Terrorists have no place on big-tech platforms

Anti-Semites use the Leila Khaled precedent to try to justify silencing Jews on the Internet. But there’s a difference between aiding criminals and censoring opinions.

Graffiti in Bethlehem depicting Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled, May 27, 2012. Credit: Bluewind via Wikimedia Commons.
Graffiti in Bethlehem depicting Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled, May 27, 2012. Credit: Bluewind via Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

For those who hate Jews, it’s a disaster. The ability of Jewish organizations to organize effectively and then persuade Zoom, YouTube and Facebook to deplatform a terrorist was a blow to Israel-haters.

The scheduled appearance of Leila Khaled, a veteran of two airplane hijackings and a veteran operative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at an event sponsored by San Francisco State University was prevented when all three big tech companies said her presence violated their terms of service. But while anti-Israel groups lamented the decision, it’s clear that they plan to use the precedent to argue that Israelis and Zionist groups should be subjected to the same restrictions in the future.

The invitation to Khaled from SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program to appear via Zoom at a Sept. 23 event titled, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance,” is a good indicator of just how disgraceful the content of many ethnic-studies programs on college campuses have become.

Organized by SFSU professors Rabab Abdulhadi, who has a history of anti-Israel activism, and Tomomi Kinukawa of the university’s gender-studies program, the “conversation” would have brought Khaled together with other veteran terrorists.

One was Sekou Odinga, a convicted murderer and member of the Black Liberation Army, an American domestic terror group involved in a number of crimes from the 1960s to the 1980s, who is now free after serving 30 years in federal prison. Another was Laura Whitehorn, a member of the Marxist Weather Underground terrorist group who served 14 years in prison for her role in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Senate and other crimes.

While the whole point of the discussion was to promote the lie that Israel is an illegitimate colonialist regime, SFSU was within its rights in conducting such a travesty.

But the invitation to Khaled, who is banned from entering the United States, as well as many other countries because of her role in terrorist hijackings and because she is a member of an active terror group in the PFLP, wasn’t just outrageous. It was also illegal.

After the announcement of the event, a broad coalition of 90 pro-Israel and Zionist groups joined to denounce Khaled’s presence.

Khaled became an international celebrity because of her role in the hijackings of TWA Flight 840 in 1969 and El Al Flight 219. During the El Al hijacking, she was captured by Israeli sky marshals and then imprisoned in London, where the plane landed. She was later released as part of a deal to ransom hostages taken in a subsequent Palestinian terror attack.

Since then, the 76-year-old has been involved in Palestinian politics as a supporter of the Marxist PFLP and a critic of even the idea of peace with Israel under any circumstances.

But the problem for the radical Jew-haters at SFSU wasn’t the fact that their event was an immoral effort to glorify criminal murderers. It was that, as the Lawfare Project pointed out in a key letter to Zoom, that by letting Khaled lecture to college students on its platform, the company was putting itself in peril of violating a federal law that prohibits providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist groups, of which the PFLP is one.

It was that salient point, rather than the justified outrage of Jewish groups about honoring a terrorist, that concentrated minds at Zoom about the danger of letting Khaled use their platform. Once they dropped the event, it was easier for both Facebook and YouTube, which is owned by tech superpower Google, to come to the same conclusion.

This has prompted a chorus of protests from the pro-BDS crowd and other Israel-haters. In keeping with the general tenor of their movement, their complaints have come in the form of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in which Israel and its friends are depicted as a sinister force manipulating the world to do their bidding. Indeed, the more they speak of themselves as victims of evil Jews, the more obvious it becomes that the attempt to depict the BDS movement as a form of human-rights advocacy is a big lie. The naked Jew-hatred and vile smears that they promote do more to discredit their cause than anything that Zionist advocates could say.

There is one element of their carping, however, that should draw our attention. Defenders of Khaled have claimed that she was silenced despite not having killed anyone personally while Israeli generals or politicians—who are falsely accused of genocide of Palestinians and various human-rights abuses—are allowed to appear on big-tech platforms.

We should expect the BDS crowd to try to do the same thing to Israelis, thereby extending their boycott tactics to the Internet.

This is no idle threat. The people who run and operate the big-tech giants, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, make no attempt to disguise their left-wing political orientation. Conservative groups and Republican politicians have already experienced the way that these companies can use their enormous power to censor them or diminish their audiences.

Would a concerted BDS campaign persuade these powerful corporations to shut down discourse from Israel?

We shouldn’t underestimate the willingness of leftist groups and their academic cheerleaders to promote libels that would attempt to place Israeli officials in the same box as terrorists. Still, such arguments will be unjustified.

First, we must never concede the notion that the right of a democratic state like Israel to defend its citizens against terror is morally equivalent to the efforts of Palestinians to use terror in a campaign aimed at killing Jews—or in the case of the hijackings, citizens of other nations as well—and destroying the one Jewish state on the planet.

This should also make clear the value of anti-BDS laws that have been passed by 27 states. While they are misrepresented by BDS advocates and many Democratic officeholders who claim to oppose the movement as restricting free speech, that’s not the case. They ban commercial conduct that is discriminatory in the way that such efforts aimed at minorities are banned. Any move by big-tech companies, who profit from hosting events on their platforms, to ban Israelis on the spurious charges that they are terrorists could put them in peril of violating anti-BDS laws.

That’s why pro-Israel groups should not be deterred from seeking to hold accountable companies that facilitate appearances by terrorists. Far from setting a precedent that will come back to haunt the Jewish community, the successful banning of Khaled should make it clear that people like her have no place on such platforms.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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