We Will Not Be Silenced: Continuing the struggle against corporate and university censorship of Palestine – report and videos

Yesterday, over 10 universities and academic groups hosted webinars featuring a message from Leila Khaled, as part of We Will Not Be Silenced: National Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Political SpeechOf those events, three of them – at the University of Hawai’i, New York University and the University of Leeds – were again censored by Zoom. Another event, at the University of Western Ontario, was censored by Facebook. Nine of the events went forward in full, despite multiple threats of censorship.

The Day of Action was organized by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in response to the censorship by Big Tech companies Zoom, YouTube and Facebook of the September 23 Open Classroom organized at San Francisco State University by Profs. Rabab Abdulhadi (Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas – AMED Studies) and Tomomi Kinukawa (Women’s and Gender Studies). SFSU administration was fully complicit in the censorship of this important event featuring a live discussion with Leila Khaled alongside Palestinian, Jewish, Black and South African liberation strugglers and former political prisoners.

Events were presented at the University of Massachusetts – Boston, University of Leeds, University of Western Ontario, Loyola University School of Law, University of Alberta, Stanford University, The Claremont Colleges, San Francisco State University, and by California Scholars for Academic Freedom, hosted at the University of California Santa Cruz. 

Three events – at the University of Hawai’i, New York University and the University of Leeds – were censored by Zoom at the behest of pro-Zionist, anti-Palestinian lobby organizations. Palestine Legal, along with ten other civil rights groups, wrote to Zoom demanding that they cease censorship of Palestinian narratives, and to University of Hawai’i and the University of Massachusetts Boston, where events were scheduled, emphasizing their obligation to protect the academic freedom of their faculty and students.

At the University of Leeds, the event was organized by student groups, including the national framework, Apartheid Off Campus, as well as the University of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group. The university does not provide personal Zoom accounts. Zoom censorship shut down not only the event but also Palestinian student Adam Saeed’s personal Zoom account, and he has been unable to recover access. The event also faced attempts at censorship from the University of Leeds Student Union. The organizers at Apartheid Off Campus continued their action in resistance to censorship, and the full video of the event is available on Facebook: http://bit.ly/AOCLeilaKhaled

Adam Saeed says: “The reality is that our only crime is that we are speaking out against the marginalization of Palestinian voices, the voices of their supporters and by extension, their narration of their plight and struggle. We should not be surprised by this behavior on the part of companies such as Zoom or Facebook.” Noting that both Angela Davis and Nelson Mandela had been labelled as terrorists, “we should only be encouraged by this pushback on the part of these companies and continue with our struggle regardless. History will be our judge,” Saeed said. “We should also remember that the repression and violence that we face here in the UK and in the US, though a disgrace, still pales in comparison to what our sisters and brothers have to go through in Palestine or in Egypt. Here I recall Maher al-Akhras and Ramy Shaath, but also Julian Assange. They must all be free and we must be free to speak up and speak loudly about their cause. Hence, we will not be silenced.”

At New York University, Zoom pulled the plug on the event, deleting it from the NYU Zoom system. The American Association of University Professors at NYU issued a statement: “The shutdown of a campus event is a clear violation of the principle of academic freedom that universities are obliged to observe. Allowing Zoom to override this bedrock principle, at the behest of organized, politically motivated groups, is a grave error for any university administration to make, and it should not escape censure from faculty and students.”

Despite Zoom’s censorship, the New York University event was recorded – and is now available online, making it clear that we will not be silenced and will continue to resist, speak and organize:

Cynthia Franklin, USACBI Organizing Collective member and Professor of English at the University of Hawai’i, where Zoom censored the planned event and the university administration failed to take any action to defend its faculty and students’ academic freedom, said: “Although the censorship of the University of Hawai’i webinar by Zoom and the lack of protections offered by the UH administration might seem like a victory for  Zionist individuals and organizations, it is not. The egregiousness and clarity of this violation of academic freedom in the long run only will make us stronger as we stand for a free Palestine, and continue our fight for universities as spaces of critical thinking and free speech. We will not cede to the pressures of corporate capitalism, settler colonial agendas, and an encroaching fascism.”

At The Claremont Colleges (CMC, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps), Zoom legal counsel wrote to administrators shortly before the planned event, threatening to shut down the meeting, and using its own repressive measures against the event organized by Profs. Abdulhawi and Kinukawa at San Francisco State University in an attempt to justify its continued attacks on Palestinian speech. The event went forward as planned, ending with a resounding call to continue to “resist the censorship!”

Meanwhile, at the University of Western Ontario, the event moved forward on Zoom, but the far-right, notoriously racist Jewish Defense League took credit for forcing the event off of Facebook.  In fact, event organizer, Professor David Heap, had his own Facebook account suspended at the same time, as did other organizers – although he was later able to reclaim his account and the video is now available on Facebook.

Heike Schotten, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts – Boston and a member of the USACBI Organizing Collective, spoke in response to the continued repression: “For those who thought America’s War on Terror was over, think again: Zoom and our universities continue to carry water for this racist, imperial agenda by succumbing to right-wing “terrorism” fear-mongering in order to justify illegal censorship and outrageous violations of academic freedom.  These webinar shutdowns are part of a longstanding, targeted campaign against Palestine in the academy and Palestinian academics in particular, from Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El Haj to Sami Al-Arian and Steven Salaita. Taken together, these are attacks on Palestinian people, their right to speak freely about their oppression, and openly advocate for their own liberation.”

Let us be clear: this does not end with one day of webinars, especially as our colleagues continue to face repression, discrimination, censorship and renewed attacks from Zionist organizations, Big Tech corporations and complicit university administrations. Even if the plug is being pulled by huge tech corporations; universities are outsourcing their responsibilities and obligations to protect academic freedom to Silicon Valley.

This is an attempt to silence and erase the Palestinian narrative and Palestinian liberation struggle. We invite all who stand for justice in Palestine to join us in campaigning against the criminalization and censorship of Palestinian speech on campus, and in building the academic boycott of Israel, including by:

  • Issuing organizational statements from AAUP chapters, student and faculty groups, social justice organizations and other groups concerned about justice in Palestine – confronting the original attacks on Profs. Abdulhadi and Kinukawa at SFSU and the ongoing Big Tech silencing targeting the Palestinian narrative at the University of Hawai’i, NYU and elsewhere;
  • Organizing more of these events! USACBI will be happy to provide you with video material as well as a curriculum and additional resources to help you plan your event and publicize it.
  • Campaigning for the academic boycott of Israel. Endorse the USACBI call at this link. 
  • Contacting us at usacbidayofaction@gmail.com to strategize together to build our activities and networks to fight repression and struggle for justice in Palestine.


Further resources: 

USACBI thanks all of the faculty, students, organizations and departments that organized events and activities as part of the Day of Action, as well as all of the speakers who participated in lending their expertise to these events. We thank Profs. Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa for organizing their Open Classroom at SFSU on September 23 and for continuing to stand on the front lines confronting severe repression despite legal and other threats and attacks.

We further thank all of our partners in this Day of Action, including the co-sponsoring organizations: Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition; Apartheid Off Campus; Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies at SFSU (AMED); California Scholars for Academic Freedom; Campus Antifascist Network; Eyewitness Palestine; Executive Committee of the American Comparative Literature Association; International League of Peoples’ Struggle; Jews for Palestinian Right of Return; Labor for Palestine; National Lawyers Guild; Palestine/BDS Solidarity Working Group, Democratic Socialists of America; Palestine Legal; Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network; Within Our Lifetime – United for Palestine. Thank you to Palestine Legal for your advocacy and legal and media support. 

Thank you to all who joined, participated, publicized and took part in this event. Please contact us at usacbidayofaction@gmail.com to stay in contact and build our activities and networks to fight repression and struggle for justice in Palestine. 

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