November 12, 2020
RE: Campaign Promoting Convicted Terrorist Leila Khaled
Dear University Presidents,
We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We previously wrote to you about your administration’s role in protecting Jewish students against a hostile campus climate, especially in light of an increase in antisemitic activity due to the pandemic. We write to you now about a related issue of which your administration should be aware so that it can take steps to address it: an organized campaign to promote convicted terrorist Leila Khaled and her glorification of violence on campuses across the country.
As you are likely 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 was personally responsible for two airplane hijackings, one of which nearly resulted in the mass murder of civilian passengers. The PFLP has committed some of the worst terrorist atrocities, including the 1972 massacre of scores of Puerto Rican pilgrims at an Israeli airport.
You may also be aware that Khaled was scheduled to speak at San Francisco State University on September 23, 2020 using the online Zoom platform. Upon being alerted to this event and Khaled’s background, including her continued membership in the PFLP, Zoom determined that the event violated its terms of service. Zoom refused to allow the event to go forward on its platform. San Francisco State University may now face federal investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for agreeing to host Khaled in the first place.
Then, when the event organizers attempted to move Khaled’s speech to other online venues such as Facebook and YouTube, the event was similarly determined to be in violation of these companies’ internal policies. Facebook and Instagram even removed posts advertising the event from their platforms. Khaled ultimately recorded an online address, which was subsequently posted to YouTube. Not surprisingly, her remarks included statements advocating—and expressing her determination to continue using—“armed struggle” against Zionists and Israel, and glorifying the use of terrorist methods as legitimate “tools” of violent “resistance.”
After these social media companies refused to allow their platforms to be used by a convicted terrorist, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), created a campaign seeking to obtain a speaking platform for Khaled on campuses across the country. They called this a “Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Political Speech.” The campaign included the following call to action: “We therefore call on anyone with access to a university Zoom account to hold a webinar of your own on October 23, 2020, including a message from Leila Khaled – provided by USACBI – a National Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Speech.” One such event was scheduled to be hosted by several campus organizations at the University of Hawaii. Again, however, Zoom confirmed that her appearance would violate its terms of service when notified, and canceled the event. Zoom likewise canceled a related event planned at NYU. The event did go forward at a number of other universities.
In our previous letter, we identified a number of concrete steps that your administration could take to ensure that your campus environment is not one that is hostile to Jewish and/or Israeli students. In addition, we expressed how crucial it is that you use your own free speech rights to unequivocally condemn each instance of antisemitism that may occur within your campus community in the same manner you would condemn instances of discrimination based on sex, race, religion, etc. As we explained, even protected speech has its moral boundaries, and when those lines are crossed, students, faculty, and alumni alike look to you, as leaders of your campus, for meaningful guidance and clarity. It is important that you speak out forcefully and in a timely manner.
Our request to you with regard to the above-described campaign—which currently spotlights Leila Khaled but may well be expanded to include others who have engaged in and/or glorify violence and terrorism—is this: public universities may be obliged in certain circumstances to allow such events on campus, however administrators can and should take the following actions in response:
· Use your voice publicly and unequivocally to condemn the glorification of terrorists and violence;
· Make clear that glorification of terrorists and violence is wholly antithetical to the values of your institution, and;
· Express unwavering support for and protection of students within groups that have been targeted for violence by terrorists like Leila Khaled, such as Jews and Israelis.
On behalf of StandWithUs, we thank you for your time and consideration of this matter. Should you be faced with a situation in which students and faculty are propagating messages supporting terrorism and violence, we hope you will be among those administrations that use your voice and platforms to immediately and unambiguously condemn this hate, thereby instilling an inclusive and safe environment for all individuals in your community.
Roz Rothstein CEO & Co-Founder
COO & Co-Founder
Carly F. Gammill
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
 This is by no means settled law, as a university may be able to implement relevant, constitutional speaker identity regulations that would preclude such speakers from using the school’s speech forums. Photo: “Bethlehem wall with graffiti depicting Leila Khaled” by Bluewind is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0