We live in a world in which Palestinian Arab murderers of Jews are given a public relations makeover, hired to teach at Columbia University, and sometimes even invited to speak at Jewish schools.
In the recent controversy over whether or not Rashid Khalidi should have been invited to speak at the Ramaz school, supporters of inviting him cited the principles of free speech and open debate, while opponents argued that the students were not sufficiently knowledgeable to take on a sophisticated debater such as Khalidi.
Still others asserted that as a matter of principle, an avowed enemy of Israel should not be honored with a platform in a Jewish institution.
All of these arguments missed a fundamental issue at stake.
Khalidi appeared in a 1979 documentary as an "official spokesperson for the PLO" and "an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service'Wafa'." Similarly, in 1982, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times described Khalidi as "a director of the Palestinian press agency Wafa."
Khalidi's association with the Palestine Liberation Organization raises a crucial and almost universally ignored issue. As the official mouthpiece of the PLO, Wafa's job was to justify the PLO's massacres of Jews, to give aid and comfort to the killers, and to encourage other Palestinian Arabs to engage in similar violence. In short, Wafa was the propaganda arm for those committing war crimes against Jews. And Khalidi was its director.
We do not use the term "war crimes" loosely. The deliberate murder of civilians during the course of a war -- in this case, the PLO's war against Israel -- is indisputably a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions.
When PLO terrorists pushed wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer off the deck of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, the late Labor Party Knesset Member Shevach Weiss called the killers "members of Gestapo 1985." The analogy was not just a rhetorical flourish; it has a sound legal basis. There is no moral or legal difference between a Gestapo agent drowning a helpless elderly Jew in 1945 and a PLO agent drowning a helpless elderly Jew in 1985.
That, of course, was just the tip of the iceberg. From planting bombs in supermarkets in Jerusalem, to machine-gunning captive school children in Ma'alot, to steering a bus off a ravine on the Jerusalem highway, to smashing the head of a little girl on the rocks at the Nahariya beach, PLOterrorists in the 1970s and 1980s committed almost every crime against civilians imaginable.
They continued to murder Jews at every opportunity, with every weapon at their disposal. And Rashid Khalidi's Wafa was there to defend and encourage the atrocities.
Does a propagandist for war crimes share in the guilt of those who pull the triggers?
That was exactly the question that the judges in Tanzania, faced in 2003 during one of the first trials connected to the Rwanda genocide. Three Rwanda journalists, Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Boco Barayagwiza, Hassan Ngeze, were put on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for complicity in the mass murder of Hutus by the Tutsis. The first two were officials of television station RTLM, which encouraged the killers; the third was editor of a newspaper, Kanguar, which did likewise.
The court ruled that the three were guilty, because they were to blame for "a drumbeat calling on listeners to take action against Tutsis." They "spread petrol throughout the country little by little, so that one day it would be able to set fire to the whole country." Nahiman and Barayagwiza were sentenced to life imprisonment; Ngeze received 35 years in jail.
The only real difference between the PLO and the Tutsis of Rwanda is that the Tutsis were more successful murderers. Morally, there is no difference between Rashid Khalidi and the journalists in Rwanda.
In a just world, Khalidi would be behind bars, along with other inciters of mass murder. Of course, this is not a just world; it's a world in which Palestinian Arab murderers of Jews are coddled, given a public relationsmakeover, hired to teach at Columbia University, and sometimes even invited to speak at Jewish schools.
Surely, then, here is a principle worth defending: anyone who has ever had any connection to the murder of Jews should never be invited to speak at a Jewish institution.
Ramaz is a school well known for the involvement of its students in social causes. The daily minyans they held outside the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in the 1980s, sometimes even leading to their arrest, were a badge of pride to their school and the entire Jewish community. They have hoisted picket signs and signed petitions for many other good causes as well.
The petition urging that Khalidi be invited to Ramaz, which some two hundred students reportedly signed, was a sad deviation from the students' otherwise proud history of activism.
Here's a suggestion for a cause that would be more consistent with the principles and history of Ramaz: how about a petition to the InternationalCriminal Court, urging that Khalidi be indicted for his complicity in the PLO's war crimes?