On Monday, Feb. 28, we, members of Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP), along with the campus community, held a rally to deliver the signatures on our petition to stop the sale of Sabra products at Swarthmore College due to Sabra’s parent corporation’s monetary support for the Golani Brigade. Since the launch of our petition three months ago, we have received 753 student signatures and over 100 more signatures from faculty, staff, alum, and parents. At this recent rally, one student began filming the student speakers. Another student asked him to stop, explaining that in the past pro-Palestine activists at Swarthmore have been doxxed, blacklisted, and harassed online. He refused and did not clarify his reasons for filming. Regardless of his intentions, the recent history of harassment and intimidation makes his choice to continue filming after being asked to stop troubling and antagonistic. In response, more than half of the attendees of the rally formed a barrier in front of the student that was filming to prevent his view of the speakers.
Why do we feel so strongly about being filmed at rallies? In 2020, after a semester of contentious pro-Palestine protests on campus, several members of SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and even the Student Government Organization (SGO) were doxxed on a website called Canary Mission — and many of these profiles were built using digital surveillance. The website functions as a blacklist for pro-Palestine activists, aiming to intimidate them into silence by plastering their faces, their names, screenshots from their social media accounts, and other identifying information online and by tying activism to accusations of antisemitism. The site also claims, without any proof, that students have connections to terrorism and terrorist groups. Canary Mission’s consequences extend beyond the intimidation of digital surveillance: a profile remains on the website long after students graduate and can affect employment opportunities. Additionally, Canary Mission profiles are sometimes used to determine who can enter occupied Palestine, which carries serious consequences for Palestinian immigrants and those with family in Palestine. In some cases, college professors have been put on academic leave, students have been denied bank accounts, and many have received death threats, according to an examination of thousands of Canary Mission profiles conducted by the advocacy group Palestine Legal. In other instances, these profiles have even been used by the FBI and police in racially motivated investigations, and the group regularly tags the FBI in social media posts.
Our rally’s attendees understood the potential consequences of recording the speakers when they formed a barrier around the student who was filming. We do not film at our own rallies, and we ask all who attend not to film — not because we are necessarily concerned about what those students might do with the video but because of what might happen once the video is circulating online. In the past, SJP would livestream our rallies on Facebook, but we stopped after those livestreams were used in Canary Mission profiles. Students have also faced other kinds of digital intimidation. Anonymous Twitter users with thousands of followers have posted the names of students quoted or on video in support of SJP or JVP as well as the exact time and location of meetings where SGO senators were planning to debate the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement and encouraged random members of the public to show up at these meetings.
This is the reality of advocating for Palestinian human rights at Swarthmore and across the United States. Although they pale in comparison to the violence and repression faced by Palestinian activists in occupied Palestine, these tactics share the end goal of upholding an illegal occupation. We know that the goals of Canary Mission and their allies are to intimidate and silence activists. Despite this intimidation, we are committed to the Ban Sabra campaign, to our larger mission of solidarity with the liberation of Palestine, and to protecting the students who support the movement.
We question the students, past and present, who have utilized intimidation tactics and whose actions have led our peers to be placed on websites like Canary Mission. We hope these students can see past their political beliefs and find compassion for their peers whose lives are affected by their actions. We question why President Smith, who, in the past, has affirmed students’ right to protest, has never commented on the digital intimidation tactics that have threatened both that right and student safety for years. We are grateful for our allies who stood with us on Monday to protect our speakers from being filmed and for all the students, both currently and previously involved with SJP, who have fought for justice and dignity in the face of repression and intimidation. We know that these tactics are designed to silence pro-Palestinian activism, but that will not silence us. As we showed on Monday with our rally and as we showed with the hundreds of signatures on our petition, there is broad student support for our campaign. But it is more than just individual signatures: together we have built a network of solidarity, and we understand our responsibility to protect each other in our pursuit of advocating for Palestinian liberation. We will not stop until Palestine is free.
Thank you SJP for your tireless activism. I am disgusted that students try to harm other students like this. shameful.