California College Distances Itself from Planned Event with Palestinian Terrorist

Leila Khaled (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images)
April 23, 2021

The University of California, Merced, tried to distance itself from a planned Zoom discussion with a Palestinian terrorist that was canceled after the university faced pressure from Republican congressman Doug Lamborn (Colo.).

UC Merced spokesman Jim Chiavelli claimed that the school "was never the 'cohost or sponsor'" of an online discussion featuring Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. UC Merced professor Sean Mallow was set to cohost Friday's event on UC Merced's Zoom portal alongside San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi.

"This program, as described, was about free speech, not terrorism or violence," Chiavelli said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "UC Merced in fact does sponsor and host events we believe will better understanding among people."

Chiavelli said UC Merced allows faculty members to have unrestricted access to the school's Zoom platform for teaching purposes. The university "does not restrict that access based on the content."

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told the Free Beacon that he spoke to UC Merced chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz "to reiterate that our universities should not provide legitimacy to foreign terrorist organizations." McCarthy said he would work with the Department of Education in the coming days to bar universities from providing aid to terrorists.

"Freedom of speech is one of our most valuable rights we get to enjoy as Americans. It should be protected at all costs, but this right should never be exploited to give legitimacy to a foreign terrorist organization," McCarthy said.

The lecture, titled "Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?" was canceled after Rep. Lamborn sent a letter to the University of California president Michael Drake and Chancellor Muñoz warning that the event would be a "flagrant violation" of anti-terrorism laws.

San Francisco State University's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies program, the UC Faculty Associations, and the UC Humanities Research Institute cosponsored Khaled's canceled lecture. Eventbrite and Zoom removed online registration pages for the now-canceled event earlier this week, as hosting a terrorist would violate their terms of service.

San Francisco State tried to host Khaled once before in September 2020, but Zoom canceled that event after the Free Beacon reported that it could violate federal laws barring the aid or support of terrorists.