Canary Mission’s Veil of Anonymity Pierced

Canary Mission, the now infamous and anonymous website that blacklists and harasses activists who support Palestinian rights, has over 2,300 profiles of students and professors smearing them for their human rights advocacy. On Twitter, Canary Mission tags students’ employers, graduate school administrators and even the FBI with the explicit intent of ruining career prospects and reputations.

Recently, there have been significant revelations that pierce the site’s veil of anonymity. The Grayzone Project and Electronic Intifada have revealed information about the owner of the Canary Mission website domain and a likely funder of the inflammatory projects.

Last week, the Grayzone Project identified the owner of Canary Mission’s domain name as Howard Davis Sterling, a little known “wealthy lawyer who is a fervent supporter of Israel.” And this week, Electronic Intifada published segments from a censored Al Jazeera film in which a former employee of The Israel Project names Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American real estate investor, as the funder of Canary Mission. Milstein has since denied that he or his foundation directly fund the website.

Milstein has a history of using his vast real-estate wealth to smear Palestine activists. In 2014, Milstein interfered in student elections at UCLA by funneling money through Hillel to elect anti-BDS candidates. His foundation, The Milstein Family Fund, supports a number of right-wing Israel advocacy groups that have been active in attacking Palestine advocates on college campuses, including StandWithUs, Students Supporting Israel, The Israel Project and the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC).

Milstein is heard echoing Canary Mission’s strategy in the undercover footage:  

We need to expose what [activists] really are. And we need to expose the fact that they are anti everything we believe in. And we need to put them on the run. We’re doing it by exposing who they are and what they are … Not just anti-Semites, it’s too simple. We need to present them for what they really are. They’re anti-freedom, they’re anti-Christian.

 Screenshot from the Al Jazeera  footage . 

Screenshot from the Al Jazeera footage

The footage also reveals the connection between the ICC and Canary Mission when the ICC’s Executive Director is filmed saying, “Canary Mission is highly, highly effective to the extent that we monitor the Students for Justice in Palestine and their allies,” and noting that “we do it securely and anonymously and that’s the key.”

A third report into the growing anonymous efforts to investigate and intimidate Palestine activists, by the Forward, has described the ICC as overseeing “a large-scale political intelligence operation, surveilling BDS activity on campuses with the help of “a flashy intelligence apparatus, complete with a D.C. ‘war room’ with walls covered in computer screens.” ICC “boasts of ‘up-to-the-minute tracking of Israel-related activity at colleges and universities.’”

These reports indicate, at the least, close cooperation between Canary Mission and ICC, which “has operatives on the ground on campuses across the country in the form of student fellows, who receive a stipend for their work” and are “tasked with gathering information about their fellow students and reporting back about who the influential players are in the campus BDS scene.”

Palestine Legal has received many reports from students whose Canary Mission profiles were posted soon after they were publicly engaged in actions or campaigns on campus.

We have also tracked the impact of these anonymous attacks, which have resulted in students visited by the FBI, denied entry by Israeli authorities into Palestine based on their Canary Mission profiles, and in a strong chilling effect on their campus activism.

The ICC Director is heard in the film boasting of Canary Mission’s effect on Palestine activists, saying, “‘they either shut down or they spend time responding to it and investigating it, which is time they can’t spend attacking Israel. That’s incredibly effective.’”

The Al Jazeera footage also catches ICC’s director admitting that it shares its “operations and intelligence brief” with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which has been funding and dictating similar strategies to attack the movement for Palestinian rights.

Palestine Legal continues to consult with individuals attacked by Canary Mission and other Israel advocacy groups about their legal and other options, and to document the effect of these tactics. Tell us how Canary Mission has affected you here.