Young Jews Will Not Stand By While Major Jewish Groups Fund a Blacklist

Young Jews Will Not Stand By While Major Jewish Groups Fund a Blacklist

Young Jews Will Not Stand By While Major Jewish Groups Fund a Blacklist

The Canary Mission scandal reveals a profound failure of leadership that a rising Jewish movement will not tolerate.


It began as a trickle, then became a flood. Since The Forward‘s Josh Nathan-Kazis broke the news on October 3 that San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation funded Canary Mission, a secretive online blacklist of students and professors involved in activism in support of Palestinian human rights, additional reports have appeared almost daily of establishment Jewish organizations funneling financial support to far-right and racist groups.

We now know that not only the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation but also the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, one of the largest Jewish charities in the United States, passed funds to Canary Mission. And Israeli media confirmed what many activists and academics have long suspected: that Israeli authorities use the information published by Canary Mission to bar Americans from entering the country on the basis of their political views.

Canary Mission’s explicit purpose is to shut down campus activism in support of Palestinian human rights—by intimidating student activists, damaging their job prospects, and exacting a price for speaking out. The website compiles dossiers on individual academics and students, which, as the recent case of Lara Alqasem shows, Israeli border and police agencies then use to deny entry to visitors. Alqasem, a 22-year-old Palestinian American graduate student, had intended to begin studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem this fall and was granted a visa by the Israeli consulate in Miami. Upon her arrival in Israel on October 2, however, she was denied entry to the country because of her alleged past support for boycotts in protest of Israeli human-rights abuses—a claim made, in part, on the basis of information compiled by Canary Mission. Alqasem spent two weeks in detention at Ben Gurion airport before Israel’s Supreme Court finally ruled last week that she could enter the country.

Just as disturbing are revelations that major Jewish philanthropies—not only the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and Los Angeles Community Foundation, but also the Jewish Communal Fund of New York and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston—have also funneled money to a bevy of far-right organizations and anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States. These include the vociferously anti-Muslim Middle East Forum; the Center for Security Policy, founded by Frank Gaffney, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes”; SPLC-designated “anti-Muslim fanatic” David Horowitz; the American Freedom Defense Initiative, run by Pamela Geller, also identified by the SPLC as an “anti-Muslim extremist”; and even the work of Geert Wilders, the racist Dutch politician who has called for the Qu’ran to be banned, mosques closed, and his country’s borders sealed to Muslim immigrants.

These major Jewish philanthropies have further directed financial support to far-right groups in Israel and West Bank settlements. The Jewish Communal Fund of New York, for example, has, through donor-advised funds, sent significant sums to some of the most militant settler organizations. These include the Hebron Fund, which funds the Jewish settlement in that occupied West Bank city; Friends of Ir David and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, groups dedicated to “Judaizing” East Jerusalem by dispossessing Palestinians from their homes; and yeshivas in the settlements of Bat Ayin and Beit El—to name just a few.

Sadly, none of this should be surprising. It is far from the first time major American Jewish philanthropies have been found supporting right-wing, extremist, and settler organizations. According to a 2015 Haaretz investigation, 50 American nonprofit organizations gave over $220 million in tax-deductible donations over a five-year period to West Bank settlements and the right-wing Israeli organizations that support them. Among those organizations is the Central Fund of Israel, a New York–based charity with tax-exempt status, which has sent millions of dollars to groups that support Israeli Jews charged with terrorist acts against Palestinians. And, as a new report released by IfNotNow shows, material support for these groups is only one way members of the Jewish establishment further entrench Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; their support for unjust, violent policies goes much deeper. (Full disclosure: I am a member of IfNotNow; the group is also among the organizations that have landed on Canary Mission’s blacklist.)

Nevertheless, the recent revelations highlight just how far some members of leading Jewish organizations are willing to go to silence criticism of Israel and suppress opposition to its unjust policies towards the Palestinians. They have thrown into sharp relief these leaders’ increasingly desperate measures—harassing and spying on college students, finding common cause with hate groups and extremists—to defend an indefensible status quo in Israel-Palestine.

The willingness of some members of the Jewish establishment to endorse this kind of bigotry—and, in the case of Canary Mission, McCarthyism—is also a betrayal, stunning only in its scope, of the broader Jewish community’s trust and of the principles that most American Jews hold dear. American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, and many consider these far-right and anti-Muslim organizations, in the United States and Israel, to be dangerous hate groups, diametrically opposed to their Jewish values. And yet the institutions that claim to represent them have sent hundreds of thousands of dollars not only to groups that incite hatred and violence against Muslims and Palestinians, but also to hard-right political organizations in the United States that threaten the rights of women, LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, and others.

For many young American Jewish activists, Canary Mission has long been a threatening reminder that we—and, even more so, our non-Jewish fellow activists—are being watched, that our anti-occupation activism comes with a heavy price. Jewish establishment players’ support for Canary Mission in particular sends a message of unmistakable hostility: While we claim to represent you, we actually view you as the enemy; while we claim to want to engage you, we have no qualms about ruining your lives.

It is a profound failure of leadership as well. A Jewish communal leadership that funds the intimidation, harassment, and surveillance of student activists, intentionally exposes Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students to discrimination and retribution, and aims to damage students’ life trajectories lacks the moral legitimacy to lead. The silence of other establishment figures in response to the recent news is just as damning.

The rising generation of Jewish leaders, however, is not waiting for the current Jewish communal leadership to show the moral integrity it has so badly lacked for so long. As much of the Jewish establishment has found common cause with both the Trump and Netanyahu governments, thousands of Jews—many young, but others who have been in the trenches for years—have joined groups fighting racism and Islamophobia and working to end Israel’s brutal, half-century-old military rule of the West Bank and ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip. These Jewish activists reject the Jewish establishment’s collaboration with the Israeli government’s crackdown on dissent and peaceful resistance to Israel’s occupation and refuse to allow the violation of others’ rights to be carried out in their names.

As with so many recent political developments, the news that Jewish establishment organizations fund right-wing, anti-Muslim, and recognized hate groups presents a choice: between a discredited leadership desperately clinging to power and an emerging, diverse movement fighting for freedom and dignity for all.

The choice is clear.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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