Skip To Content
Get Our Newsletter

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Fast Forward

San Francisco State University president stands behind terrorist Leila Khaled speaking appearance

San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney is standing behind the decision to allow a Palestinian terrorist to participate in a university event via Zoom.

A university official told the Forward that an e-mail in support of Leila Khaled speaking at a university event did in fact come from Mahoney.

In the e-mail, Mahoney wrote that “an invitation to a public figure to speak to a class should not be construed as an endorsement of point of view.”

“Higher education and the college experience are an opportunity to hear divergent ideas, viewpoints and accounts of life experiences” she continued. “An important outcome of the college experience is to learn to think critically and come to independent, personal conclusions about events of local and global importance,” continued Mahoney. “A university is a marketplace of ideas, and San Francisco State University supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints and other speech protected by law, even when those viewpoints may be controversial.”

On Friday, SFSU spokesperson Kent Bravo confirmed the e-mail was Mahoney’s.

A screenshot of a letter from SFSU President Lynn Mahoney posted on Twitter by Daniel Pipes

A screenshot of a letter from SFSU President Lynn Mahoney posted on Twitter by Daniel Pipes

The Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora (AMED) at SFSU announced it is hosting Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group, who hijacked an Israel-bound plane in 1969 and the following year was arrested after failing to hijack an El Al flight. She was eventually released in a prisoner-for-hostage exchange.

According to an online announcement, Khaled will be speaking Sept. 23 along with Acting Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank Rula Abu Dahou, South African politician Ronnie Kasrils, former Black Liberation Army member Sekou Odinga and Jewish Voice for Peace member Laura Whitehorn. SFSU AMED professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who said Zionists were white nationalists in a 2019 UCLA guest lecture, and SFSU Women’s Studies professor Tomomi Kinukawa will moderate the panel.

This is not the California State University system’s first Khaled controversy. In May The Forward reported that the Women’s Resource Center at San Diego State University apologized for including a photo of Khaled in its weekly newsletter.

In 2014 Abdulhadi received more than $7,000 from SFSU to fly to meet with Khaled.

Image by Getty Images

The photo featured Khaled holding a gun with the caption, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” It was featured alongside other photo.

Jewish groups strongly denounced Khaled’s planned appearance at SDSU.

“Is this supposed to be an acceptable free speech at your university?” StandWithUs founder Roz Rothstein tweeted to SFSU. “An address by Leila Khaled, someone who is affiliated with terrorism.”

The AMCHA Initiative, a Jewish campus education group, called for opponents of the decision to demand SFSU change its policy regarding permitted speakers.

“Help call on Cal State to institute safeguards against promoting anti-Zionist political advocacy, such as BDS in classrooms” the group tweeted. “Why is this necessary?”

But on social media, it wasn’t only Jewish organizations protesting a university-sanctioned appearance by Khaled who is 76.

“I was on El Al flight 219 that she hijacked in 1970,” wrote Twitter user Rodney Khazzam. “I’m an American born and raised. Shocked we are giving her the honor.”

This article was updated Sept. 4 to include SFSU’s response.




Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free under an Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Creative Commons license as long as you follow our republishing guidelines, which require that you credit Foward and retain our pixel. See our full guidelines for more information.

To republish, copy the HTML, which includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline, and credit to Foward. Have questions? Please email us at

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.