A program in Muslim and Arab studies at San Francisco State is again attempting to present an online forum featuring a Palestinian militant who participated in two airplane hijackings, and is again running into roadblocks by internet companies and opposition from Jewish groups.
On Thursday, a page for the forum was removed by Eventbrite, a San Francisco-based ticketing and event registration company. Facebook also reportedly took down its page for the forum, called “Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?”
The internet companies’ rebuffs come as little surprise after a similar forum held last September and featuring many of the same panelists encountered equal pushback: Its Zoom registration link was deactivated, Facebook removed the event page, and YouTube, which is owned by Google, cut the talk short after 23 minutes.
The Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program last week tweeted a digital flyer for the April 23 talk, to be co-led by S.F. State associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who directs the AMED program, and Tomomi Kinukawa, a lecturer in gender studies at the university.
The conferencing platform Zoom, headquartered in San Jose, said it was still “reviewing the facts” to see if the event “is consistent with our Terms of Service and Community Standards,” according to the Algemeiner.
Nine speakers are scheduled, including Khaled, Sekou Odinga, a former Black Panther, and Laura Whitehorn, an American activist and former member of the Weather Underground. Whitehorn served 14 years in federal prison for her role in a 1983 domestic bombing. Professor Sean Malloy of UC Merced is also scheduled to participate.
The event is framed as a response to the tech companies’ actions in September. The panel “will discuss free speech, academic freedom, and the dangers of censorship and silencing,” the digital flyer says, “focusing in particular on the September 23rd open classroom.”
A Facebook spokesperson told J. that the company removed the event page for the first forum, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance,” for “violating our policy prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations and individuals.”
That decision came as lawyers with the pro-Israel nonprofit the Lawfare Project and others argued that hosting the forum would put technology companies at risk of violating a federal statute against providing “material support to terrorists” that was strengthened by the PATRIOT Act after 9/11.
The PFLP is a secular, Marxist-Leninist militant group founded in 1967 and designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and other countries. It was the first Palestinian group to popularize the use of commercial airplane hijackings as a tactic of militant resistance against Israel. Khaled participated in two armed plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970, and in recent interviews has advocated for both nonviolent and violent action against Israel.
Some Jewish groups are alarmed by next week’s event, saying it will contribute to an already hostile environment for S.F. State’s Jewish and Israel-supporting students, who on many occasions have complained of being harassed. A lawsuit resulted in a 2019 agreement by the university to hire a coordinator for Jewish student life. In November, the student government passed a boycott, divestment and sanctions resolution.
In an email to the community on Wednesday, Rachel Nilson Ralston, executive director of San Francisco Hillel, which serves a handful of college campuses in the city, conveyed support for free speech in higher education, writing that universities “thriv[e] when academic freedom is protected, a rigorous debate is civil, and diverse communities and views co-exist.”
“We believe it’s important, and possible, for our institutions to uphold those freedoms while also ensuring academic responsibility,” she added. “Recent and historic events demonstrate the dangers of platforming and normalizing violent rhetoric.”
Hillel will continue to work to “denormalize the promotion of violent rhetoric that targets and isolates our Jewish and Zionist students,” Ralston wrote.
“Speakers who support violence as a means to resolve conflict should not be platformed nor amplified by university departments,” the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council said in a public release.
In a statement to J., the university said President Lynn Mahoney “condemns the glorification of terrorism and use of violence against unarmed civilians,” as well as “antisemitism and other hateful ideologies that marginalize people based on their identities, origins or beliefs.”
“But, as the president of a public university, [Mahoney] supports academic freedom and the ability of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship,” the statement emailed from Kent Bravo read. “A public university must be a place where all ideas can be expressed and debated while remaining committed to ensuring that all are welcome.
“To our knowledge, these programs are not being hosted on San Francisco State University platforms, and SF State has not had any discussions with Zoom or others regarding the event,” the statement said.
In addition to the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program, the forum is co-sponsored by the Council of UC Faculty Associations — a group that supports UC faculty members on salary negotiations, work conditions and other issues — and the University of California Humanities Research Institute, which is headquartered at UC Irvine, according to the flyer.
Abdulhadi, an outspoken pro-Palestinian activist and Israel critic, is also scheduled to speak next week at an April 21 Council on American-Islamic Relations event titled “First Amendment Except for Palestine,” joining Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement.