CEO Op-ed in the Times of Israel: Would San Francisco State University Invite the 9/11 Hijackers to Speak?
The Times of Israel published an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on San Francisco State University's (SFSU) decision to invite Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled to speak at an SFSU-hosted panel.
Like Che Guevara, terrorist Leila Khaled’s notoriety has had a life of its own, largely promoted through her perpetually young visage, wearing an Arafat-style keffiyeh and holding an AK-47 assault rifle which appears on innumerable posters. For sure, there are probably T-shirts and mugs, too, which are worn by, or adorn the shelves of university students and those older than that, who hold her acts of terror in the highest regard. There have been songs written about her, and even a street named after her.
She seems to be in demand as a speaker; not that long ago she was featured on a panel discussion inside the European Union’s parliament building. Europe, the scene of so many acts of terror in recent years, would seem to be a place where an appearance by a true-believer terrorist would have elicited reams of criticism, and calls for the event to be cancelled. Some 60 MEPs did protest the appearance, but it occurred anyway. The program at which she spoke was organized by far-left factions in the parliament, the spokeswoman for one of which praised “the fantastic turnout” and proclaimed, “long live international solidarity.” Only after the event was held did the president of the parliament propose that those engaged in acts of terror be denied access to its premises.
Khaled, who is still a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist organization with roots going back to 1967, has now been invited to appear on a webinar at the end of September, organized by San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies (AMED) program. The topic? “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance.”
Khaled cannot enter the United States, not only because of membership in a State Department-designated terrorist organization, but because she was involved in some of the more noteworthy acts of international terror in the 1960s and 1970s. In February 1969 she was involved in the hijacking to Damascus of TWA flight 840, headed for Tel Aviv from Rome. After landing, the hijackers blew up the front part of the plane.
As noteworthy, a year later, was the hijacking of El Al flight 219, headed from Amsterdam to New York. This time Khaled worked with Patrick Arguello, a Nicaraguan-American connected to the Sandinista movement, which had entered into a “partnership” with the PFLP to carry out both training and terrorist activities. The two had boarded the plane posing as a couple, using forged Honduran passports. In the ensuing commotion, Arguello is said to have rolled a grenade down the aisle of the plane and fired his gun, wounding a flight attendant. Khaled herself was carrying grenades. When the pilot put the plane into a steep nosedive, it threw the hijackers off balance. Arguello was shot and killed by a sky marshal; Khaled was overwhelmed by passengers and held until the plane landed in London. She was jailed in London but was later released in a prisoner-hostage exchange growing out of another PFLP hijacking.
There could have been mass casualties in both hijackings. Khaled was no mere spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. She was armed and clearly willing to bring the planes down, and their hundreds of passengers with them. Her targets were not random. That she chose a flight to Israel on an American airliner, and an El Al flight meant that the great number of passengers were Jewish, and most likely citizens or supporters of Israel.
Over the decades that have passed, there has been a major campaign to glorify Khaled and her terrorist actions. And now, “compassion” has entered the legend. One story circulating over the years is that she was given explicit instructions not to threaten passengers.
But here’s what one passenger, Rodney Khazzam, then a child traveling with his father, pregnant mother, and sister on Flight 219 had to say about Khaled, in a letter to Lynn Mahoney, the president of SFSU:
“Leila Khaled sat just behind me…several minutes into the flight, above the English Channel, Khaled and her partner stood up directly behind us and began her flight of terror. Her intent was to kill every passenger on board, whether by taking the plane down or diverting it to the desert in Jordan…I wonder if any of the hijackers on 9/11 had survived, if 30 years from now it would be considered educational to have one of them lecture young students at a university. Would you express support for a 9/11 hijacker to speak at your school? I fail to see the difference.”
SFSU has responded to this controversy, with a usual rote-sounding defense of free speech. Said a university spokesman: “A university is a marketplace of ideas, and San Francisco State University supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints and other speech protected by law, even when those viewpoints may be controversial.”
Most Americans will defend free speech to the nth degree, but where this argument collapses is that the university is under no obligation to invite everyone who wants to say something to speak at a university forum. Khazzam asks the key question: would the 9/11 hijackers be welcome at SFSU? I sincerely hope not – especially at an institution that is state and federally-funded. Do would-be or actual killers and assassins have anything fundamentally positive to teach us? If we are not able to draw that line, something is terribly askew not only in our American values, but in how a university sees the very basic definition of morality.
Or maybe it’s something more than that. SFSU’s AMED program has a history of support for those who would demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State. Inviting a real, live terrorist to campus – even virtually – is very much in line with AMED’s objectives. And Khaled is not just any terrorist; she’s the one on the poster smiling with her AK-47, with the stripes to show that she actually carried out “heroic” acts such as the TWA and El Al hijackings. The invitation might as well say, “Come one, come all, to hear the real thing expound on her years threatening the lives of innocent civilians.”
SFSU should immediately cancel Khaled’s appearance on the AMED panel on gender, justice and resistance. Is she really a gender role model? Is there justice in carrying (and using) guns and grenades to advance one’s “cause?” And as for resistance, her objective is the destruction of Israel. The logo of the PFLP still includes the map of the Jewish state. Does the university have any reservations about that?
A university surely needs to be a place where students can broaden their intellectual horizons. Hearing from someone who was armed with hand grenades on an airliner flying at 30,000 feet to make a deadly point, should not find a place of welcome in that universe.
There are many definitions of the Yiddish word “chutzpah”: temerity, audacity, nerve, are chief among them.
Any of these definitions aptly fit the upcoming, and grandly-named, Paris Conference on Middle East Peace. Seventy countries will soon gather in the French capital to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more likely than not, will propose—or perhaps will try to impose a solution to it.
Israel will not be in attendance, and for good reason.
French authorities, in introducing the idea for this conference seven months ago, said that they were “compelled to act” on the issue, which they presumptuously profess was necessary to bring the parties together. The conference spokesman says that discussions will center within three working groups, dealing with civil society, institution building and economic assistance.
This all may have been another exercise in “international conference futility,” as the Geneva peace conferences of decades past attest, had it not been for the passage of Resolution 2334 in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the speech of Secretary of State John Kerry outlining his “six principles” late last month.
Huge assemblages of diplomats from dozens of countries, some of which don’t even have relations with Israel, normally wind up letting off steam at these gatherings, and close with presumptuous declarations that either raise Palestinian expectations or frustrate Israel because they have never dealt with the rejectionism of the Palestinian camp.
But this time may be different.
Protestations coming out of Paris about not seeking to impose a settlement on the parties ring hollow. Armed with both the resolution and the Kerry declaration, the Palestinians, who will be attending the gathering, will seek to use the meeting to further isolate Israel. With friends like Sweden, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, mischief-making could very well be the order of the day.
The conventional wisdom is that the conference will endorse the Kerry principles, which placed the blame and onus on Israel for an absence of progress on a two-state solution, and send it on to the Swedish-chaired UNSC, for adoption. At that point, with the parameters not only enunciated by Kerry, but then backed by both the Paris Conference and the Security Council (how could the U.S. veto its own policy?), what would be left to negotiate?
It defies understanding how the French organizers, or any other parties, can still speak both of prejudging an outcome, as well as a serious return to direct negotiations.
Indeed, some Palestinian leaders rejected out of hand the Kerry parameters and called for negotiations within hours of the speech. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Mustafa Barghouti dismissed three of Kerry’s points, saying that the refugee issue must still include the right of return, that the Palestinians would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Kerry’s proposal for Jerusalem being the capitol of two states did not go far enough—presumably meaning that Israeli neighborhoods like Gilo and Har Homa would need to be evacuated in a final agreement.
In showing his hand, Barghouti underscores not just Palestinian rejectionism, but the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) incessant desire to wear down the international community and insist that it continue to attempt to marginalize and weaken Israel, both diplomatically and economically, until there is nothing left to talk about. Full diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state could very well follow this conference. With that in hand, there would be no need for the PA to make any concessions. What next? A PA invitation for Iran to send Revolutionary Guards to set up an operation in Ramallah or Hebron?
So is it any wonder that Israel has decided not to appear before this latest version of an international kangaroo court?
Where have the 70 countries joining this gathering been over the past decades, failing to strongly insist that the PA enter negotiations with Israel following offers made by a succession of Israeli governments of concessions ranging from custodianship of Islamic religious sites in Jerusalem (2000), evacuating settlements in Gaza (2005), further concessions on settlements in Judea and Samaria (2008) and most recently, a 10 month settlement freeze (2014).
The responses to these opportunities are well known: intifadas, rockets, incitement and utilizing the United Nations agencies to circumvent the very idea of a negotiated peace, at the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and now, the Security Council.
The massive amounts of time and energy the international community has wasted on these gatherings cannot be regained. Castigating Israel—and by all accounts that will be the end result of the Paris conference, notwithstanding whatever diplomatic language is used—is a non-starter. This is especially so now, when on every one of Israel’s borders there is chaos and uncertainly, ascribable not to the Palestinian issue, but to intra-Arab and intra-Islamic rivalries, mistrust and shifting ideological and strategic currents.
Security Council resolution 2334, and the Kerry speech, have already set back the notion—adhered to by many who back a two-state solution to the conflict—of directly negotiating its end.
Already, some diplomatic scholars and Middle East experts are suggesting ways to, if not rescind the resolution, then to at least mitigate its fallout.
As that unfolds, on into the new Trump administration in Washington, the PA should understand that its zero-sum strategy is also a non-starter.
The Paris conference could send that message to the PA, but it won’t. Those countries participating in these deliberations should do no more harm to this process.
In a joint statement, B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich and B’nai B’rith International executive vice-president Dan Mariaschin said the lack of outcry against the wave of terror was disturbing.
“If a rash of terror broke out in any other democratic nation, most of the international community would be appalled,” they said.
B'nai B'rith International joined a chorus of Jewish organizations that voiced displeasure at a recent Vatican's move on the recognition of a "State of Palestine.”
In follow-up analysis, B'nai B'rith Director of United Nations Affairs David Michaels examined the history of the terminology, noting that the Vatican has made prior references to the "State of Palestine," and concluding that the move, while disappointing, is unlikely to affect Israelis or Palestinians.
Read media coverage from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on B'nai B'rith's statement on the Vatican:
A May 13 announcement on an agreement regarding the functioning of the church in areas under Palestinian control raised eyebrows in its reference to the “State of Palestine.”
The upset was compounded by confusion over whether Pope Francis, in a meeting over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, praised him as an “angel of peace” or urged him to attain that vaunted status. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said it was “very clear” that the pope was “encouraging a commitment to peace.”
But the Vatican’s shift from terming its Palestinian partner as the Palestine Liberation Organization — the designation Israel accepts — to calling it Palestine comports with a shift in Europe toward accommodating Palestinian statehood aspirations, the Jewish officials said.
Daniel Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith International, said the recognition of Palestine raised concerns, but they must be seen in the context of an increased willingness in Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood and not of Jewish-Catholic relations.
He likened it to the French and British parliaments recent nonbinding recognition of Palestine and Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.
“It’s important, I won’t dismiss it, but it shouldn't be seen outside that broader context,” Mariaschin said. “It raises the expectations of Palestinians to un-meetable levels and frustrates the Israelis who say we can’t get a fair deal in the international community.”
With contested Israeli elections, the framework of a nuclear deal in place between the west and Iran, and a tenuous peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is much political fodder for discussion at this year's Passover Seder tables.
The International Business Times featured quotes from B'nai B'rith World Center Director Alan Schneider in an article on the topic. Read highlights from the wide-ranging piece, below:
As much as Mia Warshofsky is looking forward to spending time with her family this Passover, the Florida college student is already bracing herself for the political arguments that she knows will break out over the Seder table on Friday. The subject of Israel has become a point of contention between Warshofsky and her grandparents, following Israel’s 50-day offensive in Gaza last summer, and she anticipates that these disagreements will be further inflamed by more recent political events.
“I would like my Seder table to not be a political minefield,” said Warshofsky, 20, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. “But all of my grandparents have recently picked up this really wonderful habit of bringing up Israel every time they see me… I don’t like to start debates, but they always seem to steer the conversations toward the hot-button issues.”
Warshofsky’s family will not be the only one navigating potentially charged political discussions this year. Passover comes in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s contentious elections and just after the announcement of a preliminary agreement over Iran's nuclear program, a process Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned will endanger the Jewish state.
These sensitive issues mean that for many U.S. Jews, regardless of political or denominational affiliation, the rituals of the Passover ceremony, which commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, will be particularly charged this year.
The implications of the election, which saw the incumbent Israeli leader sweep to a landslide victory after a tightly contested campaign, will be a particularly prominent topic at Seders in Israel, said Alan Schneider, the director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. However, Schneider argued that for most Israelis, intense debates about Middle East politics are nothing new and that this year’s Passover would not necessarily be a departure from previous year’s holidays.
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