Leeds University has launched an investigation after a Palestinian terrorist addressed students, advocating for “armed struggle” as a means of resistance.
Leila Khaled, who hijacked two international flights for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), spoke to students at a virtual event on Friday.
During the Zoom event, as part of the Apartheid Off Campus campaign, promoted by the University of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group, Khaled told students that Palestinians are “not afraid of struggle”.
She added: “We have used all means of struggle and we are still determined to continue using all means of struggle including armed struggle.”
Following Khaled’s address, Adam Saeed, the student chair of the meeting, told attendees: “I think we can all be inspired by this”.
He said: “Everything that she said about international law is true, it doesn’t mean that anyone in this meeting endorses or encourages anyone to take arms, what it means is that under international law people are entitled to resist occupation in any means they see fit.”
The event had originally been denied permission by Leeds university itself, who said organisers had not followed protocol or provided sufficient notice, especially about Leila Khaled’s appearance. But Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group said they believed “Leila Khaled deserves a platform”.
A joint University of Leeds and Leeds University Union (LUU) statement said: “We were disappointed that the event organisers chose to proceed without our permission. We are investigating this matter further.”
Khaled’s first airline hijacking was in 1969, when a flight from Rome to Tel Aviv was forced to divert to Damascus. She had extensive plastic surgery to prevent anyone from recognising her when she carried out her second hijack the following year, on an El Al flight from Amsterdam to New York City.
The plane landed at Heathrow where she was arrested and held for 28 days, before being released by then prime minister, Edward Heath, in exchange for western hostages held by the PFLP.
Leeds Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students said they are “extremely disturbed and shocked” that the event took place.
“This event went ahead despite it being shut down by Zoom, on the basis that they would have been providing a platform for a terrorist,” they said.
Calling on the university and the students’ union to take action, they added: “This event also included academics and students at the University, all being complicit in sharing this platform. It is imperative that Jewish students are able to access academic spaces, both virtual and physical, free of hate and prejudice.”
Professor James Dickins, from the university’s Arabic department, who has previously signed a letter claiming the IHRA definition of antisemitism conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, attended the event and gave a speech to students following Khaled’s address.
Board of Deputies Vice President Amanda Bowman has condemned the event, saying: “That a student event took place at Leeds with Leila Khaled is simply unacceptable. Jewish students and academics should have access to academic spaces free of hate, without platforms being shared with someone who advocates for ‘armed struggle’. It is right that the University is investigating this matter further.”
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