UC Davis community members denounce website, which has doxed thousands of individuals
Canary Mission, a website and social media initiative, recently posted the pictures and personal and professional information of a number of UC Davis professors and students, including English Professor Margaret Ferguson and Jewish studies Professor David Biale.
Canary Mission, which has been the subject of widespread backlash and condemnation from a number of groups, has effectively doxed over 2,000 students and 500 professors for any critique of Israel. The group equates any form of what is perceived as anti-Zionism, including support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, with anti-Semitism and racism.
In 2016, the national group Jewish Voice for Peace posted a letter signed by over 1,000 university faculty members condemning the website “as an effort to intimidate and blacklist students and faculty who stand for justice for Palestinians.”
Biale, a Jewish studies professor and the author of over 10 books on Jewish history, explained his perception of Canary Mission.
“It’s essentially a spying operation they run on college campuses, to police faculty if they don’t agree with their views and to post them on their website,” Biale said. “As far as that goes, they have as much right to the first amendment to anyone else.”
At the end of last school year, ASUCD passed a resolution condemning Canary Mission, with joint support from the Muslim Student Association, which authored the resolution, and Aggies for Israel. Dozens of students filled the Mee Room where Senate meetings are held, and so many students showed up to denounce the group that dozens more crowded the halls.
The resolution cites the operation of watchlists like Canary Mission as a threat to “the security of student activists” which creates “a toxic atmosphere of fear and paranoia among fellow students, thus infringing upon students’ ability to freely express their opinions.”
Dana Topousis, UC Davis’ chief marketing and communications officer, responded to the posting of personal information of university faculty members and students.
“We recognize and empathize with the concerns being expressed by all members of our campus community about the postings,” Topousis said. “The campus has various resources available to support members of our community who wish to discuss their concerns and perspectives related to the postings.”
A recent op-ed published in The Aggie and penned by Adnan Perwez, the former president of the Muslim Student Association, spoke to the importance of university-led action.
“Holding our university administrators accountable, asking them to protect our rights and ensuring that Canary Mission cannot continue campus-wide surveillance is the least we deserve for fighting for the truth to prevail,” Perwez said in the piece.
Canary Mission has uploaded political and personal information for individuals from hundreds of universities nationwide — including six UC campuses. The website’s header, and the top of every individual’s profile, reads “IF YOU’RE RACIST, THE WORLD SHOULD KNOW.”
Individual profiles include a person’s picture, full name and the actions they have committed — including any protest of Israel’s policies or challenges to Israel’s authority.
In communication with The California Aggie, Canary Mission reiterated that any boycott of Israel is racist against Jews.
“Canary Mission is solely concerned with anti-Semitism,” an official from the organization said in an email. “Boycotting Israel is anti-Semitic. BDS is anti-Semitic.”
At press time, Canary Mission did not provide the name of the official drafting the group’s statements.
Furthermore, the group said it is “motivated by a desire to combat the rise in anti-Semitism” on college campuses.
The website has been condemned as an Islamophobic blacklist, meant to stifle job opportunities or prevent travel access. While some on the website have been revealed to have used Jewish slurs, many have simply engaged in varying levels of critique.
Biale found fault in Canary Mission’s tactics of casting a wide net — grouping together those who criticize Israel with those who call for complete dissolvement of Israel as a state and those who use anti-Semitic slurs.
Biale and others said it is inaccurate to associate the most extreme positions of anti-Semitism with more moderate advocacy for Palestinian freedom.
“These Canary Mission people are not interested in nuance,” he said. “If you look at the people listed, there’s a lot of people who are very hostile to the state of Israel. People like me don’t fall in that category. I am a Zionist, [however] I disagree with certain policies of the government of Israel and I’m not embarrassed.”
A Canary Mission official claimed that Biale’s support of the BDS movement is anti-Semitic — “Fighting anti-Semitism is a universal value that must be supported by the left and right.”
Biale said that he did not have an inherent problem with listing his public views on the website. However, some of the information regarding his support and actions on Canary Mission is inaccurate, he said.
“The problem is, there’s pretty persuasive evidence that Israel is using this website to block people from entering the state of Israel,” Biale said. “The ministry of strategic affairs, they evidently have very close ties to Canary Mission.”
Russell Thomas, a fourth-year gender and sexualities major, and Madison Deluca, a UC Davis alumna, have had their information posted on the website. The two said the most dangerous aspect of Canary Mission is its production of an online database which could be used by Israel’s government to restrict travel access.
The profiles of Thomas and Deluca list information about their respective associations with UC Davis’ chapter of the group Students for Justice in Palestine — including a detailed list of all events organized by SJP the two participated in — and support of the BDS movement.
Both Thomas and Deluca’s pages includes screenshots of their personal social media accounts, places of employment, majors at UC Davis and personal images.
“We did not lose anything from being doxxed,” Deluca and Thomas wrote in a joint statement. “It was a gross invasion of privacy, being blasted on a social media platform like that, but fundamentally we didn’t lose anything. We are more worried about the folks who have family in Occupied territories.”
UC Davis English Professor Margaret Ferguson had also been profiled by Canary Mission. In February of this year, she co-wrote an article arguing that “educators need to denounce the smear tactics of Canary Mission.”
“Canary Mission is a scurrilous organization,” Ferguson said. “The very fact that they keep their funding hidden should alert us to be skeptical about their claims. They are eager to hurt undergraduates seeking jobs and they have no respect whatsoever for academic freedom.”
When the group was asked about funding — and Israeli departments such as the Ministry of Strategic Defense using Canary Mission to deny entry — a response sent by the group to The Aggie stated they have “no connection to the Israeli government.”
The group claims that any funds come through “supporters of our mission to fight anti-Semitism [who] donate through our website.”
Canary Mission did not deny that the personal information posted on its website had been used by the Israeli government or military.
“Individuals, journalists or organizations are free to use our material as they wish,” the group wrote.
Danielle Smith, a media correspondent for the UC Office of the President, did not respond to questions of how campuses should respond to the website, or whether the UC has a position on Canary Mission.
“UC has not received any requests for information from this organization,” Smith said. “All of the information on their website appears to come from social media accounts and other public websites.”
Written by: Aaron Liss — firstname.lastname@example.org