Zoom has canceled a webinar due to be held at San Francisco State University (SFSU) this Wednesday featuring Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who took part in two plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. YouTube and Facebook also intervened to stop the talk.
The webinar was cancelled after pressure from Israeli and Jewish lobby groups including the Lawfare Project. They noted that the US government has designated the PFLP a terrorist organization, and claimed that by hosting Khaled on its service, Zoom was exposing itself to criminal liability for providing “material support or resources” to a terrorist group.
A 2001 profile of Khaled from The Guardian described her as “the international pin-up of armed struggle” following her involvement in the two hijackings. “Khaled is from a very different time,” says the profile, “an age when hijacks were a political tool of the moment, when commitment, extreme risk and sacrifice were admired and often romanticized.”
In a statement given to The Verge, Zoom confirmed that it had canceled the webinar. A spokesperson said the company was “committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations” but that Khaled’s talk potentially breached its terms of service.
“In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a US 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.
SFSU’s president, Lynn Mahoney, said in an open letter that the university disagreed with Zoom’s decision but recognized its right as a private company to enforce its policies. “We worked hard to prevent this outcome and have been actively engaging with Zoom,” wrote Mahoney. “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.”
Mahoney previously stated that she supported the right of her staff to invite controversial speakers to give talks. “Higher education and the college experience are an opportunity to hear divergent ideas, viewpoints and accounts of life experiences,” Mahoney wrote in a letter earlier this month, adding that “an invitation to a public figure to speak to a class should not be construed as an endorsement of point of view.”
In addition to Zoom’s cancellation of the webinar, Facebook also took down an event page for the talk. A spokesperson for Facebook told J. The Jewish News of Northern California it had “removed this content for violating our policy prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations and individuals, which applies to Pages, content and Events.”
J. reports that the talk began live-streaming on YouTube on Wednesday night but was taken down approximately 23 minutes in after Khaled began discussing the right of occupied peoples to fight their occupiers “by any means possible, including weapons.” A link to the removed talk says it was taken down for violating YouTube’s terms of service. YouTube confirmed to The Verge that it terminated the livestream, and that it did so because it breached the platform’s policies on criminal organizations. Specifically, it contained “content praising or justifying violent acts carried out by violent criminal or terrorist organizations.”
Khaled was scheduled to speak as part of a roundtable discussion titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance.” Other participants included Sekou Odinga, an American activist who was imprisoned until 2014 for charges connected to his membership in the Black Liberation Army, and Laura Whitehorn, an activist who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for her involvement in the 1983 United States Senate bombing.
Update Thursday September 24th, 12:10PM ET: The story has been updated with confirmation from YouTube that it terminated the livestream of the talk.