Legal Group: Zoom and California University in Violation of U.S. Law for Hosting Forum With Terrorist

Lawfare Project petitions DOJ to investigate school, meeting platform over event with PFLP member

SFSU / Wikimedia Commons
September 18, 2020

Lawyers petitioned the Trump administration to penalize the Zoom meeting platform and a San Francisco university for hosting an upcoming event with a Palestinian terrorist, a forum that they say violates American laws.

San Francisco State University is scheduled to host next Wednesday an online event with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has murdered Americans. Khaled is one of the PFLP's most notorious members, becoming the first woman to hijack an airplane in 1969 as part of a massive terror operation by the group. She attempted to hijack another plane the following year and has since become one of the Palestinian terror faction's most popular faces.

In a letter sent earlier this week to the Department of Justice, the legal advocacy group Lawfare Project requested that a formal investigation be launched into Zoom and SFSU for providing material support to a terrorist organization, according to a copy of that communication obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The penalty for breaching sanctions law is a substantial fine and up to 20 years in prison.

Officials with the Lawfare Project maintain that Zoom and SFSU will violate portions of the U.S. penal code that deem it illegal to give "material support or resources" to designated terrorist organizations and their members if they host Khaled. This includes technological and computing services and the virtual platform being provided by the university and Zoom. The law makes clear that it is illegal for any party to knowingly provide a terror group with "tangible or intangible" services. The law is intentionally broad in order to discourage Americans from engaging in all manner with designated terror groups.

The event comes just days after legal experts raised similar questions about an upcoming Council on Foreign Relations online forum with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who also is sanctioned.

"Providing a platform to an active member of a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization isn't just offensive, it is a clear violation of the law," Benjamin Ryberg, the Lawfare Project's COO and director of research, told the Free Beacon. "We hope the Department of Justice will investigate what appears to be a clear case of providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization."

Both Zoom and SFSU did not respond to requests for comment on the event. The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

Two of SFSU's academic departments, the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies program (AMED) and the Department of Women and Gender Studies (WGS), organized the event with the PFLP's Khaled. Two SFSU professors—Rabab Abdulhadi of the AMED program and Tomomi Kinukawa of the WGS program—are slated to act as moderators for the event.

SFSU-associated video conferencing services and Zoom will be used, according to an invitation for the event.

"This SFSU-associated video conferencing platform, and Abdulhadi's and Kinukawa's moderating of the conversation, can constitute material support" for a designated terrorist organization, according to the Lawfare Project's Sept. 14 letter to the DOJ seeking an investigation. The school and professors participating "can each be found liable" for violating these laws, the group maintains.

The Lawfare Project has already petitioned SFSU to inform it of the potential penalties it could face.

Under strict interpretations of the law, merely hosting Khaled would constitute a violation, according to the Lawfare Project.

SFSU has a history of anti-Israel sentiment on campus.

In March 2019, the school reached a landmark settlement with several students who alleged "rampant anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jewish students" on campus. The Lawfare Project also played a role in that suit.