working one of my first post-college jobs as a lifeguard and swim instructor at my local JCC, work that I loved because it allowed me to ensure safety in a beloved Jewish community space and pass on my passion for swimming to a diverse group of kids from my area.
Canary Mission began to attack my pro-Palestinian friends and colleagues, specifically targeting Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students publicly opposing the Israeli human rights violations impacting their lives and families. I joined a growing chorus of voices condemning the blacklist — and was promptly added to it, following threats from the Canary Mission Twitter account that they would do so.
In the months that followed I would see a spike in online harassment, including tweets calling me “monkeyblood” in reference to my African American heritage, online stalking of myself and family members, and disturbing and highly graphic rape threats. In almost every case these accounts either followed, or were followed by, Canary Mission.
I had no idea at the time that an organization tied to the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, which played a key role funding and maintaining my local JCC, would later be revealed to be funding the Canary Mission Blacklist.
Still, the cost of these mainstream Jewish organizations’ support for Canary Mission has been much higher for Palestinians on the blacklist. Students targeted by Canary Mission, which inserts itself into the top Gooogle search results of their names, have been denied everything from jobs in their prospective fields to entry into their own homeland by Israeli authorities.
Over the past year the Forward reported that Israeli border control agents turn to Canary Mission while choosing who will be able to enter under current anti-BDS laws, an act that has already resulted in activists and non-activists alike being denied entry, and in many cases, cruelly separated them from their families.
This authoritarian reach isn’t confined to Israel. In one case, a student was even reported by their school to the FBI due to claims found on a Canary Mission profile.
Canary Mission has also been tied to longstanding patterns of campus harassment of students, including a bizarre stunt where its members showed up to a student government meeting in canary costumes to intimidate members.
Far from being limited to attacking solidarity with Palestinians, today my Canary Mission page has been updated to malign and misrepresent my work addressing issues of racism and Ashkenormativity affecting Jews of Color, African Asylum seekers and other marginalized communities in Israel and the United States.
This speaks to the openly white supremacist bent of those behind the McCarthyite blacklist, for whom it is not enough to silence Palestinians and those in solidarity with them; they must also silence any conversation critical of Israel, even one in support of marginalized members of its Jewish population.
Due to the highly racialized nature of the website’s targets, and its spreading of Islamophobic and anti-Arab smears, Canary Mission can be categorized as nothing short of a hate site.
The website’s efforts at maintaining anonymity for its creators and donors indicate that all involved recognize that being connected to such a bigoted and censorious effort could be potentially damaging to their reputations.
Canary Mission has drawn condemnation from civil rights organizations and over 1,000 university professors and academics. But it maintains popularity among pro-Israel groups that see it as a successful deterrent against BDS.
While many in the Jewish community, and even some pro-Israel activists, have also rightly condemned Canary Mission, the ADL recently backtracked on statements condemning the organization as Islamophobic and racist, claiming that they also combat anti-Semitism. These and other recent revelations about Canary Mission’s backers should call into question what went into that decision.
In secretly using funds meant for the betterment of the Jewish community to support a hate group like Canary Mission, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco has betrayed our trust, and made us all complicit in this racist and McCarthyite censorship campaign.
It is only the most extreme example of a far reaching trend. Resources that should be going to support the Jewish community are instead being funneled into organizations whose sole purpose is to protect Israel from criticism, at the expense of Palestinians and many in their own Jewish communities.
Following the Forward’s reporting on their funding of Canary Mission today, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco announced that they are no longer supporting the website.
Read @jewishbayarea’s response to @jdforward’s article: https://t.co/DfyrP3BkYPpic.twitter.com/7R7Jw8hqao— Jewish Federation (@JewishBayArea) October 3, 2018
While I welcome this announcement, it’s time for all mainstream Jewish groups to stop supporting Canary Mission, both financially and rhetorically. It’s time for them to redirect their resources towards efforts that atone for both the deep harm this hate site and others like it have caused Palestinians, and the stunning betrayal of the Jewish communities they purport to represent.
Rebecca Pierce is an African-American and Jewish filmmaker, photographer and journalist. Her work highlights racial justice issues from the United States to Israeli and Palestine, with a focus on issues affecting African Asylum seekers.