Photo: Rehgina/Wikimedia Commons
Last semester, Apartheid Off Campus, in conjunction with the Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) at the University of Leeds (UoL), held an event featuring Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled. The event was met with much opposition from both the Leeds Jewish Society (JSoc) and the Student Union, both of whom felt that Leila Khaled should not have been given a platform at UoL.
Leila Khaled is a terrorist – a two-time flight hijacker for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Both Zoom and the Union had originally prevented the event from taking place due to Khaled’s terrorist nature and a lack of event approval from the Union. At the last minute, however, PSG found a way. During the 77 minute-long Zoom meeting, violence was incited and antisemitic undertones were evident from both speakers, as well as PSG leader Adam Saeed. Although PSG’s official Facebook page insists that the organization is a “society aimed at campaigning for Palestinian human rights through peaceful and progressive means,” their guest speaker Leila Khaled stated, “We are determined to continue all forms of struggle, including armed struggle,” to which Saeed agreed is an acceptable form of resistance. Not only does this contradict a key pillar of what PSG supposedly stands for, but it also encourages their followers and supporters — especially the younger and less experienced, to choose the violent route when rightfully campaigning for Palestinian human rights. Not only does this damage the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, but think of how it makes Zionist and Jewish students feel on campus. Would the majority of the students of Leeds JSoc feel safe after an event like this? I certainly did not. In addition, The Leeds University Union handbook states all society committees must “create a sense of community and a safe environment.” Therefore, by including Leila Khaled in their event, PSG did not only break their own rules, but those of the University.
The second keynote speaker was James Dickins, a professor of Arabic at the University of Leeds. Simply by appearing at the event, the professor chose to affiliate himself with a terrorist and her ideals, and throughout his own presentation, Dickins asserted antisemitic conspiracies about Jewish students at Leeds. He addressed Leeds Jsoc’s attempt to cancel a Leeds U event with pro-Assad journalist Max Blumenthal in 2016 and stated that “The Leeds Jewish Society have very, very close links to the Israeli embassy,” suggesting that the Jewish students of Leeds were in some way working at the behest of the Israeli government. He also claimed that there was “a smear campaign from the Israel lobby” against Blumenthal. These comments are reminiscent of those from former NUS president Malia Bouattia, who claimed the University of Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost” – obviously an underhanded comment directed at the university’s thriving Jewish student population. For a university professor to have these views and to share them amongst Leeds and other university students is deeply concerning and unsettling for all Jewish students, especially those within Leeds JSoc.
The third and final speaker was PSG leader Adam Saeed. Having given himself the largest timeframe to speak, he used the opportunity to take another swipe at Leeds JSoc. He discussed epistemological violence and a lack of Palestinian voices discussing Palestinian issues in the media, due to a concern with “subjectivity” issues. This was a legitimate point until Saeed used Leeds JSoc as an example of “the people in power who have the interest in steering the debate a certain way,” and largely blamed the Jewish Society for his defeat in the Union Affairs election. Yet again, a well-known antisemitic trope claiming Jews have more power or influence than others was put on display.
In response to the event, Jonathan Turner, the Chief Executive of UK Lawyers for Israel gave a damning review, stating “Leila Khaled is not an academic; she is a glorified terrorist. The chair of the meeting also encouraged criminal conduct, such as the vandalism and assaults recently committed by members of Palestine Action, as well as an antisemitic and illegal boycott of Israeli universities. It is particularly abhorrent to see a Professor of the University participating with apparent approval in a meeting glorifying terrorism and encouraging criminal, illegal and racist actions.”
For this event to take place within a University-approved society is despicable and extremely unsettling to Jewish students. The promotion of violence, the presence of a terrorist, and the repetition of multiple antisemitic tropes are abhorrent to see. This is certainly one of the most worrying steps Saeed and PSG have taken in my time at university, and that says a lot.
A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the CAMERA on Campus Medium blog.
Contributed by 2020-2021 Leeds Beckett University CAMERA Fellow Elliot Bloom.