A significant threat to free speech about Palestine

JVL Introduction


Calls to censor a discussion at San Francisco State University by right-wing, pro-Israel groups including The Lawfare Project, were successful in getting Zoom to refuse facilities for the panel discussion and then for Facebook to remove the event page from its site and YouTube to shut down the stream just minutes into the talk.

Michel Arria reports on Mondoweiss.

You can find additional background material on this story in Forward here.

This article was originally published by Mondoweiss on Wed 23 Sep 2020. Read the original here.

Zoom cancels panel featuring Leila Khaled amid protests from pro-Israel groups

Zoom announced that it will deny its services to San Francisco State University today to block an online panel featuring Leila Khaled from happening with its software. Pro-Israel groups, including one partially funded by the Israeli government, are taking credit for the cancellation.

Zoom has announced that it will deny its services to San Francisco State University (SFSU) today and block an online panel featuring Leila Khaled from happening with its software. As a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Khaled was connected to two plane hijackings that took place in 1969 and 1970.

The event (which was titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance”) was to be sponsored by SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Program and the Women and Gender Studies Department.

A statement from the company to the group reads, “Zoom is committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations, subject to certain limitations contained in our Terms of Service, including those related to user compliance with applicable U.S. export control, sanctions, and anti-terrorism laws. In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise, we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event.”

The event was protested by a number of right-wing, pro-Israel groups including The Lawfare Project. The Act.IL app, which targets the BDS movement and is partially funded by the Israeli government, has taken credit for helping to cancel the Zoom event:

Michael Bueckert, a PhD student in sociology and political economy at Carleton University who tracks the app online, points out that its users have sent emails to the California State University Board of Trustees and informing them that they “may be violating US law by supporting a terrorist.”

Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, tweeted, “This is what happens when we subcontract our universities to Zoom: they decide which events are acceptable and which aren’t. It’s outrageous.”

“This is a dangerous attack on free speech and academic freedom from Big Tech: Zoom cannot claim veto power over the content of our nation’s classrooms and public events,” said Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi in a statement “The threat to democracy is elevated by the fact that Zoom’s decision to stamp out discussion of Palestinian freedom comes in response to a systematic repression campaign driven by the Israeli government and its allies.”

Organizers and individuals connected to the event have been responding to criticisms since the event was announced.  After SFSU President Lynn Mahoney wrote an article declaring that she welcomed diversity but condemned hate, former political prisoner (and scheduled panelist) Laura Whitehorn wrote Mahoney a letter about the webinar.

“Leila Khaled is a leader in the movement for the rights of the Palestinian people,” the letter reads. “She has fought in many ways for the right of return to historic Palestine, and she will offer important lessons and information about the history of women’s involvement in working for the rights of the Palestinian people under occupation and in exile. I found your acceptance of a narrative that brands her a terrorist or a hater to be deeply offensive and in conflict with what I believe an educator should say, teach, and promote.”

People who signed up for the event received an email from organizers, saying that they expect the school to “uphold our freedom of speech and academic freedom by providing an alternative venue to this open classroom.”

Comments (10)

  • Jock Orkin says:

    As an admirer of Martin Luther King ,Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu I cannot share your enthusiam enthusiasm for Leila Khaled.These three valiant freedom fighters didn’t have to resort to bloodshed and terror to achieve their noble aims.

  • RC says:

    Perhaps Jack Orkin could remind us of which individuals he can prove Leila Khaled actually killed. And perhaps he could note that Israel, using fighter planes, hijacked a Syrian airliner in 1954….
    I am sure he regards pacifism on the part of oppressed people as a virtuous act – especially when it is Israel that is practising systematic state terrorism against them, since before Israel even formally existed as a state. Perhaps he has not heard of the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, the prime instigator of which – Menachem Begin – became Israeli Prime Minister and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • DJ says:

    Perhaps Jock Orkin can enlighten us about his views about ethnic cleansing and apartheid.

  • Herman Polonsky says:

    I don’t think that Jock Orkin needs to provide a list of those killed by Leila Khaled to prove his case, that she was and continues to be a supporter of terrorism.
    When mentioning Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah terrorist acts why do have to refer to Israel.
    Sorry but I think that RC is being manipulative and twisting the comment for his own purpose.
    Israel has committed acts of terrorism but that is not germaine to Orkin’s comment.
    RC’s fixation on Israel clouds his objectivity.

  • Jock Orkin says:

    Dear RC,
    Mea culpa (or Al Chet to be recited by me on Yom Kippur ),you are perfectly correct Leila Khaled didn’t actually kill anybody.Hoewver she did associate with some pretty violent characters.
    I do know my history and am fully aware that both sides of the Israel /Palestine dispute did not behave impeccably towards each other.
    However I do believe that violence begets violence .
    As someone who played a modest role in helping to achieve a settlement in Rhodesia in 1980 I know that bloodshed and violence never produce a Happy outcome.

  • Ruth Sharratt says:

    Whilst your analysis as to the best way out of conflict may be right, that’s not the reason why Zoom’s decision to pull the platform for this event is wrong. Whether we think a person is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, clearly a subjective view and on open to debate, that is not a reason to silence them. Once you justify removing a voice for one set of opinions, you open the door to silencing any view. History teaches us that dictators will always suppress alternative narratives. As socialists we mustn’t do the same. No matter how abhorrent to me personally, I accept a person’s right to express those views as long as they accept my right to counter them. Censorship is rarely acceptable. Change occurs through exploration of the unthinkable. The values we have now are not some eternal absolute set, they are relative and culturally and socially determined. And they will change. We need the space to challenge the currently accepted views and explore alternatives.

  • DJ says:

    Jock Orkin. “Violence begets violence”. Who was responsible for initiating all this “violence”?Is the level of violence currently committed by the occupied equivalent to that committed by the occupier?

  • Rafi says:

    Hi Ruth whilst I agree that we need to engage in dialogue at what stage would hate speech be acceptable!
    The issue of free speech is not so simple particularly as some apologists thereof often use such concept to distort facts and manipulate those who are not educated on issues that propagandists use so effectively and cynically.
    Trump’s right wing followers would be a case in point. ( I would ban them from social media )

  • DJ says:

    It’s not surprising that Jock Orkin has not responded to my attempt to engage him in a debate about the Israel – Palestine conflict. Hiding behind empty criticisms of the oppressed to justify oppression just doesn’t cut the mustard.

  • Jock Orkin says:

    Dear DJ,
    Hineni ……here I am . I apologise for not cutting the mustard .Who initiated the violence in Palestine/ Israel depends on two factors ….timing and ideology.You of course would state categorically that the Zionists are ipso facto rogues and bounders and guilty of all sorts of nasty deeds .I on the other am not an ideologue and don’t believe that in very complex situations that you can accurately apportion blame for initiating violence .With your logic I suppose that you could blame Joshua for invading Caanan and ethnically cleansing the land .I repeat the maxim of the Mahatma…..violence begets violence

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