IPMN Strongly Condemns Censorship of Academia by Private Business
Sept. 30, 2020 — We strongly condemn the recent muzzling of free speech at San Francisco State University (SFSU) on 9/23 when “tech giants” Zoom, YouTube and Facebook blocked an online webinar after being pressured by pro-Israel groups. This censorship has resulted, yet again, in a silencing of the Palestinian narrative.
Controversially, the online virtual class, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance,” was to feature Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled who is most known in the West for hijacking an Israeli flight over 50 years ago. She is now in her seventies and lives in Jordan. Of course, we condemn her illegal actions and only support non-violent resistance, but we assert that SFSU has the right to have her speak on the panel for the virtual class. We believe that having academia hostage to private business in this way is a terrible new trend. The situation is aggravated to a critical level in the current time of pandemic in which most learning, as well as many church services, are happening online. Systems and solutions provided by these companies have become essential utilities; they cannot shut them off based on pressure from interest groups.
Last week’s event was sponsored by SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies Department, and was organized and to be moderated by AMED associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi. (She was the recipient of the 2020 Georgina M. Smith Award for outstanding faculty activism conferred by the American Association of University Professors.). Other scheduled speakers were 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 Palestine.
In a time when our politics are deeply divided and many have been accused of a “Cancel Culture” that stifles free speech, it is reprehensible that pro-Israel groups have pressured an American university to cancel an academic event. To their credit, the administration of SFSU refused many demands to censor the event, and objected to the tech censorship. President Lynn Mahoney wrote to campus, “We cannot embrace the silencing of controversial views, even if they are hurtful to others.”
Social media erupted with protests against the cancellations, with reminders that the Irgun Gang leader Menachem Begin who bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing dozens of civilians, became the Prime Minister of Israel. To censor an academic event based on what some would call similar violent history five decades ago stretches belief that pro-Israel groups are pro-justice. They are pro-justice for one group only; those who support the settler colonial state of Israel who now operates as an apartheid state with laws based on religion and identity.
We stand against all racist beliefs, violent movements and terrorist actions that diminish the dignity of human life of any race, ethnicity, religious belief or land of origin.
We ask people of conscience to focus on Israeli violations of human rights and international law which include detention of Palestinian children without charge or access to legal counsel, illegal daily instances of collective punishment in Gaza and the West Bank, home demolitions for lack of permits that only Israel can issue, a relentless land grab in many forms, including the building of settlement cities on stolen Palestinian lands, and an apartheid system of separate laws for people based on religion and identity, now codified into law.
IPMN joins Jewish Voice for Peace in demanding “an immediate, strong response from SFSU ensuring that they will do everything in their power to ensure that Palestinian voices are not censored on campus. We also hope to see from SFSU a strong statement naming the actions today by Zoom, Facebook and Youtube as a dangerous overreach and a chilling precedent.” Human Rights group #Africa4Palestine has already “called for a boycott of Zoom video conferencing” and it remains to be seen if US groups will follow.