San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney speaking during a vigil against terrorism hosted by S.F. Hillel in response to a university event featuring Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled, Sept. 23, 2020. (Screenshot from Zoom)
San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney speaking during a vigil against terrorism hosted by S.F. Hillel in response to a university event featuring Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled, Sept. 23, 2020. (Screenshot from Zoom)

S.F. Hillel hosts vigil to counter Khaled event

Hours after Zoom, Facebook and YouTube deplatformed a San Francisco State University virtual event on Sept. 23 featuring Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled, the local Hillel chapter hosted a 45-minute vigil for victims of terrorism around the world.

Speakers at the evening vigil included state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, S.F. State president Lynn Mahoney and several Jewish students, some of whom had lit candles behind them. It also featured a prerecorded video of Uri Bar-Lev, the El Al pilot of the 1970 flight that Khaled and an accomplice attempted to hijack as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The purpose of the vigil, in the words of S.F. State student president and S.F. Hillel member Ocean Noah, was to “protest the use of violence against victims of any background.” It served as a contrasting message to a video shown at the Khaled event, where the former hijacker defended the use of “weapons” to confront Israel.

“I want to say something very simple and straightforward,” said Wiener, who has recently faced homophobic and antisemitic attacks during his re-election season. “That violence, all violence, against innocent civilians is a terrible thing.” Wiener specifically spoke of the hurt he felt after the 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where 49 club-goers were killed.

Mahoney, who defended the right of the organizers to hold the Khaled event in the name of academic freedom, reiterated previous statements condemning terrorism and violence in broad terms.

State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at the Sept. 23 vigil.
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at the Sept. 23 vigil.

“I join you tonight to honor those who have lost their lives to terrorism,” she said.

Mahoney also underlined her commitment to S.F. State’s Jewish community.

“I will continue to condemn antisemitism, and to assure our Jewish students of their right to full participation in the university and their right to dissent,” she said.

Mahoney became president in July 2019 and has tried to carve a middle path when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a campus beset by past controversies. Before the vigil, the president released a statement on the university’s website, expressing disappointment over Zoom’s decision not to host Khaled’s event.

As of midday Sept. 24, a recording of the Khaled event had not yet appeared online. Associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi, the senior scholar of the department that hosted Khaled, posted on her personal Facebook page after YouTube pulled the livestream down, urging people to send questions to the department’s Facebook page.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at gabriel@jweekly.com and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.