While right-of-center speakers have previously been met with flames and ferocity at UC Berkeley, the students and administration of San Francisco State University have taken a different approach: Leila Khaled, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, received a warm welcome by the College of Ethnic Studies to host an online forum on September 23rd. Unlike Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopolous, Khaled’s ideas are not simply deemed “exclusionary” or “offensive”—she’s an actual terrorist. In 1969, Khaled high-jacked TWA Flight 840 to Tel Aviv, and a year later, she attempted to high-jack El Al Flight 219 to New York City, which was stopped by Israeli sky marshals. She was imprisoned in Britain and eventually released in an exchange for hostages.
Khaled’s ideas are not simply deemed “exclusionary” or “offensive”—she’s an actual terrorist. In 1969, Khaled high-jacked TWA Flight 840 to Tel Aviv, and a year later, she attempted to high-jack El Al Flight 219 to New York City, which was stopped by Israeli sky marshals.
Khaled has been a vocal supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israel. In her 2017 speech in Belgium, Khaled compared Zionists in Gaza to Nazi officials, stating that “the Nazis were judged in Nuremberg, but not a single one of the Zionists has yet been brought to justice.” Her views and actions are no doubt controversial and encouraging to anti-Semitic hostility on campus; this is especially true at a school that has faced lawsuits for religious bias against Jewish students. In 2017, the school blocked Hillel from participating in a “Know Your Rights” fair, and in 2016, it asked campus security to stand down and actively allowed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s speech to be disrupted by a group of pro-Palestine students. It is particularly ironic that the university invited an anti-Semitic terrorist in the name of free expression, but when it comes to pro-Israel students, the college seems to take a policy stance on what expression is worthy of freedom.
SF State University President Lynn Mahoney asserted that “an invitation to a public figure to speak to a class should not be construed as an endorsement of point of view.” However, Khaled’s presentation, titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, and Resistance,” was more than simply tolerated—it was praised by faculty. Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, one of the forum’s moderators, called Khaled a “feminist icon” and said that she “wanted to grow up to become another Leila Khaled.” The advertisement of Khaled’s presentation focused on the intersection of her viewpoints and rising social justice causes. In turning a blind eye to Khaled’s violent past for the purpose of supporting these ideas, it is hardly true that the university invited Khaled under no “endorsement” of a particular point of view.
On September 22nd, after a league of national Jewish advocacy groups protested outside of Zoom’s San Jose headquarters, Zoom announced that it would not allow Khaled to speak on its platform due to the event’s violation of the company’s terms of service. Organizers of the event attempted to move it to Facebook, but the link became inactive on the morning of the event. They persisted and live-streamed the event on YouTube; twenty-three minutes and nine-hundred viewers into the presentation, YouTube shut the event down after a video showed Khaled defending her violent actions. While the left is normally quick to promote safe spaces against what it deems “hate speech,” the burden fell on Jewish groups to stand against SF State’s decision to support a terrorist speaking for its campus community. In the end, it took three companies’ anti-terrorism policies to “cancel” Khaled.
In the end, it took three companies’ anti-terrorism policies to “cancel” Khaled.
“Where to draw the line against ‘hate speech’” is a common debate in fostering a culture of academic freedom on college campuses without allowing them to become hostile or unsafe for minority students. While our nation has no official definition of, nor policy against, “hate speech,” it has become an extremely polarizing topic on campuses—which have a dual responsibility to uphold the freedoms of their students and to protect them. This case, however, goes beyond typical controversies involving threatening or hateful language; it exposes clear hypocrisy in the definition of “violence” that is often argued to ban or intimidate right-wing speakers. Potential discomfort is often prioritized above the free exchange of ideas, but when the speaker in question is on the left, it seems that violent action is okay, so long as it’s masked under the name of “feminism” and “social justice.” It’s time for some consistency on college campuses—either speech is violence, or it isn’t.