Corporations Censor Palestinian Voices

Censorship and Resistance at SF State

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, hundreds of people from all over the world tuned in to hear a panel titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled,” a collaboration between the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies and the Women and Gender Studies (WGS) at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The event had been planned and publicized for months by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, Senior Scholar and director of the AMED program; and Professor Tomomi Kinukawa, lecturer in Women and Gender Studies. For many of us, it promised to be momentous.

Leila Khaled was a leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and in 1969 and 1970, she participated in two of the boldest and best known actions of the Palestinian militant resistance movement. She was only 26 in 1970, and a poster of her sculpted face framed by a keffiyeh next to a rifle she appears to caress became iconic, decorating the rooms of a generation of international feminists. The chance to hear her speak “live,” especially in conversation with other scholars and activists focused on gender justice, felt like the opportunity of a lifetime.

Zoom cancelled the airing of the class on its platform the evening prior to the event, after the link had already been sent out to the more than 1500 people who had preregistered. Scrambling around on the morning of the event, we were told we could see it on Facebook. Facebook shut down the live streaming and even removed the announcement of the webinar from AMED Studies events, threatening co-sponsors that they risk the shutting down of their pages. It moved to YouTube, which abruptly shut it down after 23 minutes.

These corporate platforms were all responding to pressure from Zionist organizations which have relentlessly targeted the AMED program, its director, Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, and the student group General Union of Palestinian Students on campus for harassment and threats. SFSU and the rest of the California State University system use Zoom as a primary mode of online teaching during the COVID-19 shutdown. In fact, SFSU has an exclusive contract with Zoom, making it dependent on Zoom for conducting its university affairs. However, rather than seriously challenging Zoom’s corporate control over education and defending the rights of its faculty, the University administration chose to defer (in the words of its president) to a “private [company’s] . . . right to set its own terms of service in its contracts with users.”

San Francisco State created the AMED program in the wake of September 11, 2001, in order to recognize and redress the hostile environment that exists for many Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim students on its campus. This was a groundbreaking program with the potential to be a model for schools around the country. Unfortunately, SFSU has never stood behind the program, which has been attacked from its outset with increasing intensity and viciousness.

On October 23, the U.S. Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) called for a the National Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Speech under the banner “We Will Not Be Silenced.” A webinar planned at the University of Hawai’i as part of this day of action was suddenly pulled from the Zoom platform after a series of complaints from pro-Zionist, anti-Palestinian organizations. In response, USACBI called on as many campus organizations and educators as possible to host webinars featuring Leila Khaled’s recorded message. Eleven were scheduled; in addition to the one at Hawai’i, a webinar at NYU was also censored.

USABI issued the following statement regarding what happened at SFSU:

photo of Leila Khaled
Leila Khaled

“What happened in September at SFSU should alert all higher education faculty to the threats posed by these private companies on campuses across the country and internationally. It is particularly dangerous for teaching, research and learning about Palestine. It also has serious implications in these very conservative times for universities everywhere as centers of knowledge production about many controversial issues and ideas, particularly those related to gender, sexuality, migration, racism, policing, and the criminalization of Black and Indigenous lives. WE MUST STOP THIS DANGEROUS TREND and come together to demand that:

“1) SFSU provides an alternative public platform for a rescheduled webinar that assures no students or other participants will be denied the right to attend and hear from Leila Khaled and the other luminaries on the panel.

“2) SFSU commits publicly to assuring that it will guarantee respect and protection for the academic freedom of its faculty, following the protocols of established faculty governance.

“3) SFSU’s President issues a public apology to Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa, their invited guests, and all the 1,500 SFSU students and other participants who registered for the open classroom.

“4) Faculty and students across the country demand of their own universities a renewed and firm commitment to defend academic freedom and to resist any monopoly over our curricula by these tech giants and any other powerful external interests. Demand universities END CONTRACTS WITH ZOOM!”

On December 21, Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa filed a claim against SFSU, as a procedural step toward filing suit against the college and Zoom over this censorship. The Oakland-based civil rights law firm Siegel & Yee is representing them.

Get more info about this campaign and steps you can take at usacbi.org. The original webinar did take place with private recording, but it’s unclear if it is available to stream on any platform at this time.

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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