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Of course we should cancel terrorists.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates may have left the Palestinian cause in the dust of their recent peace agreement, but it continues to be championed on college campuses, even with quads and dorm rooms largely empty because of Covod-19. Two recent invitations spotlight the enduring appeal of pro-Palestinian politics for the tweed jacket set, and yet, they are not comparable in any way, despite both drawing ire from the pro-Israel set. One invitation went to a seasoned, if flawed, diplomat; the other went to a convicted terrorist.

For people who care about free speech, civil rights, and Jewish security, it is imperative that we insist on the difference between the two.

This week, Harvard announced that Saeb Erakat, secretary general of the PLO’s Executive Committee, the chief Palestinian negotiator of the Oslo Accords, and a long time diplomatic fixture on the peace plan circuit, would metaphorically be coming to Harvard Yard as a fellow in The Future of Diplomacy Project at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In this capacity, he will mentor students and deliver a range of virtual seminars, standard fare for big names who would like to add a little Crimson glitter to their twilight years.

The second invitation was issued by San Francisco State University, a long-time hotbed of rabid anti-Zionist sentiment. The Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora at SFSU welcomed Leila Khaled to speak on a panel. The name Leila Khaled might ring a bell for some. A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group, she hijacked a plane bound for Israel in 1969 and was arrested in 1973 for attempting to do it again. The flyer for the event, moderated by a professor who was last seen calling Zionists “white nationalists” and receiving a grant from SFSU to visit Khaled, features her wielding a gun.

Both Erakat and Khaled’s invitations have drawn outrage from Jewish and pro-Israel groups. In the past, Erakat has announced that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State. He was a longtime loyalist to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who, when he wasn’t accepting international prizes and posing on the White House lawn, was one of the Middle East’s arch-terrorists. Erakat himself has expressed admiration for the “heroism” of imprisoned terrorists and has a history of being less than honest, most egregiously when he touted a massacre of Palestinians in Jenin that quite simply didn’t happen.

And yet, despite these and other blemishes on his record (the Second Intifada happened while Erakat was still firmly in power, an orgy of violence from which Israel and the Palestinians have never fully recovered), it is perfectly reasonable for Harvard to extend an invitation to Erekat. He is a legitimate diplomat, and those who — rightly — react with indignation to attempts to hound Israeli officials from campus should be hesitant to push for the Palestinian grandee’s removal.

At a moment when it is too often pro-Israel students who are intimidated and silenced for their beliefs, those who want to see a healthier campus culture need to stick by their beliefs even and especially when the results make them queasy.

Khaled is another story entirely. A repeated hijacker, her continued celebrity indicates a fetish for violence that lies outside of the bounds of reason and discourse to which universities remain ostensibly committed. Welcoming a convicted terrorist who intentionally put hundreds of lives at risk because of what was stamped on their passports while pushing for the cancellation of admirable cultural figures like J.K. Rowling, not to mention people far more anonymous and far less powerful, betrays a world view that is upside down without a compass.

Ari Hoffman | Artist: Noah Lubin

Ari Hoffman Image by Noah Lubin

SFSU’s response to criticism of Khaled’s invitation invokes the notion of “a marketplace of ideas” and “the right of all individuals to express their ideas.” As the ADL rightly notes, these noble words are in fact drenched in hypocrisy.

The marketplace of ideas is not a war zone. It is the very thing that is meant to overcome and replace the recourse to force and violence. An event advertised as “militant” has forfeited the shield of free speech. In fact, the aspiration of Khaled and those speaking alongside her is to efface the very ideals that give them quarter.

Saturday, September 5 marks the 48th anniversary of the butchering of eleven Israeli Olympic athletes by Palestinian terrorist group Black September. In those very years, Leila Khaled was cruising for planes to hijack. She is part of a broader story of radicals for whom human life is just another means to an end.

Let’s call this what it is: evil and crude. While we must remain committed to the free exchange of ideas, especially those we consider repugnant, it is that very commitment that necessitates banishing those who would like to argue with bullets rather than words.

Our universities must be hospitable. They must not be suicidal. And giving Khaled a platform is inviting an arsonist into your home and assigning her the task of lighting the dinner candles.

Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at N.Y.U., and his writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, The New York Observer, and a range of other publications. He holds a doctorate in English Literature from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.

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