Scholastic wanted to license her children’s book — if she cut a part about ‘racism’

Yet another sad tale from the publishing world:

Maggie Tokuda-Hall was thrilled when she first saw the offer from the publishing giant.

Scholastic wanted to license her 2022 children’s book Love in the Library. The deal would draw a wider audience to her book — a love story set in a World War II incarceration camp for Japanese Americans and inspired by her grandparents, about the improbable joy found “in a place built to make people feel like they weren’t human.”

Then she read Scholastic’s suggested revisions to her book, included in the same email as the offer news. Her excitement at the opportunity was almost immediately tempered.

The publishers only suggested edit was to the author’s note: Scholastic had crossed out a key section that references “the deeply American tradition of racism” to describe the tale’s real-life historical backdrop — a time when the U.S. government forcibly relocated more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to dozens of internment sites from 1942-1945.

Scholastic gave its reasons for the suggested change in an email to the author and her original publisher, Candlewick Press, citing a “politically sensitive” moment for its market and a worry that the section “goes beyond what some teachers are willing to cover with the kids in their elementary classrooms.”

“This could lead to teachers declining to use the book, which would be a shame,” Scholastic’s email said.

The deal with Scholastic was contingent on not only nixing that section, according to the author, but removing the word “racism” from the author’s note entirely.

Scholastic made the suggested revisions above to Tokuda-Hall’s book in an attachment it sent to her original publisher. “They wanted to take this book and repackage it so that it was just a simple love story,” the author wrote on her blog.

Infuriated by what she called a “horrific demand for censorship,” Tokuda-Hall gave Scholastic a hard no.

The author called the offer deeply offensive in an email to Candlewick Press, which passed along Scholastic’s proposal, a response she posted publicly to her website on Tuesday.

“I’m typically a very compromising person,” the Oakland, Calif.-based author, who is Asian American, told NPR. “But when you omit the word racism from a story about the mass incarceration of a single group of people based on their race, there’s no compromise to be had with that if you can’t agree on basic facts.”

Maggie Tokuda-Hall, a children’s author based in Oakland, Calif., rejected an offer from Scholastic to license her book after the publisher proposed an edit that would cut a section referencing “racism.”

Without its proper context, she said, the story “runs the risk of just being like a lovely little love story. And that’s not what it is. To pretend otherwise would do a disservice not just to [my grandparents], but also to the 120,000 other people who were incarcerated at the time.”

Scholastic issues an apology

Two days after the author first spoke out about the offer, Scholastic said it had apologized to Tokuda-Hall for its editing approach, in a statement sent to NPR on Thursday night.

“In our initial outreach we suggested edits to Ms. Tokuda-Hall’s author’s note,” the company’s CEO Peter Warwick wrote in a statement. “This approach was wrong and not in keeping with Scholastic’s values. We don’t want to diminish or in any way minimize the racism that tragically persists against Asian-Americans.”

Scholastic said that during the process it had failed to consult its “mentors” for the Rising Voices collection — authors and educators from Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities — and has since reached out to them to hear their concerns. “We must never do this again,” Warwick wrote

Scholastic, which had planned to feature Love in the Library as part of its “Rising Voices Library” collection highlighting AANHPI voices, said it hopes to restart the conversation with Tokuda-Hall with the aim of sharing the book with the author’s note unchanged.

It’s not yet clear whether Tokuda-Hall will consider their revised offer.

“That conversation is not concluded and so I do not have any comment yet,” she told NPR in an email.

The author says publishers are silencing marginalized voices

To Tokuda-Hall, her experience with Scholastic is another instance in which publishers are yielding to conservative advocacy groups in the face of recent battles over book bans and author censorship.

In one case, a Florida textbook publisher removed all explicit references to race from its lesson materials about civil rights icon Rosa Parks in order to win approval from Florida’s Department of Education, The New York Times reported last month.

Publishers, she wrote on her website before the Scholastic apology, “want to sell our suffering, smoothed down and made palatable to the white readers they prioritize. … Our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability.”

It’s impossible to put a price on what Tokuda-Hall may sacrifice from rejecting the deal with Scholastic, a trusted, powerhouse publisher in the children’s market that affords authors exposure. She feared that speaking publicly about the offer could harm her reputation and career.

“Children’s book authors — we’re fighting over nickels. It’s not exactly gangbusters, this industry,” she said. “So, when you’re presented with any opportunity to get your story, and particularly a story that you deeply believe in, in front of more eyes, it’s a huge opportunity.”

But she thinks kids and their families have the most to lose from situations like this.

“I think they’re losing the opportunity to talk about the truth, to learn the truth, to discuss it,” she said. “No substantive change for the better can be made without reconciliation with the truth.”

Since going public with her experience, the author says, she’s heard from other marginalized writers and people in the publishing industry — largely people of color and queer people, she says — who have also had to make difficult choices about their work and how its presented.

“My DMs have been absolutely full,” she said. “People sharing pretty horrific stories that they’re just too afraid to share in public.”

Some authors and others in the publishing world responded publicly in support of Tokuda-Hall.

“By refusing to let this story be situated in context of government oppression and enslavement of other marginalized groups, past and present, It makes it safe for them to say ‘historically, mistakes were made, but look at how successful Japanese American communities are now,’ ” literary agent DongWon Song tweeted. “This is white supremacy. This is how it operates.”

Author Martha Brockenbrough has collected close to 400 signatures on a letter to Scholastic calling on the publisher to feature Love in the Library without edits.

Before she received Scholastic’s apology, Tokuda-Hall said that, whether or not the publisher apologizes, her “greatest fear is that this is a momentary flurry of outrage, but nothing changes. And other creators are asked to make horrible choices like this going forward in the dark.”

Source: Scholastic wanted to license her children’s book — if she cut a part about ‘racism’

Lisée: Le nouvel Ancien Testament

Nice satyrical take on replacing words in existing literature:

Transportons-nous dans les locaux de la Commission de réécriture intersectionnelle des manuscrits et propos offensants et fautifs. La CRIMPOF. Sur le grand tableau recensant les travaux accomplis, on constate que beaucoup de textes pour enfants ont déjà traversé la moulinette à n’offenser personne. Les livres du Dr Seuss, d’Enid Blyton (Le club des cinq) et de Roald Dahl (Charlie et la chocolaterie) sont déjà réglés. Au rayon des adultes, les James Bond ont aussi connu un premier toilettage. Peut-être faudra-t-il y revenir, car dans aucun des 14 ouvrages d’Ian Fleming son héros n’a de partenaire gai, ni même fluide.

L’équipe de zélés censeurs a beaucoup de mérite. L’ampleur de la tâche est telle que d’autres baisseraient les bras. Mais ils sont rappelés à l’importance de leur labeur par cette maxime, mise en évidence sur le mur, du grand auteur anglais George Orwell : « Tous les documents ont été détruits ou falsifiés, tous les livres réécrits, tous les tableaux repeints. Toutes les statues, les rues, les édifices, ont changé de nom, toutes les dates ont été modifiées. Et le processus continue tous les jours, à chaque minute. » C’est dans son roman phare 1984. Des ignares y voyaient un avertissement contre l’oppression intellectuelle. Les salariés de la CRIMPOF savent qu’il s’agit au contraire d’un énoncé de mission.

L’édifice est vaste comme un salon du livre, avec des sections par région, sujet, âge. La déchiqueteuse est fortement sollicitée au rayon « Allemagne, Deuxième Guerre mondiale ». Les jeunes Allemands se sont dits profondément choqués qu’on leur remette constamment sur le nez l’action des nazis, alors qu’ils n’y sont pour rien. Désormais, fini le chagrin causé par ces rappels traumatisants.

Aujourd’hui s’engage un débat important dans la section consacrée aux textes dits sacrés. Que faut-il faire de la Bible, de la Torah, du Coran ? Trois des ouvrages les plus lus au monde. Davantage que les Harry Potter. C’est dire.

Chacun vient faire rapport au commissaire en chef.

— Ça commence mal, dit l’un. Dieu crée l’homme à son image, puis la femme à partir d’une simple côtelette, pour le désennuyer.

— La femme, un produit dérivé ? Ça n’a pas de sens, opine le commissaire. Il faut réécrire. Et les autres genres, ils arrivent quand ?

— Ça empeste l’hétéronormativité, enchaîne le lecteur chargé du Déluge. Dieu dit à Noé et à sa femme d’embarquer un mâle et une femelle de chaque espèce dans son arche.

— Vous savez quoi faire, dit le commissaire. Mais que se passe-t-il avec ceux restés à terre ?

— Euh, c’est que… Dieu les noie.

— Tous ?

— Oui, tout le reste de la population mondiale. C’est comme qui dirait le plus grand crime contre l’humanité de l’histoire.

— Bon, reprenez-moi tout ça, mon petit. Écrivez que Noé et ses polyamoureux partent en croisière, tout simplement.

— Dans la Torah, dit un autre, il y a ce passage où les deux filles de Lot saoulent leur père et couchent avec lui pour tomber enceintes. Ça ne fait pas un peu culture du viol à l’envers ?

— Oui, et on me signale deux viols dans la Bible. Gommez-moi tout ça. Au moins, avec la libération des esclaves hébreux de l’Égypte, on tient un bon filon, non ?

— Ça commence bien, en effet, répond le responsable, mais une fois qu’ils sont sortis d’Égypte, Dieu les implore de trucider beaucoup de monde : « quiconque ne chercherait pas l’Éternel, le Dieu d’Israël, devait être mis à mort, petit ou grand, homme ou femme ». On est en plein nettoyage ethnique, là !

— Coupez, coupez. De toute façon, c’est trop long.

— Parlant de violence, patron, moi, je suis sur le Coran et j’ai repéré quelques passages assez, disons, tranchants.

— Une dizaine ? Enlevez-les !

— Pas une dizaine, 164.

— Moi, dans la Bible, enchaîne un autre, j’en ai 842 !

— C’est inadmissible, dit le commissaire. Mais pour le Coran, c’est une religion minoritaire. Vous connaissez notre devise. Il ne faut pas seulement accepter la différence, il faut aimer la différence.

— Certes, répond le chargé du texte, mais, dans les pays musulmans, ils sont majoritaires. Alors, ne doivent-ils pas, eux, aimer la différence ?

— Absolument, tranche le commissaire. C’est pourquoi nous avons dépêché des délégations de la CRIMPOF à Kaboul, à Téhéran et à Riyad. D’ailleurs, quelle nouvelle ?

— Ils sont en prison, monsieur le commissaire.

— Pour quel motif ?

— Inimitié envers Dieu.

(Silence gêné)

— Bon, reprend le commissaire en se tournant vers un autre lecteur. Au moins, avec vous, qui travaillez sur le Nouveau Testament, on est dans l’amour du prochain.

— Oui, ça se présente plutôt bien, surtout qu’on peut suggérer que Jésus a le béguin à la fois pour Marie Madeleine et pour Jean. On est dans la fluidité.

— Super, rien à retoucher, donc.

— Il y a quand même le moment où Jésus est très agressif avec des commerçants. Il renverse leurs étals !

— Écrivez qu’il était mécontent et qu’il a poliment laissé une note dans la boîte à suggestions.

— Puis il y a la crucifixion, c’est très gore. Des clous, un glaive, des épines. Ça traumatise beaucoup de monde.

— Vous avez raison. Mais l’intrigue nécessite qu’il soit puni, sinon il n’y a pas de suspense. Que pourrions-nous mettre ?

— J’ai une idée, dit l’un ! Trente jours de travaux communautaires ?

— Parfait, conclut le commissaire. On a bien travaillé.

— J’ai quand même un doute, dit en hésitant un des relecteurs jusqu’ici muet.

— On a laissé des passages offensants, demande le commissaire ?

— Non. Je me demande si on n’est pas en train d’appauvrir de façon irréversible le patrimoine de l’humanité.

— Je suis extrêmement offensé par ce que vous venez de dire, rétorque le chef. Vous êtes superviolent.

Puis :

— Gardes ! Emmenez ce jeune offensant. Et crucifiez-le !

Source: Le nouvel Ancien Testament

Lederman: Florida’s book ban takes censorship to the next level

Of note (age of ignorance):

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder or more depressing on the U.S. book-ban front comes this plot twist from Manatee County, Fla. The school board near Sarasota recently issued an edict that prompted teachers to remove all books from classrooms in response to new rules from the Florida Department of Education.

That policy states that all books in schools must be approved by a librarian (called a “certified media specialist”), or staff risk third-degree felony charges. With some classroom libraries too large to dispose of quickly, teachers have had to physically cover them up, with construction paper in some cases – or risk possible jail time. Teachers are not allowed to choose books for their classrooms. And only vetted books are allowed, to ensure they are free of pornographic material, age-appropriate, and don’t contain “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” It’s effectively leading to negative-option reading, and that’s led to the removal of such dangerous books as Sneezy the Snowman and Dragons Love Tacos.

Imagine a classroom without books. This is a scene cooked up by fools – who are somehow in charge of education – trying to create a nation of more fools. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, has presidential aspirations. Imagine edicts like this being issued nationally.

Is the Sunshine State also the most ignorant? There’s stiff competition for the title – led by Texas, according to a report released in November by PEN America.

And if it’s sex these censorious anti-intellectuals are worried about, they may want to have a seat while we break the news to them: Kids don’t need to learn this stuff from banned-book queen Judy Blume, or from Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health, another frequently censored volume. They can learn it from the internet, from sources far less trustworthy and much more graphic.

Canadian Margaret Atwood is another targeted author; The Handmaid’s Tale is among the most frequently banned books in the U.S. This month, it was among 21 titles banned by the school board in Madison County, Va. Four books by Toni Morrison also made the list, along with three by Stephen King.

Mr. King, a vocal opponent of censorship, tweeted this month: “Hey, kids! It’s your old buddy Steve King telling you that if they ban a book in your school, haul your ass to the nearest bookstore or library ASAP and find out what they don’t want you to read.”

In the new documentary Judy Blume Forever, which just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret author calls the resurgence of book bans – which often target her novels – shocking. It’s “as if time stood still and we’re back in the eighties.

We’ve had a few book censorship controversies in Canada, too. Last year, the removal of three books from libraries in the Durham District School Board just east of Toronto, including David A. Robertson’s The Great Bear, was reversed after public outcry.

But book bans in the United States are becoming so rampant that they are now likelier to elicit heavy sighs rather than shock. Still, seeing the statistics in black and white is alarming. According to that PEN report, from July, 2021, to June, 2022, there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 individual titles. The two categories most frequently banned in schools were books with LGBTQ themes or prominent LGBTQ characters, and books with protagonists or prominent secondary characters of colour.

Students aren’t going to stop being gay – not that any right-thinking person would want them to – because a book that reflects their experience is no longer available in their classroom. Racialized children aren’t going to stop noticing they are racialized. While books are powerful, they are not so powerful that they can change a child’s identity. Their magic isn’t quite that literal. But they can help kids feel better, less alone.

This is not just about misguided parents. Book banning is a strategic political act, and well-connected advocacy organizations have been pushing it. PEN America has identified at least 50 such groups that are actively seeking these bans. And it is certainly a political choice to devote effort to protecting children from books, rather than guns.

Where does an anti-book culture lead? A recent essay in The Atlantic pointed to two prominent figures who have denounced books: Ye, the former Kanye West, who has called himself “a proud non-reader of books,” and Sam Bankman-Fried, who has said he would “never read a book.” A proud antisemite and a fallen tech bro facing multiple fraud charges, respectively.

I get asked a lot these days about misinformation, by people worried that youth are buying into lies about important issues and historical events. My answer always revolves around making sure young people have access to reliable information – the kind most easily found in books. The library over YouTube, always.

Kids, keep reading. Especially the books you’re being told not to read by villainous higher-ups. You’re the protagonist of your own story – and information is power.

Source: Lederman: Florida’s book ban takes censorship to the next level

The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness: How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.

Worth reading:

It’s something of a truism, particularly on the right, that conservatives have claimed the mantle of free speech from an intolerant left that is afraid to engage with uncomfortable ideas. Every embarrassing example of woke overreach — each ill-considered school board decision or high-profile campus meltdown— fuels this perception.

Yet when it comes to outright government censorship, it is the right that’s on the offense. Critical race theory, the intellectual tradition undergirding concepts like white privilege and microaggressions, is often blamed for fomenting what critics call cancel culture. And so, around America and even overseas, people who don’t like cancel culture are on an ironic quest to cancel the promotion of critical race theory in public forums.

In September, Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget ordered federal agencies to “begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’” which it described as “un-American propaganda.”

A month later, the conservative government in Britain declared some uses of critical race theory in education illegal. “We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt,” said the Tory equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch. “Any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

Some in France took up the fight as well. “French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society,” Norimitsu Onishi reported in The New York Times. (This is quite a reversal from the days when American conservatives warned darkly about subversive French theory.)

Once Joe Biden became president, he undid Trump’s critical race theory ban, but lawmakers in several states have proposed their own prohibitions. An Arkansas legislator introduced a pair of bills, one banning the teaching of The Times’s 1619 Project curriculum, and the other nixing classes, events and activities that encourage “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” specific groups of people. “What is not appropriate is being able to theorize, use, specifically, critical race theory,” the bills’ sponsor told The Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Republicans in West Virginia and Oklahoma have introduced bills banning schools and, in West Virginia’s case, state contractors from promoting “divisive concepts,” including claims that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist.” A New Hampshire Republican also proposed a “divisive concepts” ban, saying in a hearing, “This bill addresses something called critical race theory.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pioneering legal scholar who teaches at both U.C.L.A. and Columbia, has watched with alarm the attempts to suppress an entire intellectual movement. It was Crenshaw who came up with the name “critical race theory” when organizing a workshop in 1989. (She also coined the term “intersectionality.”) “The commitment to free speech seems to dissipate when the people who are being gagged are folks who are demanding racial justice,” she told me.

Many of the intellectual currents that would become critical race theory emerged in the 1970s out of disappointment with the incomplete work of the civil rights movement, and cohered among radical law professors in the 1980s.

The movement was ahead of its time; one of its central insights, that racism is structural rather than just a matter of interpersonal bigotry, is now conventional wisdom, at least on the left. It had concrete practical applications, leading, for example, to legal arguments that housing laws or employment criteria could be racist in practice even if they weren’t racist in intent.

Parts of the critical race theory tradition are in tension with liberalism, particularly when it comes to issues like free speech. Richard Delgado, a key figure in the movement, has argued that people should be able to sue those who utter racist slurs. Others have played a large role in crafting campus speech codes.

There’s plenty here for people committed to broad free speech protections to dispute. I’m persuaded by the essay Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in the 1990s challenging the movement’s stance on the first amendment. “To remove the very formation of our identities from the messy realm of contestation and debate is an elemental, not incidental, truncation of the ideal of public discourse,” he wrote.

Disagreeing with certain ideas, however, is very different from anathematizing the collective work of a host of paradigm-shifting thinkers. Gates’s article was effective because he took the scholarly work he engaged with seriously. “The critical race theorists must be credited with helping to reinvigorate the debate about freedom of expression; even if not ultimately persuaded to join them, the civil libertarian will be much further along for having listened to their arguments and examples,” he wrote.

But the right, for all its chest-beating about the value of entertaining dangerous notions, is rarely interested in debating the tenets of critical race theory. It wants to eradicate them from public institutions.

“Critical race theory is a grave threat to the American way of life,” Christopher Rufo, director of the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank once known for pushing an updated form of creationism in public schools, wrote in January.

Rufo’s been leading the conservative charge against critical race theory. Last year, during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, he called on Trump to issue an executive order abolishing “critical race theory trainings from the federal government.” The next day, he told me, the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, called him and asked for his help putting an order together.

Last month, Rufo announced a “new coalition of legal foundations and private attorneys that will wage relentless legal warfare against race theory in America’s institutions.” A number of House and Senate offices, he told me, are working on their own anti-critical race theory bills, though none are likely to go anywhere as long as Biden is president.

As Rufo sees it, critical race theory is a revolutionary program that replaces the Marxist categories of the bourgeois and the proletariat with racial groups, justifying discrimination against those deemed racial oppressors. His goal, ultimately, is to get the Supreme Court to rule that school and workplace trainings based on the doctrines of critical race theory violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This inversion, casting anti-racist activists as the real racists, is familiar to Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in critical race theory. “There’s a rhetoric of reaction which seeks to claim that it’s defending these higher values, which, perversely, often are the very values it’s traducing,” he said. “Whether that’s ‘In the name of free speech we’re going to persecute, we’re going to launch investigations into particular forms of speech’ or — and I think this is equally perverse — ‘In the name of fighting racism, we’re going to launch investigations into those scholars who are most serious about studying the complex forms that racism takes.’”

Rufo insists there are no free speech implications to what he’s trying to do. “You have the freedom of speech as an individual, of course, but you don’t have the kind of entitlement to perpetuate that speech through public agencies,” he said.

This sounds, ironically, a lot like the arguments people on the left make about de-platforming right-wingers. To Crenshaw, attempts to ban critical race theory vindicate some of the movement’s skepticism about free speech orthodoxy, showing that there were never transcendent principles at play.

When people defend offensive speech, she said, they’re often really defending “the substance of what the speech is — because if it was really about free speech, then this censorship, people would be howling to the high heavens.” If it was really about free speech, they should be.


Zoom refuses to stream university event featuring member of terrorist organization

Facing similar issues as Twitter and Facebook in terms of responsibility or not for content (and security given zoombombing):

Pre-COVID-19, colleges and universities decided which speakers were too controversial to visit their campuses. But this week’s events at San Francisco State University demonstrate how tech companies increasingly are the arbiters of who’s fit to address students.

Here’s what happened: two professors, Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of Arab and Muslim ethnicities and diasporas studies at San Francisco State, and Tomomi Kinukawa, lecturer in women’s and gender studies, organized a virtual roundtable discussion on Palestinian rights called “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled.”

A digital flier for the event described Khaled as a “Palestinian feminist, militant and leader.” What it didn’t say was that Khaled was one of two terrorists who hijacked TWA flight 840 from Italy to Israel in 1969, in affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. No one was killed in the incident, but two hostages were held for months. Khaled was released without charges in a prisoner exchange, and she went on to unsuccessfully attempt to hijack a second international flight in 1970. She was again released in a hostage exchange.

Khaled, now a resident of Jordan, has lived a quieter life since then. But she continues to speak out on Arab-Israeli relations and against the premise of a peace process. Some accuse her of advocating violence against Israel.

“Ι am afraid I am a freedom fighter, whatever that means or whatever the media that is controlled by Zionism and the imperialists say,” Khaled told Euronews in 2017. Asked about her tactics in that fight, she said, “When you defend humanity, you use all the means at your disposal. Some use words, some use arms and some use politics. Some use negotiations. I chose arms and I believe that taking up arms is one of the main tools to solve this conflict in the interest of the oppressed and not the oppressors.”

For obvious reasons, Khaled remains controversial: she was banned from entering several countries, including Italy, in 2017, on the grounds that she is a member of terrorist organization. Khaled remains a member of the Popular Front militant group, which the U.S., among other countries, has designated a terrorist organization.

News of Khaled’s virtual invitation to San Francisco State spread fast, and the university faced intense pressure to cancel the event.

“We recognize that it is not always easy to know whether a faculty member intends to educate or politically indoctrinate students,” reads a letter to the university from 86 organizations, including the AMCHA Initiative, a watchdog group against anti-Semitism. “However, sometimes it is crystal clear, as in the case of [Abdulhadi], who organized this event and specifically invited Leila Khaled, a leader of a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization, who continues to make public statements in support of armed violence against Israel.”

Zoom also faced pressure to refuse to stream the roundtable. San Francisco State — which supported Abdulhadi and Khaled’s right to speak — offered Zoom assurances that Khaled was not being compensated for her talk or was in any way representing the Popular Front. Yet a day before the planned event, on Tuesday, Zoom said it could not facilitate the roundtable.

Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, praised Zoom’s decision, as did others, saying on Twitter, “Don’t need to hear both sides.”

Organizers decided to stream the event on YouTube instead. But it, too, faced pressures to censor the event. About 20 minutes into the broadcast, it cut the feed. The conversation was effectively over.

Facebook also removed promotional material about the event from its pages.

John K. Wilson, independent scholar and an editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, wrote a post about the incident, saying that for “those on the left who demand that tech companies censor speech they think are wrong or offensive, this is a chilling reminder that censorship is a dangerous weapon that can be turned against progressives.”

It’s also a reminder of “how vulnerable online learning is under corporate control,” Wilson wrote. “All colleges that use Zoom ought to demand that Zoom commit to protecting free expression of academic classes and events on its platform.”

A Zoom spokesperson said in a statement that the service is “committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations, subject to certain limitations contained in our Terms of Service, including those related to user compliance with applicable U.S. export control, sanctions and anti-terrorism laws.”

In light of Khaled’s “reported affiliation or membership in a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise,” the spokesperson said, “we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event.”

YouTube said that it terminated the livestream in line with “clear policies” regarding content featuring or posted by members of violent criminal organizations, specifically “content praising or justifying violent acts carried out by violent criminal or terrorist organizations.” ​

A spokesperson for Facebook said the promotional content it took down violated its policy “prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations and individuals, which applies to pages, content and events.”

Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim ethnicities and diasporas program, did not respond to a request for comment.

Some have said that Abdulhadi’s actions were criminal, in that she misused the public university’s name and resources for personal or political gain, including the promotion of the academic boycott movement against Israel, in which she is active.

The letter from AMCHA and other groups, for instance, says that Abdulhadi “deprives her students of access to vital information about complex topics of global importance, as well as their fundamental right to be educated and not indoctrinated; foments a divisive and toxic atmosphere, both inside and outside the classroom, that incites hatred and harm towards Jewish and pro-Israel students; and seriously erodes the public trust in your university to uphold its academic mission and ensure the safety and well-being of all of its students.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education scoffed at the notion that Abdulhadi broke the law, saying the idea that faculty members can’t discuss “anything that might be seen as ‘political'” is “unconstitutionally overbroad, reaching far beyond the government’s interest in limiting the use of public resources” in the narrow matter of elections.

San Francisco State referred all questions about the matter to a statement by President Lynn Mahoney, saying that San Francisco State “remains steadfast in its support of the right of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship free from censorship, in this instance the right of two faculty members to host ‘Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, & Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled’ as part of a virtual class.”

A university can, “at the same time, allow its students and faculty the freedom to express contrary, even objectionable, views while also condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, racism, and other hateful ideologies that marginalize people,” Mahoney said. “These are complex issues but universities above all other places should be places to debate and question complexities.”

San Francisco State worked “hard to prevent this outcome and [has] been actively engaging with Zoom,” Mahoney said, and “based on the information we have been able to gather to date, the university does not believe that the class panel discussion violates Zoom’s terms of service or the law.” Although the university disagrees with and is “disappointed by, Zoom’s decision not to allow the event to proceed on its platform, we also recognize that Zoom is a private company that has the right to set its own terms of service in its contracts with users,” she said.

Going forward, Mahoney said, “We cannot embrace the silencing of controversial views, even if they are hurtful to others. We must commit to speech and to the right to dissent, including condemning ideologies of hatred and violence against unarmed civilians.”

Audrey Watters, an independent scholar who writes about education technology and has called herself ed tech’s Cassandra, said the Khaled case reveals “what a precarious place academic freedom is in right now. Attacks are coming from the Trump administration, with its threats to withhold fundsfor those who study and teach about race and gender, as well as from the technology companies that universities have become reliant upon, particularly during the pandemic.”

While the upcoming presidential election “might give some people hope to address the censorship threats that come from the former,” she continued, those coming from tech companies “are going to be much harder to unwind. Can there be academic freedom and open inquiry when technology companies are able to control what gets researched and discussed on their platforms?”

Typically when scholars question academic freedom at their institutions, they appeal to their faculty governance bodies or administrations, or to the AAUP and other outside groups to apply pressure. Ed-tech companies, and especially general platforms such as Zoom, don’t necessarily deal day to day in academic freedom issues and may be less responsive to faculty demands. Khaled presents something of an extreme test, given her history, but it’s worth asking where else Zoom, YouTube and the like might draw the line. Would all these platforms have streamed former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial 2007 speech at Columbia University, for instance?

Watters said the discussion reminded her somewhat of “efforts taken a decade-ish ago when departments started to prepare what to do in case the social media mob came for a professor.”

“It seems worth talking about the potential for this problem now, before another Zoom censorship situation arises,” she added.

Source: Zoom refuses to stream university event featuring member of terrorist organization