Learning the Palestinian Revolution & The Zoomification Of Higher Education
On social media today, a roller-coaster drama exposing and discrediting Zionist/corporate hypocrisy unfolded. At its center are the indomitable spirits of two Palestinian heroines — a professor at the College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University (SFSU) and the poster girl, now woman, of Palestinian militancy.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi posted an event on Facebook that was to take place today — an open classroom led by herself (AMED Studies) and Professor Tomomi Kinukawa (Women and Gender Studies) “for a historic roundtable conversation with Palestinian feminist, militant, and leader Leila Khaled, followed by Q&A discussion with students, activists, and scholars at 12:30–2:30 pm PST (3:30–5:30 pm New York, and 10:30pm-12:30 am in Palestine and Jordan).”
“We disavow the discourse of ‘terrorism’ and the reactionary, imperialist, and colonial worldview underpinning it. Free Palestine!”
Leila Khaled’s “public image has been almost entirely dictated by her defining hijackings of 1969 and 1970 [and membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the U.S. put on its list of “terror” organizations]. Since then she has become a mother, teacher, campaigner, a member of the Palestinian National Council and a leader in the General Union of Palestinian Women. Like other militants and those labeled ‘terrorists’ — from Northern Ireland to Nicaragua — she has moved from the armed struggle to the political arena. The two hijackings gained her an icon status.”
In Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy, Sarah Irving, who has also written a biography of Khaled, says:
… to many Leila Khaled is still a figure of admiration, fascination, and inspiration. In the world of reality TV, X Factor, and American Idol, this presents a certain challenge. How to celebrate the charismatic and extraordinary individual whilst avoiding the cult of celebrity, and emphasizing the context that makes political “heroes” what they are? And in a world of horrific violence, where civilians are increasingly on the receiving end of conflict and struggle, it’s a fine line to tread acknowledging courage and commitment to a political cause without glorifying and glamourizing tactics used out of necessity and desperation.
Is it politically acceptable to focus on individual “heroes”? I think it is, in the sense that there are individuals whose lives and examples might have things — good or bad — to teach us about personal paths through political struggle. And I think it is acceptable for individuals engaged in political activity to be inspired by well-known (or more obscure) figures, as long as they also acknowledge that these are not saints or gods but people of their specific time and place. This book, and the series of which it is one of the first, will seek to tread that fine line.
In reaction to Professor Abdulhadi’s open-class announcement, the Lawfare Project threatened Zoom with criminal liabilty (under 18 U.S.C. § 2339) if “it knowingly permitted Leila Khaled to use its platform to communicate directly to U.S. college students.” They argued that because Leila Khaled has been publicly affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, professors at San Francisco State were not allowed to host her as a speaker.
“If it starts here, where will it stop? This should concern university legal offices that don’t even care about Palestine, due to the massive implications.”
Professor Abdulhadi consulted Attorney Dan Siegel and posted that he had communicated with SFSU Provost Jennifer Summit to the effect that it is “neither ‘criminal’ nor illegal to host Leila Khaled as a guest speaker in our open classroom.” She also wrote:
“Zoom has threatened to cancel this webinar and silence Palestinian narratives. We expect SFSU/CSU to uphold our freedom of speech and academic freedom by providing an alternative venue to this open classroom. We will see you tomorrow at 12:30 pm (PST) at the Zoom webinar. For updates please refer to AMED studies and GUPS social media sites.” — Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi
What ended up happening was that both Zoom and Facebook blocked the event. SFSU failed to provide Professor Abdulhadi with an alternative platform and the twenty minutes of the class which were carried on YouTube were abruptly cut off, with hackers boasting on chat that they had “taken it down,” presumably by orchestrating a troll campaign of protest.
“Suppression of Palestinian speech comes with the weight of a Zionist state and the U.S. government behind it.”
San Diego Jewish World (“There is a Jewish story everywhere!”) trumpeted: “The Zoom and Facebook Live both cancelled use of their platforms Wednesday for the airing of a San Francisco State University sponsored webinar featuring airline hijacker Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with Zoom citing its obligation to obey U.S. law.”
Like so many academics who don’t tow the Zionist line, Professor Rabab Abdulhadi is no stranger to attempts to silence her and her students. In a political environment adopted by many academic institutions, Palestinian history and the Palestinian revolution have long had to fight to be heard over the accepted paradigm known as the “Israeli narrative.”
This narrative is weaponized by many Jews and non-Jews as a narrative of Judaism on a par with Bible stories. Unfortunately, efforts to reclaim Judaism from Zionism have not yet gained critical mass.
But this time, the Lawfare Project (a far-right pro-Israel legal advocacy organization) and Shurat Ha Din (a front for Mossad claiming to be a civil rights organization) are not relying on the usual arguments of intimidation and repression such as that Jewish students would feel uncomfortable in such classes or even that of spurious claims of anti-Semitism. They are claiming that the company (Zoom) will be open to civil lawsuits and potentially criminal penalties under US anti-terror laws and US OFAC sanctions.
“Like other militants and those labeled ‘terrorists’ — from Northern Ireland to Nicaragua — she has moved from the armed struggle to the political arena. The two hijackings gained her an icon status.”
Their action underlines once again the dangers of these laws and rulings, because even though the claims are dubious at best, the legal issues are more complicated and could drag on for a long time. Even Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) got on the bandwagon of Professor Abdulhadi’s Zoom event at SFSU by requesting a cutoff of federal funds and an investigation by the Treasury Department.
Commenting on the underlying issues, a friend wrote: “SFSU and the entire CSU system has a huge contract with Zoom. That is a contract for the use of software. Does it allow Zoom to undermine universities’ academic freedom? If so, if it starts here, where will it stop? This should concern university legal offices that don’t even care about Palestine, due to the massive implications. Does SFSU/CSU’s contract with Zoom even allow the company to interfere in such a way? Note that the registration page is still up. It is much more complicated than the report by J., an extremely Zionst source.”
Academe Blog published a piece by John K. Wilson in which he says: “For those on the left who demand that tech companies censor speech they think are wrong or offensive, this is a chilling reminder that censorship is a dangerous weapon that can be turned against progressives. It’s also a reminder of how vulnerable online learning is under corporate control. All colleges that use Zoom ought to demand that Zoom commit to protecting free expression of academic classes and events on its platform.”
However, Wilson goes on to erroneously fold the suppression of Palestinian views into ‘conservative cancel culture’: “It is an example of the growing power of conservative cancel culture, and this censorship reveals the threat to academic freedom posed by tech companies who are under intense pressure from the right to ban controversial ideas.”
Though it has been amplified in recent years, in fact exceptionalism regarding views on Palestine is of much longer standing than “cancel culture,” as Palestine Legal has reported. It is generally known in pro-Palestine activist circles that “the only thing that U.S. university presidents all agree on is the need to punish Palestinian speech.”
The same Right-wing Israel proxy groups at play in this incident cost Steven Salaita a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2014 and a career in academia.
Regarding “cancel culture,” Salaita recently posted on Facebook: “If you have any doubt that the panic over ‘cancel culture,’ as presented by corporate media, is in aggregate a reactionary phenomenon (with a distinctly Zionist subtext), then consider that for a full six decades, professors who affirm Palestinian life have been harassed, maligned, fired, and imprisoned and at no point during this period has the mainstream pundit class treated it as a moral crisis. Absolute silence from people who otherwise never shut up.”
Consider the following recent headline: “University of Toronto rescinds job offer to academic over Israel criticis — University denies Valentina Azarova had ever been officially hired; it did not address concerns that a judge and donor had reportedly objected to her hiring.”
Suppression of Palestinian speech comes with the weight of a Zionist state and the U.S. government behind it. Inside Higher Ed, for example, has yet to pick up this story.
A few weeks ago, writer and activist Khaled Barakat wrote on this issue in The Electronic Intifada: “Association with the Palestinian armed resistance and its political parties is not a cause for shame or a justification for repression. The legitimacy of armed struggle to liberate a people from colonial and foreign domination is legally recognized.”
The Leila Khaled drama is not by any means over even though The Lawfare Project is blaring victory.
The United States Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) campaign has this to say:
USACBI stands with Prof. Abdulhadi, Leila Khaled, and Palestinians everywhere in their sumud (steadfastness) and determination not simply to remain, but also to resist their own erasure and annihilation. We disavow the discourse of “terrorism” and the reactionary, imperialist, and colonial worldview underpinning it. Free Palestine!
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.