The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) today released a resource guide for college and university leaders on actions they can take to counteract a secretive, political organization called Canary Mission that uses its website to engage in defamatory attacks against college students and faculty who engage in advocacy for Palestinian rights and academic inquiry about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Exposing Canary Mission: A Resource for College and University Leaders highlights the new and dangerous risk posed by Canary Mission. Unlike pro-Israel advocacy groups that have sought for years to influence how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taught on campuses and to stifle student activism in support of Palestinian rights, the targets of Canary Mission are primarily students rather than professors, and those perpetrating its work of defamation and character assassination remain completely anonymous.
Canary Mission poses a particular threat to the future job prospects of today’s college students. Its website openly proclaims that it seeks to prevent the employment of former students it defines as “radicals.” A video on its homepage shows students demonstrating for Palestinian rights followed by shots of an older man in a suit greeting a young man in a corporate lobby while the voiceover states, “A few years later these individuals are applying for a job within your company.... Soon they will be part of your team.” The video ends with a bold headline that says, “Ensure that Todays’ Radicals are not Tomorrow’s Employees.”
“College leaders, particularly deans of student affairs, need to be aware of how insidious and harmful Canary Mission’s tactics are for their students and develop ways to protect them,” stated Zachary Lockman, chair of the North America wing of MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom. “These false, misleading and incendiary allegations about students and teachers are producing what is in effect a blacklist, reminiscent of the ’Red Scare’ and McCarthyism. This is a direct and very real threat to academic freedom and free speech on our campuses.”
Tactics employed by Canary Mission include:
- A website with profiles of nearly 2,000 individual students and faculty that feature personal information, quotes taken out of context, photos, videos, institutional affiliations, and links to friends and colleagues.
- Refusing to respond to complaints by those it targets or to remove or correct the false allegations and misstatements that appear on its website.
- Twitter trolling campaigns, linked back to the Canary Mission website.
- Constant retweeting of its attacks, often dozens of times during the course of a single day so that each attack – no matter how false or outrageous – leaves a trace on the Internet for potential employers to find.
The Committee on Academic Freedom outlines five actions that college leaders and administrators can take to counteract Canary Mission:
- Educate oneself about Canary Mission and how it subjects students and faculty to vicious and underhanded attacks that threaten their well-being and the principles of academic freedom and free speech.
- Condemn such attacks when they occur.
- Defend the campus targets of Canary Mission’s intimidation.
- Support publicly the free speech rights of students and student organizations.
- Develop effective ways to support affected students through:
- Online reputation management
- Identifying online trolls
- Alerting social media platforms when their services are used to defame students or attack academic freedom and free speech
Exposing Canary Mission: A Resource for College and University Leaders is being sent to leaders at colleges and universities across North America. A particular focus will be getting the resource to the deans of student affairs, who were named in a recent survey of university presidents as the senior staff members that they rely on most when addressing conflict between campus inclusion and free speech.
Judith Tucker, president of the Middle East Studies Association stated, “We encourage college and university administrators to take the lead in first understanding what Canary Mission is truly about and the threat it poses to the integrity of the college community and our academic freedom. We urge them to then take action to support and protect students and faculty who are under attack.”
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MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) monitors and combats threats to and violations of academic freedom in the Middle East and North Africa and in North America. Such threats and violations include governmental interference with the right of scholars to conduct research, publish their findings, teach as they see fit and travel to international scholarly meetings, as well as instances in which professors and academic researchers are harassed or persecuted for their peaceful professional or personal activities. CAF also combats efforts by organizations based outside of academia to harass and defame faculty and students, and silence discussion and advocacy about current political issues, in order to further their political agendas.
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a non-profit learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. From its inception in 1966 with 51 founding members, ME