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StandWithUs to CSU Chancellor Castro: Speak Out Loudly Against Leila Khaled and Yacoub Odeh Talks

April 15, 2021


Dr. Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D.


The California State University

Office of the Chancellor

401 Golden Shore

Long Beach, California 90802

Dear Chancellor Castro,

We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international non-profit Israel education organization. The purpose of our letter concerns two upcoming events sponsored by the San Francisco State University (SFSU) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Program (AMED).

One upcoming event, scheduled for April 23rd, 2021, is titled “Whose Narratives? What Free Speech for Palestine?” and features convicted terrorist Leila Khaled. As you may be aware, Khaled has long been—and remains today—a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization that has murdered Israeli civilians for decades. In this capacity, Khaled is personally responsible for two airplane hijackings, one of which failed in its attempted mass murder of civilian passengers only because of a deficiency in Khaled’s explosive device. The PFLP has committed devastating acts of terrorism, including killing 26 civilians and wounding 80 others at an Israeli airport in 1972.

You are also likely aware that Khaled was initially scheduled to speak at SFSU through Zoom on September 23, 2020; however, Zoom determined that Khaled’s appearance violated its terms of service and cancelled the event on its platform. When the event organizers attempted to move Khaled’s speech to different online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, these companies also deemed her presence to be in violation of their policies. Facebook has already removed an advertisement for the April 23 event from its platform.

The other upcoming program, scheduled for April 17th, is titled “#FreeThemAll” and features Yacoub Odeh. Like Khaled, Odeh is a convicted terrorist from the PFLP. He was sentenced to three life sentences for his involvement in a 1969 bombing in which two Jewish students were murdered and nine others were injured. He served only 17 years because he was released in a 1985 prisoner exchange.

Even more disturbing than providing a platform to convicted terrorists is that these events were organized by a program within SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies. With the California State University’s (CSU) ethnic studies graduation requirement beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, we are concerned that required courses will promote bias, hate, and even support for violence. We strongly support AB1460’s vision of an “inclusive multicultural democracy” where students learn about the diversity of American society and are empowered to “contribute to that society as responsible and constructive citizens.” Unfortunately, we are seeing clear evidence that the implementation of the bill risks violating the legislature’s stated intent and creating a hostile learning environment for many Jewish and Israeli CSU students.

We recognize that constitutional principles may permit such events to occur on public universities in certain circumstances and we unequivocally support academic freedom. That is why we are not calling upon you to cancel this event. However, in response to such events and in an effort to ensure CSU’s ethnic studies requirement fulfills the legislative intent of AB1460, public university leadership can and should take the following actions in response:

· Use your voice publicly and unequivocally to condemn the glorification of Leila Khaled, and her followers’ support for terrorism and violence against civilians;

· Make clear that glorification of terrorists and violence is wholly antithetical to the values of the CSU and each of its campuses;

· Express unwavering support for and protection of students within groups that have been targeted for violence by Leila Khaled and Yacoub Odeh, such as Jews and Israelis;

  • Require education about antisemitism within or alongside ethnic studies, using the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism as a guide to ensure students understand all forms of hatred against the Jewish people. This definition has been adopted by Florida State University, New York University, and many other institutions around the world; and

  • Provide resources to ensure that Jews are included and accurately represented in ethnic studies courses about Middle Eastern immigrant communities in the United States.

While we note and appreciate SFSU President Lynn Mahoney’s September 5, 2020 statement condemning antisemitism, we believe a stronger stance is necessary. In similar instances, other campus administrations have publicly distanced themselves from discriminatory ideas and conduct, even as they acknowledge the fundamental rights to such free speech and affiliation. For example, administrators at Michigan State University and the University of Florida openly condemned white supremacist Richard Spencer for his bigoted viewpoints and conduct prior to his appearances on each campus. Similarly, administrators from Clovis Community College in central California released a statement clarifying that they did not endorse hateful or antisemitic speech before anti-Israel activist Alison Weir appeared on campus. Additionally, in response to concerns of rising antisemitism in the University of California system, the Regents of University of California and each of its campuses adopted Principles Against Intolerance. We believe adopting a similar set of principles against hate and glorification of violence for CSU and each of its campuses would also be a step in the right direction.

Presumably should a notorious white supremacist arrive on campus as an invited speaker, you would immediately condemn that speaker and their associated racism and hate. So too should you unambiguously denounce Khaled’s invitation, as her upcoming presence crosses what should be a bright red line in civil society of whom we honor and to whom we give a podium.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Given the urgency and time sensitive nature of this situation, we ask for your response by Wednesday, April 21, 2021.


Roz Rothstein

CEO & Co Founder


Yael Lerman


StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department

Carly F. Gammill


StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism


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