if this is freedom, give me sino-soviet slavery

YouTube, Zoom and Facebook censor Leila Khaled for Israel
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Sep 23 2020

Leila Khaled. (Photo: Fira Literal Barcelona)

Major Silicon Valley companies censored an event at San Francisco State University on Wednesday. This means that during the pandemic, private companies closely aligned with the government have immense power over what can be said, even in an academic setting. Zoom, the web-based videoconferencing platform, announced Tuesday evening that it was prohibiting SFSU from using its software to host a planned webinar on Wednesday with Leila Khaled, the Palestinian resistance icon who is now in her seventies and lives in Jordan.

The event was also restricted by Facebook, which has a lengthy history of censoring Palestinians on behalf of Israel. On Wednesday, the event went ahead via YouTube, but shortly after it began, the company cut off the video stream, replacing it with a notice that said “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

According to an email seen by The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday, professor Rabab Abd’ul-Hadi, director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora program at SFSU, and the event’s co-moderator professor Tomomi Kinukawa, say they expected the university to “seriously and publicly challenge Zoom’s attempt to control higher education and the content of our curriculum and classrooms.” The professors add that “the privatization of our education is a serious development. As a public institution, SFSU must refuse and resist.” Zoom’s announcement was a capitulation to the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian groups, including the ADL, StandWithUs and the Lawfare Project, which have pressured the company for weeks over the planned event.

Last week, Israeli MKs publicly denounced the event and smeared its organizers as anti-Semitic. A member of the left-wing PFLP, Khaled is best known for her role in a series of plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. She has not been involved in any armed resistance activities in decades. Act.IL, the Israeli government-funded astroturfing app that sends its users on “missions” to promote Israel also encouraged its users to send emails to the university system’s board of trustees. Act.IL declared “victory” on Wednesday morning.

It had then urged its users to disrupt the YouTube stream while it was in progress.

Khaled would have been speaking alongside South African anti-apartheid military leader Ronnie Kasrils, US activists and former political prisoners Sekou Odinga and Laura Whitehorn, and scholar Rula Abu Dahou, director of the women’s studies institute at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. SFSU president Lynn Mahoney had defended the planned event on academic freedom grounds. But in a bizarre statement, Mahoney said on Wednesday that Zoom’s refusal to host the webinar is as “wounding to some” as Khaled’s participation in a classroom discussion. She did not say if the administration was going to do more to challenge the company’s policy. Abd’ul-Hadi accuses the SFSU administration of systematically undermining her AMED program, including canceling Palestine-specific courses and gutting its budget. Israel lobby organizations attempted to get federal and state governments involved in shutting down the webinar. The Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel group that uses lawsuits to harass supporters of Palestinian rights, recently sent a letter to the National Security Division of the US DoJ. It claimed that SFSU hosting Khaled would constitute “material support” to US-designated “terrorists,” even though Khaled is not being compensated for her involvement in the webinar. The Lawfare Project has been one of Abd’ul-Hadi’s most vicious attackers, attempting but failing to silence her. Additionally, the Zionist group AMCHA Initiative claimed that the event violates two California laws. However, free speech defense organization FIRE said neither of those laws applies. Supporters of Palestinian rights and academic freedom have been pushing back.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) declared “its unflinching support” for the webinar and for Abd’ul-Hadi and called Israel lobby efforts to smear and silence those advocating for justice “poisonous and destructive.” After earlier failing to get the university to cancel the event, anti-Palestinian groups pivoted to pressuring Zoom, with the Lawfare Project threatening the company under the same “material support” clause. Israel advocates also protested outside Zoom’s headquarters on Tuesday. The company stated later that day:

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.

As a private company, Zoom sets its own terms of service and can decide what it will allow on its platform. But with most public discourse and even education now dependent on such platforms, companies like Zoom, YouTube and Facebook are now essentially the arbiters of free speech.

Israel lobby groups celebrated Zoom’s censorship.

Abd’ul-Hadi said what happened is part of a pattern by Israel lobby groups. She told The Electronic Intifada:

What they’re trying to do, these attacks and vilifications, the smearing and bullying, is to deflect the discussion. They are bothered by the ways in which we are focusing on questions of Black liberation, Palestinian liberation and prison abolition, and the connections between these movements.

US Muslim groups face pressure over ties to Israel-friendly Emgage
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Sep 23 2020

Muslim American and Palestinian rights groups are under growing pressure to cut ties with Emgage, the US Muslim organization whose leaders maintain cozy ties with Israel lobby groups. On Tuesday, American Muslims for Palestine broke its official silence on the matter, saying that it was “aware of and is addressing the grave allegations” about Emgage. This comes two weeks after The Electronic Intifada’s exposé of Emgage leaders’ connections with anti-Palestine organizations.

American Muslims for Palestine said:

AMP takes a simple, strong, and principled position prohibiting covert and overt alliances and normalization with Islamophobic or Zionist organizations and elements, as well as any hateful individuals and groups. All members of the US Council of Muslim Organizations adhere to these principles, and this was made patently clear to Emgage when it sought membership in the USCMO.

Both Emgage and American Muslims for Palestine are members of the US Council of Muslim Organizations. AMP said it would wait until an “official report” by USCMO about Emgage, but that in the meantime it would “continue to impose a prohibition on a collaborative relationship with Emgage.” It is unclear when this report will be issued. As The Electronic Intifada has reported, Emgage leaders have collaborated closely with Israel lobby groups that are waging a relentless campaign against Palestine solidarity activism, especially the BDS movement. These groups include AIPAC, the ADL and the AJC. Emgage board members and personnel have participated in the Muslim Leadership Initiative junkets to Israel operated by the Shalom Hartman Institute, an organization which has close ties to the Israeli military and shares a major funder with some of the most Islamophobic organizations in the US. Emgage has endorsed Joe Biden and its long-time board member and former Pentagon official Farooq Mitha serves as the Democratic nominee’s “Muslim engagement” adviser. Raja Abd’ul-Haq, executive director of Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York, welcomedAMP’s statement as “a powerful and principled position” and urged “other national Muslim organizations to follow.” But for many, American Muslims for Palestine and other USCMO members have not moved fast or far enough. On Sunday, Hatem Bazian, American Muslims for Palestine’s board chair, published a note on Facebook reacting to the Emgage controversy. Bazian said he had been involved in discussions with Emgage leaders and was unsatisfied with their responsesthus far. Bazian has been a leading voice warning about the dangers of faithwashing projects like the Muslim Leadership Initiative that co-opt US Muslim activists into pro-Israel propaganda. But now Bazian is urging that the “best approach” is to postpone further discussions about Emgage until after the November election. This drew a sharp response from commenter Laila al-Arian, who called it “stunning” that asking Muslim American groups to dissociate from Israel lobby organizations “is seen as such a tall order.” Al-Arian added that it is “clearly a strategic blunder to wait until after the elections to hold Emgage accountable and have them disassociate from Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian groups.” The Drop Emgage campaign is also pushing for stronger action. On Wednesday, the campaign said American Muslims for Palestine had taken a “critical step towards dropping Emgage USA entirely.” Drop Emgage called AMP’s move “a step in the right direction.” More than 200 Palestinian and Muslim activists have signed Drop Emgage’s open letter demanding that Emgage sever all ties with Israel lobby group and respect the Palestinian BDS call. Drop Emgage is now urging the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society and others to “immediately suspend all collaboration” until Emgage meets demands to “end its normalization activities with Zionist groups.” CAIR is among several Muslim American groups taking part in Emgage’s voter mobilization drive. In August, CAIR redacted criticisms of Emgage’s ties to Zionist groups made by Palestinian scholar Sami al-Arian from a video of an online seminar. A request for comment was acknowledged by CAIR, but no response has been received. Another group partnering with Emgage is MPower Change, led by Linda Sarsour, a high-profile Palestinian American activist in the Democratic Party. Sarsour participated in a virtual gala hosted by Emgage’s Michigan chapter last Sunday. Deftly avoiding a full-throated endorsement of Emgage as a whole, Sarsour began:

I came here to support the leadership of Nada al-Hanooti and her work as the Emgage executive director of the Michigan chapter…

Sarsour did not address any of the controversy surrounding Emgage’s connections to anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic groups, focusing instead on urging Muslim Americans to vote for Biden no matter what misgivings they may have. Sarsour said:

Give me Joe Biden. Joe Biden is a neoliberal, he is a conservative Democrat, and yes he does not align with us on many issues.

In return for electing Biden, Sarsour promised to “stay on these streets and fight harder than I ever have, even harder than I fought under the Trump administration.” Sarsour offered a version of the perennial election-time pitch: Vote for the Democrats now because this is the most important election in our lifetimes. We’ll hold Obama’s/Clinton’s/Biden’s feet to the fire later. But according to Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberley:

‘We will hold their feet to the fire,’ is one of the saddest or perhaps funniest of all quadrennial proclamations. Anyone who actually votes for a Democrat yet ends up pushing back against them is in a very distinct minority. Most Americans have been so bullied by the system that their political activity is already limited to voting. Liberation can’t come from electoral politics. The mass movement comes first and electoral successes may follow.

One conclusion is that if voting gives people any leverage at all, it is by demanding concessions from politicians before the votes are cast, not after. Another, as the Emgage debacle shows, is that trying to build a mass movement around Muslim American identity cannot succeed if it fails to adopt and abide by clear principles on the question of Palestine. Sarsour and MPower Change have not responded to requests for comment.

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