The boldface, all-caps headline on Canary Mission’s homepage says: IF YOU'RE RACIST, THE WORLD SHOULD KNOW. Specifically, it's targeting those it believes to be anti-Semitic.
Imagine Sophie Hurwitz's shock to discover her name and face on the shadowy, anonymous site. Hurwitz is a sophomore at Wellesley College and a graduate of John Burroughs School. She is Jewish and very involved in her Jewish community. She is also an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights.
A friend contacted her to tell her that her name and photo were listed on Canary Mission. Sure enough, there was her photo and personal information among dossiers on student activists, professors and organizations that support Palestinian rights. The site claims to have sent names of listed students to prospective employers. The blacklist is designed to intimidate students and faculty members and prevent them from criticizing American policies about Israel.
"I was pretty freaked out," she said. "Strangers on the internet are being fed lies about me." She was most worried about becoming isolated from her Jewish community and wondered if she could pursue legal action. She was included on the site for the "crime" of speaking publicly about why she would refuse to accept a Birthright Israel trip, a free 10-day trip offered by a not-for-profit educational organization to all American Jews ages 18 to 32. Hurwitz said the trips are one-sided propaganda tools used to justify the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and abuse of Palestinians.
In fact, it's her deeply rooted faith in Jewish values that compels her to speak out for equal rights and justice. She's a member of Jewish Voices for Peace and has a fellowship with the Jewish Women's Archive, a nonprofit historical organization. She says she's luckier than other students doxxed by the site since her employment has not been affected.
She heard about one young man who legally changed his name after being blacklisted. He was worried about his application to medical schools. Others have had to delete all their social media accounts after getting harassed and being told to kill themselves.
"It's a deliberate attempt to shut down dialogue on Palestinian issues," she said.
Canary Mission is not the only shadowy group online attempting to intimidate and silence college students. It's not the only organized effort that wants to equate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.
Shaadie Ali, of Madison, Wisconsin, graduated last year from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in geological engineering and geology. His name and photo appeared on the site after he attended a conference in 2017 on Students for Justice in Palestine. He did not speak at the conference.
"I was pretty shocked and freaked out and scared," he said. He was thinking about applying to law school and looking for jobs. The doxxing sites know how to use search engine optimization, so its listing is one of the first results on a student's name. His grandparents and uncles live in the West Bank, and he is afraid the Israeli government will deny him entry based on his name being on the anonymous site.
He, like Hurwitz, figured they would be fighting an expensive and losing battle to try to get their names removed.
"I'm going to let my actions speak for myself," Hurwitz said. "I try really hard to fight for what I believe in," she said. "I love being Jewish. I love my Jewish community. I love my people."
She was heartbroken that this personal attack came from within that same community. "The Jewish community can and should be better than this," she said. "I'm working toward that."
Recently, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar rightly apologized for tweeting that U.S. support for pro-Israeli policies is "all about the Benjamins." Her tweet played into centuries of conspiracy theories about Jewish money corrupting Western politics, and she needed to become more aware of the damage in perpetuating these tropes. There are ways to argue for more just treatment in the Middle East without resorting to anti-Semitism.
It's also wrong to conflate any criticism of Israel, like Hurwitz's rejection of the Birthright trip or Ali's attendance at a conference, with anti-Semitism. And unlike an elected public official, these are students who face threats and loss of career opportunities. For all the conversation about conservative free speech being stifled on campuses and conservative students feeling unsafe about sharing their views, where is the chorus of voices condemning the shady tactics used by Canary Mission?
"A lot of people who hand-wring about free speech, they don't really care about this," Ali said. "Where were they when I got doxxed?"