On September 29, Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) addressed a letter to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray, "[recommending] the referral of [San Francisco State University] generally, and [SFSU] President Lynn Mahoney and the event hosts (Professors Rahab Abdulhadi and Tamomi Kinukawa) specifically, for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S. Code § 2338A, which makes it unlawful to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization."
OneNewsNow spoke to Cliff Smith, an attorney and director of the Middle East Forum's (MEF) Washington Project, about the September 23 online lecture, which included the world's first female airline hijacker, Leila Khaled. Interestingly, he says Mahoney ignored calls to cancel the event, despite the guest's background.
Although he argues SFSU is "a very radical university, even by radical university standards," Smith finds it disturbing that the university president and the event's organizers, Abdulhadi and Kinukawa, would have the audacity to invite Khaled – "an unrepentant Palestinian terrorist" – into their virtual classrooms.
He argues, in fact, that giving such a speaking platform to "someone willing to terrorize or kill innocent people cannot be considered an academic pursuit."
According to the MEF director, acts of terrorism in Khaled's past are well-documented, indicating she was responsible for hijacking two airplanes in 1969 and 1970. Decades later, she remains an active member of the Jordanian wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 1997.
"[The event hosts] billed Khaled as a champion for women's rights," the attorney explains, "[but] unlike the vast majority of situations like this, this one was potentially illegal.
"It's not that Leila Khaled has radical ideas, or that she's a former terrorist, or that she's even sympathetic to terrorists – but it's the fact that she's an ongoing member of a designated terrorist organization."
According to material support laws, like Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, Smith points out, "coordinating advocacy with a terrorist group could be considered material support for terrorism." That U.S. Supreme Court case determined material support would include "advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization."
Pushback against the event and possible legal repercussions resulted in two social media platforms – Zoom and Facebook – choosing to cancel the airing of the event. And 23 minutes into the event, YouTube also blocked its viewing. Nonetheless, according to Smith, SFSU refuses to back down from their decision.
"The bottom line is that there are all kinds of debate over who and who should not be allowed to speak or be given a platform," Smith tells OneNewsNow. "[But] Leila Khaled would never have been given a visa; and in fact, she's been rejected by several European countries for a visa, not only due to her past acts but also her membership at the PFLP."
Smith considers this incident to be "uncharted territory, as [it] is butting up against multiple things, [including] technology, radical ideologies, terrorist groups, and more."
He also considers the event "very unique" in that it features "an actual, honest-to-God, self-admitted public leader of a terrorist organization being given this kind of a platform — [and] where this butts up against free speech is not 100% clear."
According to Smith, the incident also raises another important question: Should technology companies be held responsible for who uses their platform?
"I am actually much more sympathetic to the technology companies than to the university," he admits.