SGA passes historic resolution denouncing database


Sam Litra

Members of the SGA senate listen intently at a Nov. 6, 2018 SGA meeting. SGA passed a resolution April 2 condemning Canary Mission, an online database of individuals and organizations that have expressed criticisms of Israel.

Maeve Gurnis, Staff Writer

SGA unanimously passed a resolution April 2 to protect students’ free speech.

SGA’s resolution condemns Canary Mission, an online database of individuals and organizations that have expressed criticism of Israel.

Canary Mission is a database founded in 2014 that documents individuals and organizations at North American universities it considers to be anti-Israel or anti-semitic, according to its website.

The resolution states that Canary Mission relies on peer-informants, students at universities looking for people expressing anti-Israel views: any sentiments critical of the state of Israel.

Junior Tali Friedman, an SGA senator on the Student Action Committee, helped write the legislation.

“Activists were feeling that they can’t say anything remotely anti-Israel because they could be spied on by their peers and personal information could be submitted to this blacklist site,” she said.

On its website, Canary Mission claims it documents people and groups that promote hatred of the U.S., Israel and Jews. Informants submit evidence of this to the site.

The evidence could be in the form of photos, video, social media posts or written or vocal statements.

The group then posts the identities on its blacklist, often jeopardizing people’s safety or job prospects, Friedman said.

Denouncing Canary Mission is an effort to maintain students’ right to free speech and feeling of security on campus, according to the resolution.

Fears of blacklisting affect students’ willingness to express their opinions or participate in acts of protest, according to a November 2018 Cynic article.

One of the potential consequences of being blacklisted is that individuals could be prohibited from traveling to Israel, said Junior Danielle Jabbor, a senator on the Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, who also worked on the legislation

“I don’t share the same fears or worries about repercussions because I carry a Syrian passport. I can’t go to Palestine, Israel, whatever you want to call it,” Jabbor said.

Jabbor said increased student safety was the action committee’s goal.

“It was really about standing against the negative, threatening environment that Canary Mission carries,” she said. “We don’t want that on our campus.”

UVM is the second university in the U.S. to have passed a resolution denouncing Canary Mission. The first was University of California Davis.

“It’s a pretty big statement about our student body,” SGA President Ethan Foley, a junior, said. “Students have brought a serious issue to SGA. This truly is a great example of the power of student voice.”

The resolution comes at a time when tensions are high around the Israel-Palestine debate on campus.

This year, a grant was given to UVM Hillel by Maccabee Task Force, a pro-Israel group trying to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement on college campuses.

Critics of the funding say that it is an effort to silence activists on campus, according to a November 2018 Cynic article.

On its website, BDS describes itself as a Palestinian-led movement that attempts to challenge Israeli occupation.

“We don’t support or condone hate speech, but if you want to say ‘there are issues in Israel’ and you fear that you can’t even say that out loud, that’s an issue,” Friedman said.

One aim of the SGA resolution is to give resources to anyone at UVM targeted by Canary Mission.

Being on a database like Canary Mission can make employers reject candidates, Friedman said.

“If someone is blacklisted, hopefully they can print out this resolution and say ‘look, my institution condemns it, other institutions condemn it, maybe you can reconsider your evaluation of my being blacklisted on this,’” Friedman said.

The resolution states that when students submit information to Canary Mission, they are compromising their community members’ safety, which is in violation of the values outlined in Our Common Ground.

Senior Aaron Goren, president of pro-Israel student group Catamounts Supporting Israel, declined to comment.