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San Francisco State University defends hosting talk by militant Leila Khaled

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The president of San Francisco State University has defended her decision to allow a talk to go ahead featuring Palestinian militant, Leila Khaled, who was among those to hijack a flight to New York City in the 1970s. 

Khaled is scheduled to speak at a virtual class event hosted by the university next week despite outrage and objections from Jewish students and groups who have said they are ‘deeply distressed’ by her inclusion. 

The event, which is titled ‘Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance’, has been organized by the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program. 

The talk has been billed as a ‘historic roundtable conversation with Palestinian feminist, militant and leader’, according to one of the advertisements. 

Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a group designated by the US Department of State as a terror organization. 

Lynn Mahoney, the president of San Francisco State University, has defended her decision to allow a talk to go ahead featuring Palestinian militant, Leila Khaled, who was among those to hijack a flight to New York City in the 1970s

The 76-year-old also took part in two plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. She was arrested after the second flight on September 6, 1970, which was travelling from Amsterdam to New York City and rerouted to London. 

She never faced charges and weeks later ended up being swapped in a prisoner exchange for civilian hostages that were taken by the terror group in a separate incident. 

After facing objections from Jewish students over Khaled’s scheduled appearance, the university’s president Lynn Mahoney defended her decision to allow the talk to go ahead. 

In an op-ed published by the Jewish News, Mahoney said she condemned hate but welcomed a diversity of opinions. 

‘San Francisco State University is again at the center of a national discussion about the boundaries and consequences of freedom of expression, this time brought about because two faculty members have invited Leila Khaled to participate in a virtual class discussion,’ Mahoney said. 

‘Let me be clear: I condemn the glorification of terrorism and use of violence against unarmed civilians. I strongly condemn antisemitism and other hateful ideologies that marginalize people based on their identities, origins or beliefs. 

The event, which is titled ‘Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance’, has been organized by the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program. The talk has been billed as a ‘historic roundtable conversation with Palestinian feminist, militant and leader’, according to one of the advertisements.

Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a group designated by the US Department of State as a terror organization

‘At the same time, I represent a public university, which is committed to academic freedom and the ability of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship. 

‘Our university is among the most diverse in the nation, where students frequently encounter divergent viewpoints and world views, which plays an essential role in the development of the burgeoning minds of our students. It is our obligation to utilize moments such as these to heap on more learning, engage in more debate, and challenge viewpoints and assumptions.

‘Rather than stifle speech, we must encourage robust questioning and dissent, and ensure that our students and faculty are free from retaliation or censorship for doing so.’

She said a recent meeting she had with students had ‘enhanced my appreciation for the deeply painful impact of this upcoming presenter, as well as past campus experiences’. 

In open letter to Mahoney, students affiliated with SF Hillel – a Jewish student life group associated with the school – said that while they appreciate academic freedom they also expect academic responsibility. 

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, one of the professors who organized the talk, penned a Facebook post last month saying she was honored to host Khaled, who she described as a ‘revolutionary Palestinian militant and feminist icon’

They wrote that they are ‘still deeply distressed by this blatant violation of that responsibility’ by allowing Khaled to speak.   

‘We are worried about the normalization of violent rhetoric. We live in a world with rising violent hate crime rates against Jews and other minority communities, where divisive rhetoric emboldens teenagers to take up arms and threaten acts of violence. 

‘Seeing someone who engaged in terror be held up as a role model, we are worried about the potential for hateful or dangerous backlash.’ 

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, one of the professors who organized the talk, penned a Facebook post last month saying she was honored to host Khaled, who she described as a ‘revolutionary Palestinian militant and feminist icon’.

‘I wanted to grow up to become another Leila Khaled,’ the professor wrote. ‘Her steadfastness, resilience and resistance has and continues to be a huge inspiration to me and to generations of Palestinian women.’

Abdulhadi acknowledged that ‘Zionist groups will undoubtedly become bothered again’.

‘They will ask the university to punish us for bringing the voices of marginalized communities to the fore and for shining a light on what oppression and resistance mean.’ 

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