Zoom cancels Leila Khaled webinar at San Francisco State University

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Khaled, who as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked El Al Flight 219 on September 6, 1970.

PFPL plane hijacker Leila Khaled in South Africa (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

PFPL plane hijacker Leila Khaled in South Africa

(photo credit: AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

Due to the concerted efforts of many lawyers and activists, Zoom cancelled a San Francisco State University (SFSU) hosted webinar which was slated to feature Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled as one of their guest speakers.

“Zoom is committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations, subject to certain limitations contained in our Terms of Service, including those related to user compliance with applicable US export control, sanctions, and anti-terrorism laws,” Zoom said in a statement, according to the Lawfare Project.

“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.”

After the announcement by Zoom, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen tweeted “Glad to see @Zoom_us preventing PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled from abusing its platform to spread her bigotry and calls for Jewish State’s destruction at a @SFSU event today. Tech companies need to uphold policies & protect the safety of all of its users against such hate-speech.”

Khaled, who as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked El Al Flight 219 on September 6, 1970, is due to address an event hosted by San Francisco State University’s (SFSU’s) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) study program, entitled “Who’s Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: a conversation with Leila Khaled” on September 23, 2020.

SFSU rejected previous requests to withdraw the invitation, including a request made by Rodney Khazzam, a passenger on Flight 219 who almost lost his life when Khaled attempted to detonate a grenade while the plane was aloft. Now Nitsana Darshan Leitner, president of Shurat HaDin, a Tel Aviv-based law firm which specializes in defending the right of the State of Israel to exist, has written to the university on Khazzam’s behalf to demand the same.

Flight 219 was one of four planes hijacked that day by the PFLP, and the only one that failed: Khaled’s co-conspirator Patrick Argüello was killed by an air marshal, while Khaled was subdued and handed over to British authorities in London. Three other planes were successfully diverted to Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan, where the 56 Jewish passengers were separated from non-Jews and held hostage. Three days later a fifth plane was hijacked in an attempt to force authorities to release Khaled and other PFLP prisoners, and a deal was struck on September 30 which saw the hostages released in return for their freedom.

SFSU has come in for criticism for antisemitism previously thanks to on-campus support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the State of Israel, and other anti-Israel activities. Dharshan Leitner cites a May 2019 incident in which the Women’s Resource Center at San Diego State University featured a photo of Khaled holding a gun with the caption “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in its weekly newsletter. She also cites a $7,000 grant reportedly awarded to AMED’s director Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, to meet with Khaled. Abdulhadi is a vocal anti-Israel activist and BDS advocate.

The university, along with 13 professors and administrators was sued in 2017 for discriminating against Jewish students, while in 2018 the board of trustees were sued for SFSU’s violation of Jewish students’ civil rights.

Donna Rachel Edmunds contributed to this report.

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