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Zoom cancelled webinar by former Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled

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Zoom cancelled a webinar featuring Leila Khaled, a former Palestinian hijacker who was involved in two such attempts in 1969 and 1970, on Wednesday over fears of criminal liability, Zoom confirmed to MediaNama. YouTube took down the live stream 23 minutes after she started speaking while Facebook removed an event page for the talk.

What happened? Khaled, a member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was scheduled to talk at a webinar — on “Teaching Palestine” — organised by the San Francisco State University (SFSU) on Wednesday. PFLP is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government. As per the Times of Israel, the event was organised by SFSU’s Department of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas. Her talk was titled, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, & Resistance: A conversation with Leila Khaled” where she was reportedly described as a Palestinian feminist, militant and leader.

Who is Leila Khaled? A member of PFLP, she describes herself a ”revolutionary” fighting against the oppression of Palestine. Most significantly, she has not shied away from using and encouraging others to use arms to fight for Palestinian independence. She was involved in hijacking a Rome to Tel Aviv flight in 1969, and was foiled in her attempts to hijack a Tel Aviv to New York flight in 1970. She currently lives in Jordan and is still a member of PFLP.

What caused the cancellation? On September 14, a New York-based legal think tank, Lawfare Project, that defends the “civil and human rights of the Jewish people and pro-Israel community” sent a letter to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. In the letter, they “cautioned” Zoom to not offer their services for the webinar else they would attract criminal liability for aiding a terrorist organisation under American law. A Zionist organisation, End Jew Hatred, also claimed credit for getting Khaled de-platformed and had even held a protest outside Zoom headquarters In San Jose on September 22.

What did the platforms say? The three platforms in questions cited similar rules against terrorist organisations and dangerous individuals:

  • Zoom confirmed the cancellation to us as it “determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event” given Khaled’s affiliation with a US-designated terrorist organisation. “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,” a Zoom spokesperson said in a statement to MediaNama. From the statement, it appears that Zoom reached out to SFSU before cancelling the webinar. We have reached out to Zoom for more details.
  • Facebook told us, “We’ve removed this content for violating our policy prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations and individuals, which applies to Pages, content and Events.”
  • YouTube confirmed to the Verge that it terminated the livestream since Khaled praised/justified violent acts carried out by a violent criminal or terrorist organisations, in violation of its policies. In the 23 minutes that were live-streamed, Khaled reportedly talked about the right of occupied people to fight their occupiers “by any means possible, including weapons”.

SFSU call for no censorship: SFSU President Lynn Mahoney, in an open letter, wrote that the university supported its faculty’s right to teach without censorship and other students’ and faculty’s right to disagree with opinions expressed. She wrote that the university disagrees and is “disappointed” with Zoom’s decision, it agreed that as a private company, Zoom has the right to set its own terms of service.

Jewish groups laud the move: A number of Jewish and pro-Israeli organisation, including the lawfare Project, End Jew Hatred, American Jewish Committee, etc. hailed the platforms’ response, as per the Jewish Journal.

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***Update (September 28, 2020 9:53 am): Updated with comments from Facebook and Zoom. Originally published on September 25, 2020 at 12:51 pm.

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Send me tips at aditi@medianama.com. Email for Signal/WhatsApp.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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