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Anti-Anti-Semitic Fundamentalism

Canary Mission turns the fight against hate into a secret witchhunt

Mark Oppenheimer
May 27, 2015


There is something undeniably humorous about Canary Mission, the new website in which unnamed people accuse unknown people of unmentionable crimes. Not intentionally so, of course. The website aims to “expose individuals and groups that are anti-Freedom, anti-American, and anti-Semitic,” which The Forward made clear in an article Wednesday. To that end, it posts photographs, short biographies, and social media information of various pro-Palestinian, pro-boycotting-Israel, and anti-Zionist campus activists. You know, so they can be flamed on Twitter. Or blackballed at their McKinsey interviews.

But, if anything, the site makes pro-Israel activism—or at least anti-anti-Israel activism—look ridiculous. And it’s not just because it capitalizes “Freedom,” as if it’s a sports drink.

For one thing, Canary Mission, whose basic accusation against many of its targets is that they have shadowy funding sources and suspect connections, has shadowy funding sources and connections itself, The Forward notes. It’s not even self-respecting McCarthyism: the good senator from Appleton, Wisc., was willing to show his face.

Second, the site’s list of suspect “organizations” lumps Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood together with lefty websites like Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada, which are sometimes scurrilous, sometimes helpful, but rarely murderous. Plenty of pro-Israel journalists have occasion to read Mondoweiss (they just do so in secret, and tell their spouses they’re looking at porn).

In its short biographies of the enemies, Canary Mission seems willing to throw any day-old hummus at the wall and see what sticks. To take one example, the site repeats the charge that Northeastern University law student Max Geller once, “during a visit to the West Bank … posed for a photograph draped in bullets and holding a PK-class machine gun.” There is, it’s true, a photograph circulating of Geller with bullets around his neck; he looks like an idiot. But he denies that he was in the West Bank (he says he was in Egypt), and nobody has any proof otherwise. It’s just an urban legend. Elsewhere, the site damns Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rebecca Vilkomerson because she “writes extensively about Islamophobia and is far less vocal regarding anti-Semitism.” It’s as if she’s a premature anti-fascist.

What’s most disconcerting about Canary Mission—even more than its secret funding—is how it reveals the gap between Judaism and what passes for Zionism. In its anti-intellectualism, indifference to truth, avoidance of honest debate, resistance to subtleties, and utter lack of irony or whimsy, the text of Canary Mission reads like rank fundamentalist backwash; it’s totally alien to the best traditions of Torah, rabbinics, and secular Jewish literature. It is, of course, what one expects from political ideology of a particularly debased sort. It’s trayf, and proudly so.

Mark Oppenheimer is a Senior Editor at Tablet. He hosts the podcast Unorthodox. He has contributed to Slate and Mother Jones, among many other publications. He is the author, most recently, of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood.

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