In an online program next week, the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University will cohost “A Conversation with Leila Khaled.” It is promoting the event as a “historic” encounter with a prominent “Palestinian feminist, militant, and leader.” One of the program’s two moderators, Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of the college’s Race and Resistance Studies Department, extols Khaled for her “steadfastness” and “resilience,” and hails her “stubborn commitment to an indivisible sense of justice.” In an enthusiastic Facebook post, the professor describes Khaled as “a huge inspiration” and a “feminist icon,” and declares that she “wanted to grow up to become another Leila Khaled.”
Leila Khaled is a terrorist.
For decades, Khaled has been a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, which is designated as a terror organization by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. In August 1969, she was one of the hijackers of TWA Flight 840, which was en route from Rome to Tel Aviv before being diverted at gunpoint to Damascus. A year later, Khaled took part in an attempted hijacking of El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York City. A horrific mass murder was averted when the grenade Khaled carried aboard the plane failed to detonate and the hijackers were overpowered by Israeli sky marshals. The plane landed in London, where Khaled was arrested by British authorities. She was later released in an exchange for hostages seized in another PFLP hijacking.
She has spent the years since then avidly promoting “armed struggle,” spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and encouraging BDS, the campaign to attack Israel through boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions.
Anti-Semitism in modern times frequently takes the form of incendiary anti-Zionism, with Israel scurrilously likened to Nazi Germany. Khaled regularly traffics in such poisonous libels. “You can’t compare the actions of the Nazis to the actions of the Zionists in Gaza,” she told a Belgian audience in 2017. “The Nazis were judged in Nuremberg but not a single one of the Zionists has yet been brought to justice.”
Hijacker, would-be killer, hater of Jews: This is the “feminist icon” and “huge inspiration” for whom San Francisco State is providing a Zoom platform next week. Its advertisement for the event features an illustration based on a famous photograph of Khaled as a 21-year-old, smiling broadly and brandishing an AK-47.
As a matter of academic freedom and the First Amendment, the university has every right to glorify a terrorist. The school’s president, Lynn Mahoney, characterizes the program as an example of how college provides opportunities “to hear divergent ideas, viewpoints, and accounts of life experiences.” As a marketplace of ideas, she told a critic, “SF State supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints.”
But can anyone imagine San Francisco State — or any university — inviting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon terrorist, to be the featured speaker at a campus program? Would Mahoney like to see her university host a “conversation” with Dylann Roof, the white supremacist terrorist who gunned down nine Black churchgoers in a South Carolina church? Or with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
“The right of all individuals to express their viewpoints” is an estimable principle, but it does not impose an obligation on any institution to promote every opinion. Khaled’s appearance at San Francisco State doesn’t illustrate a courageous commitment by the school to air the unpopular views of terrorists and haters. It illustrates the admiration to be found on the hard left for one specific kind of terrorist and hater: the kind who targets Jews and demonizes Israel. Khaled is being celebrated for her violent career, not reluctantly tolerated out of deference to First Amendment principles.
The alarming resurgence of anti-Jewish bigotry in the United States is reflected in the growing number of anti-Semitic acts on college campuses. That trend is raising red flags now, but it showed up early at San Francisco State. In an essay that went viral in 2002, faculty member Laurie Zoloth wrote of how the university was evolving into “a venue for hate speech and anti-Semitism” and of “how isolating, how terrifying” it was becoming “to live as a Jew on this campus.” Now, 18 years later, the university prepares to feature a notorious terrorist who doesn’t want Jews to live in the Middle East, either. Anyone not consumed by anti-Jewish bigotry should be appalled, but Leila Khaled ought to feel right at home.