California Colleges Violate Anti-Terrorism Laws by Hosting Palestinian Terrorist, Lawmaker Warns

Universities take another stab at hosting online event with terrorist hijacker

Leila Khaled (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images)
April 22, 2021

Two California colleges are violating anti-terrorism laws by hosting an upcoming event with a convicted Palestinian terrorist, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.) informed the schools on Wednesday.

The University of California, Merced, and San Francisco State University will cohost on Friday a virtual Zoom event with Leila Khaled, a veteran member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terror group that has murdered Americans. Khaled, one of the PFLP's most notorious faces, was the first woman to hijack a plane, once in 1969 and again in 1970. She was later freed from custody as part of a prisoner swap between the United Kingdom and the terror group.

Lamborn told University of California president Michael Drake and UC Merced chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz that the event violates federal laws barring Americans from providing material support to terror organizations, according to a copy of that letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

"The upcoming event is a travesty to any kind of legitimate academic inquiry, and, moreover, is illegal," wrote Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "The First Amendment protects freedom to express ideas, no matter how repugnant. It does not, however, protect providing services and equipment to terrorists and terrorist organizations."

Pro-Israel groups have been exerting pressure on Zoom to cancel the event, but it is unclear if the video-conferencing company will comply with these requests. Lamborn's letter is certain to increase pressure on both Zoom and the schools to further assess the situation and determine if it is worth potentially exposing themselves to prosecution. Lamborn's letter was also sent to the Departments of Justice and Education, which could prompt an investigation into the event.

This is the second time in recent months that San Francisco State University has attempted to host Khaled for a virtual event. In September, Zoom canceled a similar event organized by the university after the Free Beacon reported that it likely violated anti-terrorism laws. Lamborn also called for a federal investigation into State Francisco State University after that event drew widespread criticism.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon it would be a "terrible mistake" for UC Merced to proceed with the event.

"UC Merced will be making a terrible mistake if it dismisses legitimate and widespread objections and goes ahead with a campus event that will only divide and inflame," Issa said. "There is something deeply wrong when an institution that should be dedicated to higher learning can't distinguish between engaging free speech and broadcasting the anti-Semitic hate of a known terrorist."

Lamborn and terrorism experts maintain the schools—and Zoom, or any other online video hosting service that might be used—are providing material support to Khaled and the PFLP by organizing and holding the event. The law Lamborn mentions specifically bars Americans from providing technological and communications services to any designated terror group or individual.

Lamborn says the event represents a "flagrant violation" of anti-terrorism statutes. "This is not a matter of silencing views that one finds repugnant," he wrote. "It is a matter of not allowing a criminal terrorist organization to utilize a legitimate university for its own purposes."

Cliff Smith, the Washington director of the Middle East Forum, told the Free Beacon that the issue at hand isn't censoring a controversial speaker but rather inviting a known terrorist to speak to students.

"This is a university providing a platform to an honest-to-God leader in a terrorist organization," Smith said.

Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project, which has been spearheading efforts to raise awareness of the universities' decision to host Khaled, told the Free Beacon that the event would provide aid to terrorists.

"Just as we did with [San Francisco State University's] previous attempt to host Khaled, The Lawfare Project has notified Zoom and trusts them to continue to comply with the law and their own Terms of Service by refusing to provide material support — here, in the form of its video conferencing service — to a member of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," Goldstein said.

The University of California system, UC Merced, and San Francisco State University did not respond to the Free Beacon's inquiry on whether they plan to go forward with the event.

Eventbrite and Zoom removed online registration pages for the event earlier this week, explaining that hosting a terrorist would violate their terms of service. But Zoom recently changed its terms of service to give universities more leeway to host controversial speakers—a decision made after San Francisco State University's September forum with Khaled sparked outrage in the community.

A Zoom spokeswoman told the Free Beacon the company is still assessing whether the forum is consistent with its updated standards.

"We are reviewing the facts of this event to determine if it is consistent with our Terms of Service and Community Standards and will decide on an appropriate course of action after that review," the spokeswoman said. She would not, however, answer further questions about whether Zoom would cancel Friday's event.

San Francisco State University's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies program, the UC Faculty Associations, and the UC Humanities Research Institute are sponsoring Friday's event, titled "Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?" The lecture is slated to be featured on UC Merced's Zoom portal as of this writing.