By Stephen Schulman
The ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!” is certainly applicable to these troubled and turbulent times. Ill winds are blowing, and I fear, they do not bode well for the belief in tolerance, open discourse, pluralism and liberty of thought, faith and speech.
These winds are gusting thick and fast through many Western academias and like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, most of us are running to stay in the same place, endeavoring to keep up with, comprehend and interpret the ideology du jour.
In the USA, in the wake of BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Antifa, the growing movement of “Wokeism,” a so called “anti-racism”, advocates the belief that the political system is basically flawed and structurally prejudiced; one of oppression of minorities i.e. black, and since those in power are white and have been disabusing their mandate, it is a racist one.
Intertwined with Wokeism is the creed of Determinism that categorizes you according to your skin colour, your class origin and your gender. Consequently, all white people are privileged racists and even if they deny this, their inherent innate “unconscious bias,” is proof that they indeed are – a twist of logic that Stalin and Beria would be proud of! Merely by accident of birth, having been born white, you are automatically a bigot – a novel racist political slant to the concept of Original Sin!
Jews are white – no matter that there are Jews of colour and irrespective of their history that is replete with millennia of persecution and discrimination – and are therefore classified as an integral part of the privileged and oppressors.
Intersectionality – that sees all perceived injustices as interlinked regardless of their distance in time and space – is another heady ingredient added to this intellectual stew which allows BLM activists to identify with the Palestinians whom they see as victims of Jewish white colonialist settlers who have appropriated their lands. Consequently, it came as no surprise when in the protests and rioting, Jewish businesses were disproportionately singled out for destroying and looting and synagogues vandalized and defaced. As history was written and culture created by white people, they are both fundamentally biased, need revision and amending. Accordingly, the Holocaust is seen as no more than a “white on white” phenomenon and should not be given more historical weight than other genocides.
The bearers of this ideology are so passionately convinced of the righteousness of their cause that anyone who dissents or objects is obviously errant and needs to be made to see the light and recant the error of their ways. A “cancel culture” has been created that demands political correctness, conformity, unanimity and stifles diverging points of view. Unfortunately, those advocating it often adopt the repressive methods of totalitarian regimes. Within academic institutions, the media and corporations, there have been instances of hounding and persecution of those that are seen as not toeing the line. People have lost their livelihoods, been ostracized and victimized on social media.
South Africa is not exempt either. The Chief Justice, a person of the highest integrity with an impeccable past, was attacked, slandered and made the object of a scurrilous cartoon for daring to voice his opinion that a more evenhanded approach should be made for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The University of Cape Town disinvited Flemming Rose, the editor of a Danish publication that published a caricature of Mohammed, who was due to give the annual prestigious lecture on academic freedom. Citing his lack of academic value, in his place, the university invited an American lecturer, a discredited third rate academic known for his virulent anti-Semitism and support for BDS. On the same campus, black students have accused lecturers of failing them on account of their color and demanded that white students should not attend certain lectures or be allowed to voice their opinions as they have been endowed with a “white settler mentality”
Equally frightening is the effort to suppress history and erase memory that uses the distortion of and rewriting of facts plus the cynical manipulation of words to fit the current politically correct ideology. The case of the invitation of Leila Khaled by the San Francisco State University bears eloquent testimony.
This last September, Khaled was scheduled to lead a discussion entitled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled” at the online event “Teaching Palestine” organized by the university’s Department of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diasporas Studies. One of the organizing professors was Rabab Ibrahim Abulhadi who described Khaled as “a revolutionary Palestinian militant and feminist icon.” As a result of protests, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube cancelled the broadcasting and the discussion did not take place.
To view this event in its proper perspective, it is necessary to examine the hard facts. Who were the organizers, who was the invitee and what was the terminology employed?
Enforcing a Narrative
Rabab Ibrahim Abulhadi is a notorious anti–Semite who declared that Zionists were not welcome on campus, that the presence of students who identified as Zionists constituted “a declaration of war” against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians” – a clear violation of academic freedom and incitement to violence against Jewish students. She is a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (BDS) and vigorously defended another academic Hatem Bazian who tweeted antiSemitic messages. Abulhadi idolizes Khaled and in her online panegyric admired her “steadfastness, resilience and resistance.” Abulhadi states: “I wanted to grow up and become another Leila Khaled.”
Leila Khaled is a member of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) – designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union. Since its founding in 1967, this organization has been responsible for many international terrorist attacks involving suicide bombings, assassinations, hijacking, knifing and shootings that have killed, wounded and maimed a large number of innocent civilians – men, women and children. Amongst its many atrocities, in 1972, a gang tortured and murdered the Israeli sports team in the Munich Olympics. In 2014, a member entered a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood and with a gun, axes and meat cleaver slaughtered six men at prayer. In 2019, 17 year-old Rina Shnerb became the latest victim.
Khaled herself was part of a gang that in 1969 hijacked TWA Flight 840 to Damascus. In September 1970, together with Patrick Arguello, she attempted to hijack El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam to
New York. Arguello gravely wounded a flight attendant and put his gun to the head of another before the quick witted pilot threw the plane into a dive enabling the air marshals to shoot him and help overpower Khaled, but not before she had pulled the pin out of one the two grenades she was carrying. Luckily, it did not explode, otherwise the aircraft with all its passengers would have been at the bottom of the ocean. With mind boggling mendacity and a brazen insult to the intelligence of any sane individual, Khaled later stated that she had been given very strict instructions not to threaten passengers on the civilian flight and said in a 2014 interview with the Palestine Chronicle: “We did not harm anyone!” That ‘nobody was harmed’ on that attempted hijacking wasn’t for want of her lack of trying! She has continually repeated these logic defying falsifications and the obliging fawning media has uncritically published them.
In the same year of the TWA hijacking, Rasmea Odeh, another PFLP member planted a bomb containing 5 kg of dynamite in a Jerusalem supermarket that detonated and killed two young students Eddie Joffe and Leon Kanner whose only crime like many other victims was being Jewish and living in Israel. This murderess too had the gall to declare that she had not intended to hurt a soul!
Khaled is a long time active leader in the PFLP – as of 2016 still being a member of their Political Bureau – as well as serving on the Palestinian National Council (PNC) of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that euphemistically calls its terrorist acts: “armed struggle”. An active supporter of BDS, she calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. She is accused by the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Service) of helping in 2011 to coordinate “between a PFLP command center in Syria and other operatives in Jerusalem planning lethal attacks against Israelis.”
The word “resistance” has definite political and military connotations. In Europe in the Second World War, members of the resistance movements fought against the German occupation of their lands by targeting their soldiers, personnel, military installations plus individual collaborators. Non combatants never came into the equation. Abulhadi’s lauding of Khaled’s “resistance” – the attacking of innocent civilians: men, women and children – inspiring her, is an abuse of that word, a gross injustice and an affront to the memory of all those principled and brave people who had risked torture and death for the sake of freedom.
Sounds of Silence
The dictionary defines the term “feminist” as a person who actively works for women’s rights, their advancement and emancipation. A woman’s status in the Arab and Muslim world is inferior to the man’s and her plight is not altogether a happy one. Abhorrent female genital mutilation is still practiced, honour killings take place often with impunity for the perpetrators, widespread condoned polygamy exists and forced marriages of underage young girls is a part of life legally practiced in some Moslem countries..
Surely a “feminist” and an “icon” would use her venerated and elevated status help her fellow sisters by raising her voice to redress all these injustices visited upon them? Would she not be active in their cause? Khaled’s silence is deafening.
A female terrorist she is. A feminist she is not!
Abulhadi’s apologia for an unrepentant terrorist still active in planning acts of violence, her obfuscation of facts and distortion of words to fit her political agenda is an assault on the intellectual integrity of an institute of higher learning. Her bigotry and her attempt to mute academic freedom, diversity of opinion and freedom of thought is an attack on the very foundations upon which a university stands.
Even more worrying is the complicity of Lynn Mahoney, SFSU’s president who authorized the online event with Kahled participating and never deviated from her support. In a letter prior to the broadcast, she condemned “the glorification and use of terrorism and violence, particularly against unarmed civilians” but on the other hand had to “say equally emphatically that we support the right of our faculty to academic freedom and to conducting their teaching and scholarship without censorship.” After the cancellation of the event, omitting Khaled’s background and actions, she wrote that it was “deeply wounding” to some, who would “feel” their “dissent silenced,” even as Khaled’s appearance would be “deeply wounding” to “others in the community.” As a university president, Mahoney’s words and actions are deeply troubling. To elevate the status of an unrepentant and active terrorist complicit in acts of murder and in the name of academic freedom giving her a platform to disseminate her views raises definite questions. Should there not be moral responsibility? The commandment: “Thou shall not kill”, is one the cornerstones of Western Judeo-Christian civilization of which universities are part. The right of faculty to academic freedom and to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship is a sine qua non. Objectivity, disinterest and lack of bias are essential to this process. Dispensing with them together with morality and ethics in order to conform to a current political correctness leads down the road to perdition. San Francisco State University under the presidency of Lynn Mahoney is a tragic example.
Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.