Canary Mission is one of Twitterland’s favorite new topics. The organization, which publicizes the names and photos of “pro-Palestinian” students and activists aims to “expose individuals and groups that are anti-Freedom, anti-American and anti-Semitic to protect our democratic values.”
Though it includes non-student activists and organizations, the original idea for the website, according to the group’s About page, is to provide “prospective employers” with the names of students involved in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement and prominent American campus organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), to ensure that “today’s radicals don’t become tomorrow’s employees.”
The (unintentional) comedic effect of the website comes in the form of its so-called groundbreaking exposure of organizations and media outlets that have actually always been openly pro-Palestine like, BDS, SJP, the website Electronic Intifada, and the End the Occupation campaign. They also out little-known groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, just in case anyone was still on the fence about where their loyalties lie in the Israel-Palestine debate.
Less comical, however, is the organization’s insistence that young Americans associated with peaceful pro-Palestinian advocacy – including those urging their universities to participate in the BDS movement – are unpatriotic, “anti-American” and “anti-Freedom.” Putting aside the irony inherent in calling pro-Palestinian work “anti-Freedom,” the notion that one’s nationality is contingent upon one’s views about an international conflict is quite disturbing.
Without a doubt, the demonization of free speech is a worthy cause to fight back against, particularly when the defamation is aimed at students working peacefully in defense of human rights. We should not, however, limit our support for these students and activists to free speech issues alone. What they are fighting for, and what we should be fighting for in defending their activism, is an end to the constant and daily economic oppression suffered by Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
A 2013 report from the Sharek Youth Forum, the largest Palestinian civil society organization for youth, found that more than one third of Palestinians in the occupied territories aged fifteen to thirty are unemployed, with the highest unemployment rate among young people with university degrees – nearly half of these graduates are unemployed. The PCBS (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics) reports that nearly one quarter of Palestinian youth are classified as poor.
Economic disempowerment is among many forms of abuse suffered by Palestinian communities in the OPT. A maze of checkpoints prevent Palestinians from traveling within the Territories for work, commerce, and a host of otherwise mundane activities. In 2013, the World Bank projected that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian irrigation and crop exports cost the Palestinian economy US$704 million per year. Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley told Human Rights Watch in April 2015 that “Israeli controls over their access to water limited the ability of Palestinians to engage in profitable agricultural activity.”
The students targeted by Canary Mission deserve support, but calls for them to receive a fair shot at employment – and for the defamation to cease – need to be linked to calls for justice in Palestine. Often to their dismay, Western activists regularly become the main characters of their advocacy on behalf of oppressed communities. Pro-palestine students are not trying to draw attention to themselves, but rather to the cause to which they are dedicated. By coupling our support for these activists with calls for human rights in Palestine, we can better serve the causes of both free speech globally and justice in Palestine.