Podcast Ep 39: Fighting censorship of Palestine

On episode 39, Nora, Asa and Tamara discuss ongoing Silicon Valley tech censorship of Palestine-related speech.

We are joined by Omar Zahzah, a member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) and the Palestinian Youth Movement, and Saliem Shehadeh, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In late April, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube blocked a live-streamed event featuring prominent activists from Palestine and South Africa.

They included Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled and Ronnie Kasrils, formerly a leading figure in the military wing of the African National Congress.

The University of California at Merced event, “Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?,” was organized to discuss ongoing attacks on critics of Israel in academia and the dangers of censorship.

The event management platform Eventbrite also pulled the publicity page from its website.

“We are in a moment where profit-driven, private tech companies have taken it upon themselves to directly censor a classroom – and give themselves the authority to do that,” Zahzah says.

“Not accidental”

Earlier in April, Facebook deleted the entire account page of San Francisco State University’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program, a co-sponsor of the event.

Facebook claimed that content posted to the event page violated its “community standards.”

Israel lobby organizations – and the Israeli government itself, through the Act.IL app it funds to harass and threaten university administrations – have tried to convince universities and the tech companies that hosting Khaled, who is in her seventies and lives in Jordan, would constitute “material support” to US-designated “terrorists.”

These groups have also waged a multi-year attack campaign against Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the AMED program.

“The attacks are not accidental – they are going after the AMED program, and they are going after Dr. Abdulhadi,” Shehadeh says.

“They’re going after her because of her Palestine advocacy work.”

Since the interview was recorded, just before Israel’s attacks on Gaza in May, Facebook has admitted to censoring the AMED page, saying it “indeed goes against our policies.”

Jewish Voice for Peace has organized an online action to demand that Facebook restore the AMED account.

Silicon Valley firms have won a number of lucrative contracts from the Israeli government and military in recent times.

Efforts to end the tech giants’ support for Israel have been stepped up in the last few weeks, following the attacks on the Gaza Strip and amid continuing settler-colonial violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

There have also been reports that many tech workers oppose doing business with Israel and have been mobilizing inside Silicon Valley corporations.

“What’s happening right now is a broader reckoning within the technology industry about its involvement in Israel,” an anonymous Google employee who is involved in organizing efforts at the company told Politico.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).