San Francisco State University has firmly distanced itself from a conference in Beirut hosted by one of the school's lecturers, featuring Palestinian activists linked to terrorist organizations.
The event, a two-day panel discussion on Sept. 10-11 organized by SFSU associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi, commemorated the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, a bloodletting that saw members of a Lebanese Christian militia attack Palestinian refugee camps, slaughtering hundreds of civilians. The Israeli military had surrounded the camps and allowed entry of the Christian Phalangist militia. In 1983 Israel's Kahan Commission of Inquiry found Israel bore indirect responsibility for the massacre.
The conference, called "Memorializing the Sabra & Shatila Massacre: Bearing Witness, Resilience & Accountability," included appearances by Palestinian activists and journalists, as well as individuals linked to U.S.-designated terror groups. Among them were Salah Salah, a founding member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer science professor who in 2006 pled guilty to providing support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Leila Khaled, a PFLP member who hijacked commercial airliners in 1969 and 1970, was listed as a speaker.
Other attendees included Palestinian militants Kifah Afifi and Anwar Yassine, according to AMED, S.F. State's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program.
A logo for AMED was used in promotional materials for the event, and the logo appears in a backdrop behind conference speakers. A spokesperson for S.F. State said on Wednesday that the university had no involvement with the conference and its insignia were used inappropriately.
The event was "neither sponsored nor authorized by SF State, and we have contacted organizers to notify them of unauthorized use of the SF State name," the statement from spokesperson Kent Bravo said. "As we have said before, at SF State, we support the academic freedom of our faculty but condemn terrorism and violence, particularly against civilians."
Abdulhadi did not immediately respond to a J. request for comment.
The conflict between the university and Abdulhadi is only the latest in a yearslong saga that has seen the lecturer level claims of censorship and academic freedom violations against her employer.
In 2021, Abdulhadi filed formal grievances through her union alleging the university had not done enough to help facilitate controversial public talks that featured Khaled, now 78. The talks in 2020 and 2021 were deplatformed by Zoom, YouTube and other technology companies for violating their terms of service.
Meanwhile, the university has engaged in a public balancing act weighing free speech for its professors against Abdulhadi's often provocative activism/scholarship.
"I condemn the glorification of terrorism and use of violence against unarmed civilians," wrote university president Lynn Mahoney in a 2020 op-ed in J. "At the same time, I represent a public university, which is committed to academic freedom and the ability of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship."
Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a communist pan-Arabist group founded in 1967 after the Six-Day War, vary in their tolerance for indiscriminate violence targeting civilians. However, the organization is uncomprising in its rejection of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports the destruction of Israel.
The PFLP has orchestrated deadly terror attacks, including the Lod Airport massacre in 1972, when three foreign militants recruited by the PFLP opened fire with machine guns in the Tel Aviv airport, killing 26 people and wounding more than 70. The group's military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, carried out five suicide bombings during the Second Intifada between 2002 and 2004, according to the BBC.
As recently as 2016, the PFLP honored one of the perpetrators of the airport attack. Kozo Okamoto was feted in a ceremony in Beirut; a press release from the event describes him as an "internationalist fighter" showing "heroism without limits," who along with the others "emptied their machine gun ammunition into the bodies of the Zionists."
Salah Salah attended that ceremony, according to the release. He delivered remarks in Arabic at the event last weekend.
Last week's conference, which appeared to be covered by local press, was part of Abdulhadi's series called "Teaching Palestine," a model meant to introduce Palestinian history into universities. "Teaching Palestine" highlights the "Palestinian resistance movement and its Arab, international and Third World allies," Abdulhadi said. Last year Abdulhadi, who co-founded the Islamophobia Studies Journal and holds a Ph.D. from Yale, hosted a forum on the same date, also featuring Al-Arian, called "Whose Narrative? 20 years since 9/11/2001."
"The present historical political moment demands the production of a critical, contextualized and historical analysis of the systemic Zionist colonial project," Abdulhadi said in introductory remarks on Sept. 10, "that aims at erasing Palestine not only from the geographic map but ... all traces of Palestinian indigeneity."
Despite its U.S. designation as a terror group, the PFLP is held in high esteem in some segments of the pro-Palestinian movement. The veneration of PFLP leaders has caused controversy in the Bay Area before. Two years ago, Jewish and pro-Israel students at Berkeley complained after the on-campus Palestinian advocacy group Bears for Palestine posted a flyer in a student lounge celebrating Khaled. The poster showed her holding an AK-47 and described her admiringly as the "first Palestinian woman to hijack a plane."
Abdulhadi has featured Khaled at events, including one on "female resistance," in the "Teaching Palestine" series.