A coalition of 86 Jewish groups sent a letter to San Francisco State University (SFSU) President Lynn Mahoney asking if the upcoming event featuring Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member Leila Khaled is legitimately protected under academic freedom.
The coalition, which was spearheaded by the AMCHA Initiative, noted that Mahoney has said that just because a speaker is brought to campus doesn't mean the university agrees with his or her point of view. However, the letter asked, "What if the intention of the faculty member who extended such an invitation and organized such an event was not to encourage students 'to think critically and come to independent, personal conclusions about events of local and global importance,' but rather to promote the faculty member's own narrow political view and to weaponize students to be foot soldiers in the faculty member's own political cause?
"Specifically, in your view, does academic freedom protect faculty who intentionally use their classrooms or other academic platforms not to educate their students but to indoctrinate them with propaganda consistent with their own political causes and to encourage their students to engage in political activism consistent with those causes?"
The letter argued that SFSU professor Rabab Abdulhadi has been open about her intention to use her position as a platform for anti-Zionist activism. As examples, the letter pointed to SFSU's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora (AMED) Studies department — which Abdulhadi heads — co-sponsoring an event on campus in 2013 featuring students "using stencils to create placards and T-shirts with the image of a keffiyeh-clad Leila Khaled holding an AK-47 rifle accompanied by the message, 'Resistance is Not Terrorism,' and other stencils with the message, 'My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers.' " Khaled, now 76, was among terrorist who hijacked commercial jetliners in 1969 and '70. Her attempt to detonate grenades on the 1970 flight were thwarted and no one was injured or killed in either incident.
Abdulhadi also has used SFSU's AMED Facebook page to vilify Israel and promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, such as posting that then-SFSU President Leslie Wong's statement that "welcoming Zionists to campus ... [is] a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians."
"We believe Abdulhadi's continuous and intentional use of her SFSU position and the name and resources of the University to indoctrinate students with her own personal animus towards the Jewish state and its supporters and to promote anti-Israel activism, does not constitute a legitimate use of academic freedom, but an abuse of it," the letter argued. "In addition, we believe Prof. Abdulhadi's blatant politicization of her classroom, conference hall and other professional spaces violates state laws prohibiting the misuse of SFSU's name and resources for personal or political purposes, including for the promotion of a boycott (e.g. CA Government Code §8314  and CA Education Code §89005.5 ); deprives her students of access to vital information about complex topics of global importance, as well as their fundamental right to be educated and not indoctrinated; foments a divisive and toxic atmosphere, both inside and outside the classroom, that incites hatred and harm towards Jewish and pro-Israel students; and seriously erodes the public trust in your university to uphold its academic mission and ensure the safety and well-being of all of its students.
"In light of the above considerations, we ask whether you still believe the upcoming event is a legitimate expression of academic freedom, and if not, what you intend to do about it."
Among the Jewish groups that signed the letter included the Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs and B'nai Brith International.
The Khaled event is taking on place during a Sept. 23 webinar; Khaled will be speaking along with Rula Abu Dahou, acting director of the Institute for Women's Studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank; South African politician Ronnie Kasrils; former Black Liberation Army member Sekou Odinga; and Jewish Voice for Peace member Laura Whitehorn. Abdulhadi and SFSU Women's Studies professor Tomomi Kinukawa will co-moderate the panel and the event. SFSU's College of Liberal & Creative Arts website calls Khaled "controversial."
The Journal obtained Mahoney's response to the AMCHA letter, which stated: "I have been working closely with members of the Jewish community including faculty and student leaders, as well as SF Hillel, since the event was announced. I understand why this speaker and other events have caused great pain to some members in the Jewish community.
"But as president of a public university, I must meet a very high standard for academic freedom and freedom of expression. I know how important it is to safeguard the rights of freedom of expression and academic freedom for all members of our community and to make them feel supported and welcomed. This is not always easy and the issues complex. I encourage you to read the op ed that I wrote for the J Weekly recently."
StandWithUs Israel Executive Director Michael Dickson said during a Sept. 15 Knesset hearing in West Jerusalem, "Hosting a PFLP terrorist is a chilling event and sends a message to Jewish students and Jews on campus in general. It says Jewish blood is cheap. It says atrocities committed against Jews do not matter. It says this form of resistance — which is included in the title of her speech — might be legitimate. This shameful event will give an unrepentant terrorist a chance to glorify her actions in a country — America — that has been so scarred by airplane hijacking. It is an affront to the 9/11 victims and all victims of terror."