Two student organizations at the University of Texas at Arlington received unwanted attention after a dossier released by the Canary Mission last week accused 24 current or former students of making anti-Semitic comments on their personal social media accounts. The Canary Mission, an anonymously run website that surfaced in 2014, describes itself as an online database that catalogues hatred against the United States, Israel, and Jewish people. The comments by the UTA students range from “Let’s stuff some Jews in the oven” to “Jesus is going to slay the Jews.” The earliest posts are from 2012.
The UTA report follows a similar dossier by the Canary Mission on the University of Houston released last month. UTA and UH are the only two schools that have attracted the attention of the Canary Mission.
The Canary Mission is “seeing a rise in anti-Semitism across U.S. campuses,” wrote a member who requested anonymity.
The group’s investigations identify a common factor contributing to the rise in anti-Semitism: “An active SJP group on campus is one of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate towards Israel and Jews,” the Canary member wrote.
Teresa Woodard Schnyder, UTA’s senior video producer, released a statement via email on Friday, Feb. 17.
“As one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, inclusion and respect are at the very core of the values of The University of Texas at Arlington,” she said. “UTA condemns statements of hate while acknowledging the principles of free speech and open expression. We welcome and encourage the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and opinions, but we also expect respect and civility from students, faculty, and staff.”
UTA will make “no additional comment,” she continued in the email statement.
On that same day, North Texas attorney Yasmine Salem Hamdan told UTA’s student newspaper, The Shorthorn, that Student Justice for Palestine “will continue to move forward as a group and clarify its stance and purpose” and that there “is nothing shameful, hateful, or anti-Semitic about organizing for Palestinian rights.”
Canary Mission’s motives and tactics have been met with criticism in the past. More than 1,000 professors have signed a petition against the group. One of them, Brian Leiter, founder of The University of Chicago Law School’s Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values, told us he signed the petition because the Canary Mission “has only one purpose, namely, to demonize anyone who does not adhere to a certain far right policy line about Israel.”
Another petition signer, Gordon Fellman, professor of sociology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., said the Canary Mission takes any criticism of the Israeli government as anti-Semitism. In an email to us, Fellman described the Israeli government’s occupation of the West Bank under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “cruel, illegal, and immoral.” He sees the Canary Mission as “another strategy for displacing the agonies and brutalities of the occupation onto its critics. I reject it and prefer that its admirers reconsider the terms of the Canary Mission and its apparent intentions.”
Canary Mission told us that some of its professorial critics have ulterior motives.
“Canary Mission also investigates anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry among professors,” the anonymous Canary member said, and “many of those who signed the petition had previously been profiled on our professors page,” a list of allegedly racist statements or actions by nearly 100 university professors across the country, though excluding Fellman and Leiter.
“Criticizing the war in Vietnam did not make Americans who did that anti-American in any way,” Fellman continued. “It made them anti the Vietnam War, period. Because there are some critics of Israel who really are anti-Semitic, it can be hard to distinguish them from critics of Israeli policies and behaviors who are not anti-Semitic.”
Canary Mission expressed concerns about how universities respond to its claims.
“University administrations have neither been quick nor decisive enough in their responses to their students being exposed for dangerous hate speech,” the anonymous member said. “However, our investigations have shown that when the Jewish community or campus-Jewish/pro-Israel organizations get involved, the administration usually moves to condemn the offending students and perform their own investigation.”
The Twitter accounts of several of the students mentioned in the dossier have since been deleted or made private. Some of the students are no longer enrolled at the school. Our attempts to contact current students were unsuccessful. Representatives from UTA’s Student Justice for Palestine and Muslim Student Association have not responded to repeated interview requests.