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.

By Michael Arria

Flyer for the event, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance: A conversation with Leila Khaled”

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.”

Update: Since this post was published, Facebook removed the event page from its site and YouTube shut down the stream just minutes into the talk.

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