Sept. 14, 2020 – By DAVID ROYTENBERG
On Sept. 6, 1970, 50 years ago last week, Leila Khaled, a Palestinian refugee from Haifa, participated in the hijacking of El Al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York. The crime was part of a coordinated attack involving 600 passengers on four commercial jets from four airlines, all bound for New York.
The Israeli pilot and crew overpowered the hijackers. Khaled’s accomplice wounded two members of the flight crew and was himself killed. Khaled was handed over to the British authorities when the Israeli pilot landed at Heathrow.
The hijacking was the second one for Khaled, who was also involved in an attack on TWA flight 840 on Aug. 29, 1969. In that earlier act of terrorism, a flight bound for Tel Aviv was diverted to Damascus by six attackers.
With three other aircraft captured on Sept 6, 1970 on the ground in Beirut and Amman, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was responsible for all of the hijackings, demanded Khaled’s release in return for the release of British hostages. On Sept. 10, the PFLP highjacked a British VC10 to Amman, and on Sept 12, they blew up the airliner. They were holding 300 hostages in Jordan and Lebanon, and by Oct. 1, the UK surrendered to their demands. Khaled, two-time air pirate, was set free. She never stood trial and never expressed any regrets.
More shocking than the fact that she was never tried is that Khaled has spent the 50 years since she escaped justice being treated as an honoured spokesperson for the Palestinian people and their cause. In recent years, she has been a globetrotting advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
In 2013, B’nai Brith Canada protested when a student group invited Khaled to speak via remote video link at a conference at the University of British Colombia. The organizing group was “Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights,” registered with the Alma Mater Society affiliated with the UBC.
Six years ago, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada wondered, as did many others, “at a time when we’ve just seen a terrorist tragedy in Boston, and arrests here in Canada due to a bombing plot … which has all been speculated to be a product of homegrown radicalization, why would we [allow] a public institution in Canada to bring in a convicted terrorist to speak to students?”
Khaled, now 76, was back in the news this week because San Francisco State University (SFSU), also funded with public dollars, is implicated in a Zoom panel discussion hosted by the university’s “Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies” program, and scheduled for Sept. 23. University president Lynn Mahoney defended the panel, which is entirely composed of anti-Zionists, as promoting “diversity.”
As news spread of the planned anti-Israel event, held with SFSU’s endorsement, protests were heard from many quarters, but none as poignant as a letter from Rodney Khazzam, who was a child hostage on the flight Khaled hijacked on Sept 6, 1970.
In his letter to the SFSU president, Khazzam bluntly states that Khaled “attempted to kill me, an innocent, civilian child at the time. I am alive because of the heroic pilot who thwarted the hijacking. … When she realized she was being captured and her plan was being foiled, she detonated a grenade and indiscriminately attempted to set if off onboard. By sheer fortune, all her attempts failed.”
In March 2019, SFSU settled two lawsuits alleging that it failed to prevent an atmosphere of antisemitism on campus. This time, the welcome extended to a life-long member of a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s annihilation suggests that the university has not made the changes necessary to prevent antisemitism.
More broadly, the celebration of violence in the academic sphere reveals a profound moral rot, not just at SFSU, but at other universities that welcome unrepentant terrorists.
Addendum: Rodney Khazzam has begun a petition calling on SFSU president Lynn Maloney to cancel Khaled’s appearance.
The aircraft Khaled helped commandeer were “all passenger planes filled with civilians. These were not war planes. Would it be OK for a 9/11 hijacker to teach university students has one survived?” the petition asks.
Khaled, it goes on, is being given the “honour” of speaking at the university “for one reason only: She is an infamous female hijacker/terrorist. That is her claim to fame…It is deplorable to see a State university in America rolling out the red carpet for this woman, to speak and influence college kids on campus. We must sign and stop this from happening.”
The petition is at:
David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa. He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.