On the eve of a divestment vote by George Washington University’s (GWU) student senate, multiple students witnessed two men who they say clearly did not attend the university, posting spurious flyers around campus, all with the clear aim of undermining the credibility of the divestment resolution SR-S18-21 or “The Protection of Palestinian Human Rights Act”.
Divest This Time, the student group responsible for the resolution, and supporters like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) were subjected to the attacks, as were Student Association Senators (SA).
Flyers read “SJP Anti-semitic Cowards! Make BDS Vote Public”, “JVP: Fake News Fake Jews” and “Be Proud Antisemites! Don’t Vote BDS in Secret”.
The vote was indeed cancelled due to safety concerns.
In an initial statement, the SA explained the cancellation noting their duty to “prioritize the safety of the student body and members of the Student Association.”
Not more than two hours later and after public backlash, SA updated its statement to “prioritize the safety of Palestinian students and their allies, who have been targeted by outside organizations and members of our community.”
“The resolution targets corporations — profit maximizing entities to which we owe nothing — that make money off the systemic oppression and marginalization of Palestinians. It has very little to do with Jews” wrote the GWU chapter of JVP in an op-ed earlier in the week, when character attacks and social media harassment first began. “The logic behind SR-S18-21 is simple: the university ought not to invest in corporations whose products and services actively harm the student body.”
When news broke at 7:50 p.m. on Monday evening the vote would be cancelled, it took Divest This Time and others in solidarity less than thirty minutes before completely occupying the student government building.
At 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Divest This Time and the SA reached an agreement and the vote was rescheduled for the next student government meeting on April 23.
The individuals have not been identified but evidence indicates they could be affiliated with Canary Mission, a shadowy website devoted to publishing photos and descriptions of any individuals deemed anti-Israel, its stated intention to inhibit career prospects for those who appear on the site. In addition to flyers, the two also placed a number of Canary Mission stickers around campus.
Around 11 p.m. on Sunday when SJP members were removing the threatening flyers, a friend alerted Alaina Taylor, a GWU senior and SJP member, to the presence of the two men.
Taylor described the incident, telling Mondoweiss “one [of the men] was standing against a wall and another was standing closer to the street. The one by the wall had a banner hidden behind his back. They were looking down and had their hoods up so we couldn’t see their faces.”
The men both looked to be white and in their twenties, “definitely older than college students” Taylor noted. And the brazenness of their behavior “made it pretty clear they were with Canary Mission.”
“It was raining, so it would be pretty strange for anyone to be trying to hang a banner somewhere” Taylor said, “which added to the suspiciousness.”
Maryam Alhassani, another GWU student confirmed these suspicions.
“They started filming us and when we began filming them” and called university police, the two got into a red car and drove off.
Responding University Police Department (UPD) officers, SJP members said, did not seem to take the threat seriously and instead spent the time grilling activists about their resolution rather than apprehending the unidentified individuals.
“[It was a] very scary night because we felt attacked,” Alhassani told Mondoweiss. “There were people who most likely were not students, on my campus threatening members of SJP and the senate.”
This incident comes one year after the Student Association Senators who voted favorably toward a similar resolution all found themselves on Canary Mission’s website.
The attacks “weren’t about the Senators, they were about the people that were going to support Palestine,” GWU student and SJP member Ren Niz told me.
In order to protect the student association senators, this year SJP called for a paper ballot as opposed to last year’s public roll call vote.
“When word [of the paper ballot] came out to Canary Mission, they were very upset because they weren’t going to have that tangible information to use against the senators this vote,” Niz said. “Canary Mission was so upset they literally came to campus.”
Students occupying the campus building insisted on the following demands before agreeing to leave: “A clear written explanation about why the resolution hearing was cancelled both from the Student Association and from the University Police Department (UPD); A schedule vote and hearing next Monday, 4/23/2018; Full UPD security at the meeting with I.D. and bag checks; DTT input on all senate procedure for the meeting, namely a paper ballot vote in order to ensure safety of senators; and guaranteed seating for resolution supporters.”
“To cancel this meeting gave into the efforts of Canary Mission to silence student activism on our campus” SJP said in a statement. “If the Student Association will not advocate for human rights because of security concerns, then they are not advocating for human rights.”
Canary Mission has not responded to Mondoweiss’ request for comment.