The event, titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, & Resistance: A conversation with Leila Khaled,” was scheduled to take place via Zoom. Khaled, 76, is a veteran member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. She is most notorious for her participation in the hijacking of a passenger jet en route from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1969.
A number of pro-Israel and Jewish civil rights advocacy groups, notably the Lawfare Project, decried the SFSU event for promoting terrorism. In a letter sent earlier this week to the U.S. Department of Justice, Lawfare Project called for an investigation into Zoom, claiming that by hosting Khaled on its streaming service, the company was violating the U.S. criminal code by providing “material support or resources” to a known terrorist.
Zoom promptly disabled the link which participants used to register the event, saying in a statement that providing a virtual platform for someone like Khaled would violate the company’s own policy.
“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,” said the spokesperson for Zoom.
The event was then moved to YouTube. According to Jewish Weekly, the YouTube live-streaming abruptly ended 23 minutes in when an old video was being played, in which Khaled called her people to take back their land “by any means possible, including weapons.”
The live-stream, which had some 900 viewers when it was shut down, is now replaced with a message that reads, “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.” YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The event was hosted by Rabab Abdulhadi, the founder and director of the SFSU’s Department of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies. Over her teaching career, Abdulhadi has built a reputation as an outspoken anti-Israel activist, particularly known for controversial remarks such as equating Jewish students who support Israel to white supremacists. In 2014, Abdulhadi reportedly met with Khaled during a SFSU-sponsored trip to Jordan and the West Bank.
Other guest speakers of the event include Ronnie Kasrils, a high ranking South African Communist Party official and frequent critic of Israel; Sekou Odinga, a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army who served 30 years in prison for attempted murder in a Queens shootout with six police officers; and Laura Whitehorn, a communist radical who set off a timed bomb at the U.S. Capitol in 1983.
“We worked hard to prevent this outcome and have been actively engaging with Zoom,” wrote SFSU president Lynn Mahoney in an open letter. “Based on the information we have been able to gather to date, the University does not believe that the class panel discussion violates Zoom’s terms of service or the law.”
Earlier this month, SFSU defended its decision to invite controversial speakers to give talks, citing freedom of expression and academic freedom. “Higher education and the college experience are an opportunity to hear divergent ideas, viewpoints, and accounts of life experiences,” SFSU spokesperson Kent Bravo said in a statement. “A university is a marketplace of ideas and San Francisco State University supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints and other speech protected by law, even when those viewpoints may be controversial.”