Amid the polarization of America today is a growing split in the Jewish community with many youngsters critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians while their elders say such protests are harmful to Israel. In response some have joined a “Canary Mission” that maintains profiles of especially troublesome critics and, like the bird song in the coal mine, warns of the danger ahead if present trends continue. A few have even donned a canary suit to make their point.
They are particularly concerned with the spread of the BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel – that is popular on some college campuses as a way of changing Israeli behavior. The Canary website describes students involved as “anti-Semitic and anti-American radicals waving Palestinian flags and screaming “apartheid” and “Murderer.” We are dedicated to documenting these acts of hate, exposing them and holding these individuals accountable.” So far, Canary has assembled over 2,000 profiles of offenders whose jobs and careers can be followed in the years ahead.
A current example is Lara Kollab, a recent medical school graduate and supporter of BDS who is quoted as saying Israel is like Nazi Germany and Jews should have their immune cells killed. When this was revealed, she lost her residency at the Cleveland, Ohio, Clinic. Entering Israel can be a problem for those targeted. Columbia University professor Katherine Franke, planning to visit Israeli and Palestinian graduate students, was held up at the Tel Aviv airport by officials who said Canary accused her of promoting BDS. She was detained for fourteen hours and then banned from ever returning to Israel.
There’s no question serious anti-Semitic remarks are disclosed by the Canary, but the Jewish magazine, “The Forward,” reports a number of examples to the contrary. Ari Kaplan, a student at New York University, was accused of “demonizing Israel at a Jewish event.” In fact, he had criticized President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. He says in some bewilderment: “It’s really weird when they’re trying to have someone who looks like me as the face of anti-Semitism.”
Critics of Canary mainly say it’s a violation of free speech. Beyond that they question its effectiveness. An atmosphere of suspicion doesn’t lead to meaningful debate. Tilly Shames of the University of Michigan says Canary has “created greater mistrust and exclusion of pro-Israel students who are assumed to be involved in Canary Mission or sharing information when they are not.” A report of the Alliance for Academic Freedom acknowledges some hostility toward pro-Israel Jewish students but denies that “a wave of hatred is sweeping over our campuses. The alarmist rhetoric seems designed to justify the extremist tactics the website employs.”
With ample support from Jewish foundations, Canary is undeterred. In the Algemeiner newspaper, Edwin Black writes that “Canary Mission has arguably proved itself the single most effective effort against BDS and hate speech. A generation from now, how will historians judge those who acted to defend against anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bigotry?” That remains to be seen. The battle is joined between pro and anti-Canary. The Jewish people will determine the outcome.