NEW YORK—Palestine Legal confirmed today that a 2017 attempt to scare New Yorkers believed to support boycotts for Palestinian rights with bogus ‘cease and desist’ letters was the work of ex-Mossad agents. The Mossad is Israel's foreign spy agency.
The New Yorker’s Adam Entous reported on how a private Israeli intelligence firm called Psy-Group spied on supporters of Palestinian rights. “The company said that its operatives drew up lists of individuals and organizations to target,” wrote Entous.
The article profiles UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, who was targeted by Psy-Group along with eight other Palestinian rights activists.
Before expanding to California, the campaign initially targeted boycott supporters on college campuses in New York, according to the article.
One such attempt was the now-defunct blacklist website outlawbds.com, whose operatives sent dozens of fake letters threatening students, professors and grassroots activists with “legal proceedings” if they did not “cease and desist” from supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights. The New Yorker article identifies Psy-Group as the operators of the site.
“It’s scary to think that ex-Mossad agents were behind this spying,” said senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath, who advised over 30 individuals targeted by the letters. “The Mossad itself has a history of surveilling, sabotaging and assassinating Palestinian activists around the world.”
The people targeted by former Israeli intelligence agents with Psy-Group include faculty at Columbia University, New York University, multiple City University of New York (CUNY) campuses as well Black, Jewish, and Palestinian volunteers from groups such as Adalah-NY and Jewish Voice for Peace.
“It is disgraceful that professors and students in American public universities are being spied on and intimidated by the former agents of a foreign nation,” said CUNY professor Sarah Schulman, who was targeted by Psy-Group. “Fortunately, the commitment of grassroots Americans to Palestinian rights is increasing everyday, and no level of threatening covert operations can stop it.”
Though outlawbds.com and Psy-Group no longer exist, the tactics and methods they employed —anonymous blacklisting websites, fake profiles used to target or influence people, and smear campaigns—are all still in use by other anti-Palestinian groups, some of which potentially share information with the Israeli government. The largest example is the blacklist site Canary Mission, which has targeted hundreds of students and faculty who advocate for Palestinian rights.
While it is unclear what relationship Psy-Group had with active Israeli intelligence or government agencies, coordinating with a foreign government to secretly spy on people in the US may violate federal laws. The Israeli government has itself encouraged and funded such activities to covertly undermine the movement for Palestinian rights.
Activists targeted by Psy-Group and faculty at Columbia University and CUNY are available for media comments. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.