They are both Palestinians.
Leila Khalad hijacked a TWA flight a half-century ago and her fans in America encourage her to blab her head off. Rami Aman reached out to young Israelis a half-year ago, and Hamas jails him.
This stark contrast brings to mind two familiar phrases: "Crime pays" and "No good deed goes unpunished." Literally. Khalad threatens lives, remains free and is embraced by supposed intellectuals 8,000 miles away. Aman seeks peace with those labeled his enemies and his leaders charge him for treason-like crimes and force him to languish in prison.
Compounding these acts are the shameful responses of a college president and a Hamas spokesman defending what their organizations did.
The 76-year-old Khaled was invited to be the featured speaker at a virtual discussion called "Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance" last week organized by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies department at San Francisco State University. Khaled was to speak from Amman, Jordan.
The esteem accorded Khaled dates back to 1969 when she hijacked the TWA flight, later blowing up the front of the plane, The Forward reported. She strived to follow that up the following year with a foiled bid to hijack an El Al plane, but was captured by the British. Khaled, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was subsequently released in a prisoners' swap; the Popular Front is a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Once news broke in late August of plans for the event, Jewish organizations tried to convince Zoom not to host the program. According to The Forward, the Lawfare Project contended that providing Khaled with a platform to address college students "may give rise to violations" that make it "unlawful to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization."
Event organizer Rabab Abdulhadi wrote in an email that "Zoom has threatened to cancel this webinar and silence Palestinian narratives. We expect SFSU/CSU to uphold our freedom of speech and academic freedom by providing an alternative venue to this open classroom."
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, alerted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the program, pointing out that SFSU is a public university. In a statement, Lamborn wrote, "I am deeply troubled that federal dollars may be used to subsidize an event that props up a Palestinian terrorist like Mrs. Khaled and provides an academic platform to spread toxic ideology."
Providing this platform "for an admitted member of a terrorist organization who has unrepentantly committed terrorist acts is not speech or academic inquiry...It is aiding the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and materially supporting terrorism."
Supporters of Israel would be naturally grateful to Lamborn, but his credibility is questionable because he has been accused of racism in the past, which he denied.
Zoom blocked the program 22 minutes into the seminar before Khaled could speak, according to The Forward. Organizers moved to Facebook, which also blocked them, and then they flipped to YouTube, which pulled them off two channels Jewish leaders were pleased with the result.
"Today was an important day," Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Forward. "Three of the most prominent brands in Silicon Valley stepped forward and said, 'Enough. We don't want our brands associated with this kind of bigotry. We don't want our products to give voice to people who have snuffed out the voices of other people.'"
How about "an important day" for Rami Aman? His future looks bleak. A family member who visited him in a Gaza prison told a New York Times reporter that he had lost weight and showed signs of depression. "He's in a very difficult state," the relative, who insisted on anonymity, said. "It's really concerning for us."
Aman's crime was voicing his beliefs in a territory where there is no freedom of speech. He was among three Palestinian activists whose organization, the Gaza Youth Committee, organized a virtual discussion called Skype With Your Enemy, perhaps a misnomer. They reached out to Israelis as friends rather than foes in hopes of building a new generation of leaders who will attempt to make peace.
The Times reports that last April's two-hour video chat drew 200 participants – Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and Europeans. Aman urged Israelis to run for Parliament, saying, "Go to the Knesset, be ministers."
This program demonstrates that some, if not many, Arabs are not inclined to hijack an airplane transporting Israelis. They are only too frightened to contradict the likes of Khalid.
Aman and several companions have already paid a steep price and it could get worse. According to the Times, they were arrested by Hamas, which controls Gaza, shortly after participating in the call and three were charged in September for "weakening revolutionary spirit." Aman and an unidentified man remain in prison while the other, Manar al-Sharif, was released on bail in late June. They could face years of incarceration, said Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, according to the Times.
The case "is part of a pattern of Hamas authorities arbitrarily arresting activists for their peaceful free expression," Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine, told the Times. "The fact that they are now prosecuting them after more than five months of detention compounds this injustice."
Strange that in a place like Gaza the most well-intentioned person will be imprisoned for doing the right thing, while in San Francisco a terrorist is rewarded with an invitation to spew her insanity.
Adding insult to injury, two persons in authority issued alarming statements about each situation. In Gaza, Iyad al-Bozm of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry proclaimed any communication with Israel "a crime punishable by law and a betrayal of our people and its sacrifices."
Which people? What was the point of any sacrifices? Back in San Francisco, university president Lynn Mahoney stressed that a public university is "committed to academic freedom...and scholarship without censorship."
On the morning of the scheduled program, Mahoney told the campus community in an email, "Zoom's cancellation of the event will be deeply wounding to some members of our community who will feel themselves and their dissent silenced once again, just as the participation of Leila Khaled in a class panel discussion is deeply wounding to others in our community. We cannot embrace the silencing of controversial views, even if they are hurtful to others."
Deeply wounding? Academic freedom? This is an academic leader standing up for a criminal. Why doesn't she invite inmates at nearby San Quentin to lecture students on techniques in rape and robbery?
Both the Gaza and San Francisco situations deserve a forceful public response. Rami Aman merits the backing of people who demand that he and his partner be released from prison. SFSU rates an investigation and its president must be held accountable for her defense of the indefensible.
It is long overdue for us to return to civility and rationality.