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Zoom criticised for cancelling webinar with Palestinian activist Leila Khaled

The event was also later blocked by YouTube and Facebook for featuring the activist and former hijacker
The online event was cancelled by Zoom, and later blocked by Facebook and YouTube (Screengrab/ AFP)

Zoom, a video conferencing platform, is facing a barrage of criticism online after cancelling a webinar featuring Palestinian activist and former plane hijacker Leila Khaled.

The event, titled "Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance", was sponsored by San Francisco State University (SFSU) and set to take place on Wednesday.

However, it was blocked by the app citing concerns over Khaled’s reported affiliation with a US designated foreign terrorist organisation. Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United States. 

“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," the video platform said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The statement continued: "In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a US designated foreign terrorist organisation, 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."

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Following Zoom's decision, SFSU's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies programme and the Women and Gender Studies Department, which sponsored the webinar, streamed the event on YouTube and Facebook. The footage was later also taken down by both platforms.

A member of the PFLP, Leila Khaled is known for being the first woman to hijack a plane and for her decades of activism and freedom fighting. She later became an iconic symbol for Palestinian resitence and female power, after she hijacked a TWA plane heading from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1969.

The online panel was set to feature several other prominent speakers, including Sekou Odinga, a former member of the Black Liberation Army and political prisoner for 33 years, and Laura Whitehorn, a political prisoner for 14 years and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Many people went on social media to criticise Zoom for censoring content and limiting free speech.

Over 2,000 people have also signed a petition to support academic freedom on Palestine in support of the webinar.

The cancellation of the event has been called a ‘double standard’ by some.

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, one of the organisers of the event, shared an email he sent to the SFSU regarding the cancellation of the webinar.

“This censorship violates our freedom of speech and academic freedom as a faculty to teach, deprives our student from the right to learn, and denies the general public the right to hear from speakers who are not readily available on mainstream media," the email read.

"We therefore expect the university to seriously and publicly challenge Zoom’s attempt to control higher education and the content of our curriculum and classrooms”.

A number of pro-Israel groups have taken credit for pressuring the platforms to cancel the event.

Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash Hacohen said that she was pleased that the platforms blocked the event from going ahead, calling Khaled a "terrorist".

The event is the latest example of platforms censoring Palestinian content online.

Earlier this year, more than 50 Palestinian journalists and activists had their profiles deleted or deactivated by Facebook, for "not following Community Standards", leaving many frustrated and confused as to why.

In July, supermodel Bella Hadid also hit out at Instagram for censoring her post, in which she shared a photo of her father’s passport, highlighting his birthplace as Palestine.

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