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Third time’s a charm? Zoom cancels a third university seminar for attempting to host a terrorist

Abigail Streetman, Campus Reform

San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program was set to host a virtual seminar via the University of California Merced’s Zoom portal on April 23 with known terrorist Leila Khaled.

Titled “Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?,” the virtual event was advertised on Facebook and a petition was started shortly after demanding that the event be canceled. The announcement has since been erased from the social media platform and the AMED studies Facebook page was also removed.

Rabab Abdulhadi, professor at SFSU and the director of AMED, was set to be the moderator for this event and has previously referred to Khaled as a “feminist icon.”

Abdulhadi reacted to the cancellation of this seminar on Facebook, saying “the censorship was in fact due to a targeted harassment campaign by the Israeli government and its allies that includes frivolous legal threats as a strategy for silencing Palestine-focused activism.” He described the legal charges as “baseless” and demanded that the department’s page be reinstated.

Abdulhadi also said this action “demonstrates the egregious role private tech companies have taken in suppressing free and open intellectual exchange.”

As Campus Reform has previously reported, SFSU’s AMED Department attempted to host a similar webinar featuring Khaled in September of 2020. Zoom shut down this event citing policy violations and U.S. anti-terrorism laws.

Zoom stated in regards to the first cancellation of this event that “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.”

Khaled is a known terrorist who hijacked TWA Flight 870 in August of 1969, she is on the record referring to this attack as her “happiest moment.”

The AMED program attempted to host Khaled over YouTube livestream instead but had the video taken down only 30 minutes into the event. Facebook has also previously stated that they will not allow events featuring “dangerous individuals” on their platform.

The American Association of United Professors (AAUP) chapter at New York University similarly attempted to host a Zoom event featuring Khaled just one month after the first cancellation at SFSU. This seminar, which was titled “Call to Action October 23: We Will Not Be Silenced! Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Political Speech,” was also shut down by Zoom for violation of multiple policies.

On April 13, Zoom announced changes to their policies for institutions of higher education. Stating that their Trust and Safety team will only act on reports of violations for “webinars hosted by a higher education institution” if the complaints come from “the meeting’s host or the account’s owners or administrators.”

However, Zoom retains the right to take action if they determine that “there is legal or regulatory risk to Zoom if it does not act, the report alleges an immediate threat to the physical safety of any person, or the meeting or webinar is unrelated to the institution’s academics or operations.”

SFSU, Rabab Abdulhadi, Zoom and UC Merced have not responded to requests for comment at this time.

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