In support of free speech — Updated

Leila Khaled

I’m Leila. Fly me to Damascus!

The University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (what is usually called the ‘Student Union’ in the US) has a Social Justice Centre (motto: “We work toward progressive social change”).

So whom do they invite to speak to the students but Leila Khaled — because nothing is as progressive as airline hijacking.

Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took part in the hijacking of TWA flight 840 in 1969 (no one was injured, but the plane was blown up in Damascus), and in a foiled attempt on El Al flight 219 in 1970 in which a crew member was killed by another hijacker. She was turned over to British authorities — after being beaten up by passengers — who managed to hold onto her for about a month before she was released in exchange for Western hostages held by the PFLP.

Well, actually, UBC is only inviting the virtual Leila, because the real one, being a convicted if not punished terrorist, is not allowed into Canada. So they are doing it by Skype.

Nevertheless, some have objected on the grounds that an actual terrorist is not a good role model for students.

Naturally, the university is defending the idea. Lucie McNeill, UBC Public Affairs Director, said

A university is an open community and there are all sorts of groups that think, believe and state their opinions differently … You expect different schools of thought to contend on a campus.

And we agree with her, as does our correspondent Joel B. Shapiro, who sent her and some others the following email:

From: Joel B. Shapiro
Sent: May-01-13 8:52 AM
To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’
Cc: ‘’; ‘’
Subject: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus

Dear Lucie McNeill,

I applaud your defense of free speech, open dialogue, and political debate on campus, as described in Globe & Mail this morning.

In appreciation and affirmation of your point of view, and UBC’s official (current) policy, I would like to apply for permission to hold the following three annual events on the UBC campus. With whom can I meet to submit and discuss the applications? And would you be so kind (and politically progressive) as to help me champion these important political debates at UBC? The three events:

  1. A conference comparing the lethal techniques of Palestinian terrorism (and Islamist terrorism in general) to non-lethal forms of self defense employed by Israel—and the implications for Canadian and international law. Just in case you are not aware of this issue, here are a few tiny examples (just the tip of the iceberg): the terrorists target innocent civilians, maximize civilian casualties, and use their own people as human shields. Israel, conversely, uses checkpoints and security fences (including the infamous “wall”), tries to minimize civilian casualties, and of course, attempts to protect its citizens rather than using its own people as human shields.
  2. Saudi Apartheid Week: protesting and debating gender apartheid (misogyny), homophobia, state-sponsored racism, slavery, sectarian violence (which is a lethal form of racism)…and support of terrorist violence throughout the Arab world. The meetings and demonstrations will focus on presenting legitimate evidence against Arab nations so as not to target the Muslim religion directly, which of course is not “kosher” in Canada. (Although we will point out the repugnant irony that criticizing Muslim racism and violence is almost always criticized as a racist act, especially on the left, and that insofar as Islam is both a religion and a political ideology, we can & must treat its ideology as we do every other ideology in the world, i.e., with cautious respect and vigilant critique.)
  3. Finally, we wish to have a visual type demonstration to help student understand the dilemma posed by terrorism and the root cause of Israel’s defensive actions. The demonstration would look something like this: perhaps there can be a fake explosion, fake blood and body parts, and loud air raid sirens in the cafeteria or large classrooms, and everyone has to evacuate their classrooms for 5 minutes — to remind everyone and encourage debate about Palestinian terrorism.

We will, of course, conduct all of the above with the utmost honesty, integrity, dignity, and scholarship—free of any hint of racism, and with the only purpose of encouraging debate, dialogue, awareness, and political action against clear injustices in the world. After all, who is not against state sponsored racism, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, targeting innocent civilians, using people as human shields, etc., etc.? We also promise, unlike the Palestinian groups, not to invite any speakers who are convicted terrorist or who call for violence or racism of any kind, but only those who, conversely, stand opposed to racism and violence.

Given that UBC has been so supportive of anti-Israel events, and even hosting a convicted terrorist to speak on campus, I expect that UBC will be equally supportive of (i) a far less racist and far more honest defense of Israel, and (ii) legitimate political dialogue around much greater evils (which are in fact, ironically, root causes of Israel’s self defense anyway). We do not ask for any kind of favoritism, but we do request equal time and consideration.

Supporting the one cause but not the other would expose UBC’s policy (and motivation) as not being grounded in free speech but rather in the one-sided war against Israel and against Jews on campus. Please choose free speech over (or in addition to) your (inadvertent?) promotion of Palestinian & Islamic terrorism on campus.

Your current one-sided approach contributes to a climate of fear for Jews in Canada—so much so that Canadian Jews are afraid to speak up out of fear of reprisal. What better place to encourage that debate than a university campus that is already out there promoting free speech and political debate.

Thanking you in advance for your consideration and support.


Joel Shapiro, Ph.D.

Update [1857 PDT]: The dialogue continues:

From: McNeill, Lucie
Sent: May-01-13 4:24 PM
To: Joel B. Shapiro
Subject: Re: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus

Dear Mr Shapiro,

The group organizing this event at UBC, the Social Justice Centre, is an Alma Mater Society (AMS) resource group.  The AMS is the student union at UBC and is completely independent from the university.  The AMS does not represent the University of British Columbia.

At the following URL, you will find UBC President Stephen Toope’s letter to the UBC community on respectful debate which expresses UBC’s core values:

Best wishes,



From: Joel B. Shapiro
Sent: May-01-13
To: McNeill, Lucie
Subject: Re: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus


Thanks for the quick response. But you have not answered my questions:

  1. Will you help me sponsor those three events through an AMS / if I go through an AMS – or not?
  2. And will UBC allow those three events to take place, as they have allowed “anti-Israel weeks” in the past? You will definitely get some pushback.

Or are you saying that I do not need permission, buy-in, or cooperation from you (or UBC) in any way, and that I can just go ahead and do whatever I want if it is in conjunction with an AMS and adheres to your core values?

I would of course prefer your full support. And I assure you that my three events will be far less dishonest and racist than the pro-Palestinian events—which means that if pro-Palestinian / anti-Israel events are allowable according to UBC’s core values, then my events will definitely be. We will, of course, study and respect your core values while promoting the event and while on campus. I would also be happy to organize some internationally renowned speakers to help raise the international profile of UBC in the process (no terrorists, of course).

Thank you.


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2 Responses to “In support of free speech — Updated”

  1. Robman says:

    What this guy is doing is great.

    But unless he can slip a cool few million under the table to UBC’s administrators – i.e., outbid the Saudi pimps – there is no chance of this happening.

  2. mrzee says:

    In the meantime, in eastern Canada, things are a little different.

    York Region is directly north of Toronto. A region in Ontario would be the equivalent of a county in the US.