Borderline Tactics The Troubling Spread o Canary Mission
Last December, Andrew Kadi flew to Israel to visit his mother. As he walked through Ben Gurion Airport, officials pulled him aside and said that the security services wanted to speak with him.
Kadi is among the leaders of a major pro-Palestinian advocacy group, and border authorities always question him when he travels to Israel to see his family. This time, however, something was dierent.
During his second of what ended up being three interrogations, spanning more than eight hours, Kadi realized that much of what the interrogator knew about him had come from Canary Mission, an anonymously run online blacklist that tries to frighten pro-Palestinian students and activists into silence by posting dossiers on their politics and personal lives.
Kadi’s interrogator asked question after question about organizations listed on his Canary Mission profile. A pro-Palestinian organization that Kadi had been involved with but wasn’t listed on his Canary Mission profile went unmentioned. Hours later, a third interrogator confirmed what Kadi had suspected: They were looking at his Canary Mission profile.
Canary Mission has said since it went live in that it seeks to keep pro-Palestinian student activists from getting work after college. Yet in recent months, the threat it poses to college students and other activists has grown far more severe.
The site, which is applauded by some pro-Israel advocates for harassing hardcore activists, is now being used as an intelligence source on thousands of students and academics by Israeli ocials with immense power over people’s lives.
Rumors of the border control ocers’ use of the dossiers is keeping both Jewish and Palestinian activists from visiting relatives in Israel and the West Bank, and pro-Palestinian students say they are hesitant to express their views for fear of being unable to travel to see family.
Meanwhile, back on campus, proIsrael students are facing suspicion of colluding with Canary Mission. The students, and not the operatives and donors who run Canary Mission from behind a veil of anonymity, are taking the blame for the site’s work.
Canary Mission’s pro iles, of which there are now more than ,, can run for thousands of words. They consist of information about the activist, including photographs and screenshots, cobbled together from the internet and social media, along with descriptions of the groups with which they are aliated.
The phrase “If you’re a racist, the world should know,” appears on the top of each page on the site.
In addition to the thousands of profiles of pro-Palestinian students and professors, Canary Mission has added
a smattering of profiles of prominent white supremacists, including members of Identity Evropa and a handful of others.
The site’s profiles appear to be based entirely on open source intelligence that could be gathered by anyone with a computer. But the researchers are thorough, and some of what they post is exceptionally personal. Canary Mission’s profile of Esther Tszayg, a junior at Stanford University whose profile went online in May, includes two photographs of her as a young child and one taken for a campus fashion magazine.
“It feels pretty awful and I really wish I wasn’t on that website,” said Tszayg, the president of Stanford’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-Palestinian group.
Canary Mission’s profile of Rose Asaf, a leader of the local chapter of JVP at New York University, includes nearly photographs of her and screenshots of her social media activities. It went online in November , when she was a college junior.
Liz Jackson, a sta attorney at the legal advocacy group Palestine Legal, said that she was aware of one case in which Canary Mission posted old photographs a student had deleted a year before. The student believes that Canary Mission had been tracking her for over a year before it posted her profile.
Some of what Canary Mission captures is genuinely troubling, including anti-Semitic social media posts by college students. But often, the eye-catching charges it makes against its subjects don’t quite add up. A profile of a NYU freshman named Ari Kaplan charges him with “demonizing Israel at a Jewish event.” In fact, he had stood up at a Hillel dinner to make an announcement that was critical of President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
“It’s really weird when they’re trying to have someone who looks like me [as] the face of anti-Semitism,” Kaplan said, joking that he looks stereotypically Jewish.
It’s these pro iles that Israeli border control ocers were looking at when they interrogated Kadi, who is in his s and is a member of the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Kadi is a U.S. citizen, but his mother and her family are Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Kadi’s case is not unique. In April, before deporting the Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke and telling her she would be banned from the country permanently, an Israeli border control ocer showed her something on his phone that she says she is “% sure” was her Canary Mission profile.
The ocer, Franke said, had accused her of traveling to Israel to “promote BDS.” When she said that wasn’t true, the ocer accused her of lying, saying she was a “leader” of JVP. He held up the screen of his phone, which appeared to show her Canary Mission profile, and told her, “See, I know you’re lying.”
Franke, who had previously sat on JVP’s academic advisory council steering committee but at that time had no formal role with the group, told the ocer she was not on JVP’s sta. The ocer deported her anyway.
“Canary Mission information is often neither reliable, nor complete, nor up to date,” said Israeli human rights attorney Emily Schaeer Omer-Man, who represents activists and human