DONNA RACHEL EDMUNDS
Plane hijacker Leila Khaled is due to address San Francisco State University’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas study program on September 23.
PFPL plane hijacker Leila Khaled in South Africa / (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)
The president of a leading law firm dedicated to opposing terrorism through legal channels has written to the Chancellor of the California State University to demand that an invitation extended to terrorist Leila Khaled to address a study program be withdrawn.
Khaled, who as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked El Al Flight 219 on September 6, 1970, is due to address an event hosted by San Francisco State University’s (SFSU’s) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) study program, entitled “Who’s Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: a conversation with Leila Khaled” on September 23, 2020.
SFSU has already rejected previous requests to withdraw the invitation, including a request made by Rodney Khazzam, a passenger on Flight 219 who almost lost his life when Khaled attempted to detonate a grenade while the plane was aloft. Now Nitsana Darshan Leitner, president of Shurat HaDin, a Tel Aviv-based law firm which specializes in defending the right of the State of Israel to exist, has written to the university on Khazzam’s behalf to demand the same.
“SFSU President Lynn Mahoney rejected Mr. Khazzam’s request she withdraw the invitation, victimizing him yet again by honoring the terrorist who tried to kill him as a child,” Darshan Leitner wrote, adding: “There is no place in civil society and academic settings for an event or program glorifying or advocating “resistance” or violence under the guise of free speech. I call upon you and the Board of Trustees to correct this grave error and rescind the invitation.”
Flight 219 was one of four planes hijacked that day by the PFLP, and the only one that failed: Khaled’s co-conspirator Patrick Argüello was killed by an air marshal, while Khaled was subdued and handed over to British authorities in London. Three other planes were successfully diverted to Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan, where the 56 Jewish passengers were separated from non-Jews and held hostage. Three days later a fifth plane was hijacked in an attempt to force authorities to release Khaled and other PFLP prisoners, and a deal was struck on September 30 which saw the hostages released in return for their freedom.
In her letter, Darshan Leitner describes Khaled as the “well-known poster girl for Palestinian terrorism since 1969 posing while holding an AK-47 and wearing a Keffiyeh,” and says of the PFLP that it is “a Palestinian, secular, Marxist-Leninist terror group designated by the European Union, Canada, Israel, and the US State Department, Bureau of Counter-terrorism as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The organization calls for the liberation of all “Palestine” and is closely associated with BDS. It has targeted civilians with suicide bombings, assassinations, hijackings, and shootings since its founding in 1967.”
Of Khaled’s role in the hijackings, she writes: “Khaled terrorized the passengers, and without hesitation, tried to murder Mr. Khazzam and every innocent on that plane by attempting to detonate a grenade. She was apprehended only to be released by British authorities as part of a prisoner exchange. Leila Khaled did not pay for her crimes and the terror she inflicted on Mr. Khazzam and his family. Khaled has never expressed regret for her actions and remains an unrepentant terrorist. She frequently equates Israel and Zionism with terrorism and advocates violence against Israel as a legitimate weapon.”
In an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post, Moshe Raab, who at 12-years-old was a passenger on TWA flight 741, one of the planes that was diverted to Jordan, echoed the unsuitability of Khaled as a speaker at an educational establishment.
“Neither Mahoney, in her published response, nor the university indicated that anyone will be presenting an opposing view, one that is against terrorism and radicalization. I cannot imagine how Mahoney, or any decent person, can claim Khaled’s presentation will be an educational experience,” he wrote.
“What will she teach them? The proper way to hijack an aircraft, based on her success in 1969, and what mistakes to avoid based on her failure in 1970?
“Had Khaled ever apologized for her role in the hijackings or taken steps to show that she is committed to nonviolent efforts to achieve her desired end, I would not object to her speaking at San Francisco State. People who genuinely learn often make the best teachers,” he added. “But even after 50 years, Khaled has never expressed remorse or disavowed her actions or those of her comrades.”
SFSU has come in for criticism for antisemitism previously thanks to on-campus support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the State of Israel, and other anti-Israel activities. Dharshan Leitner cites a May 2019 incident in which the Women’s Resource Center at San Diego State University featured a photo of Khaled holding a gun with the caption “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in its weekly newsletter. She also cites a $7,000 grant reportedly awarded to AMED’s director Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, to meet with Khaled. Abdulhadi is a vocal anti-Israel activist and BDS advocate.
The university, along with 13 professors and administrators was sued in 2017 for discriminating against Jewish students, while in 2018 the board of trustees was sued for SFSU’s violation of Jewish students’ civil rights.
“While we applaud the University’s dedication to academic freedom of expression, those who openly promote the murder of Jews, violence, and extremism should have no place in academia to spread their incitement any more than those who would openly promote the KKK and its murderous agenda,” Darshan Leitner wrote.
“The time for SFSU and the California State University system to acknowledge and cease its open support for terrorists, antisemitism and BDS activists is long overdue. On behalf of Mr. Khazzam, as Chancellor, we demand you reject violence and antisemitism and immediately act to rescind the invitation to Leila Khaled.”