Over the years, a small but concerning number of US anti-Israel groups and activists have expressed support for groups or individuals who are known to have engaged in terrorist activity in the name of the Palestinian cause. While properly protected by the First Amendment, such rhetorical support can implicitly legitimize terrorism; it also diminishes prospects for meaningful dialogue on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Though infrequent, praise and support for US-designated terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) by such US groups and academics can be found on social media, in anti-Israel publications and on webinars in recent years. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP have perpetrated numerous lethal attacks against Israeli and other civilians, including hijackings, stabbings, setting off rockets and conducting suicide bombings. The Lebanese organization Hezbollah is responsible for firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians, as well as for carrying out attacks and plotting attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets worldwide.
In some anti-Israel circles, PFLP terrorists Leila Khaled and Rasmea Odeh have drawn particular admiration. Leila Khaled took part in the hijacking of two civilian aircraft in 1969 and 1970. In recent interviews, she has remained unrepentant for her role in the hijackings and continues to hold the view that the Palestinian national movement is justified in using all means of resistance, including armed struggle. A stylized image of a younger Khaled posing with an assault rifle is sometimes displayed on materials circulated by anti-Israel groups.Rasmea Odeh was convicted in an Israeli court in 1970 for her alleged involvement in a 1969 supermarket bombing that killed college students Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe. She gained prominence in 2017, when she was deported following a trial in the U.S. that determined she had intentionally neglected to mention her terror conviction in official immigration forms.
- August 2020: Three protestors held Hezbollah and PFLP flags at an anti-Israel rally in New York City hosted by Within Our Lifetime-United for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Movement, NY4Palestine, Samidoun and others.
- June 2020: A piece in the Chicago-based anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada on the passing of Ramadan Shallah, who led Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad from 1995 to 2018, praises the “principled positions” of the organization under Shallah and proclaims that, “The Palestinian people have lost a great leader…Rest in peace Abu Abdallah; your struggle will continue!”
- May 2020: The U.S. Palestinian Community Network hosted Rasmea Odeh as a featured speaker for a Nakba Day event, introducing her by stating that “her life story embodies the brave Palestinian people’s struggle.” (Nakba Day is marked by Palestinians and their supporters, including many anti-Israel activists, as a day to mourn the creation of the State of Israel and advocate for Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return.)
- April 2020: Co-founder of anti-Israel group Al-Awda, Abbas Hamideh, tweeted support for Hamas and Hezbollah “defending their homes and lands from Criminal Terrorist Zionists.”
- March 2020: On Instagram, National Students for Justice in Palestine posted a photo of PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled posing with a gun, along with a quote attributed to her that lionizes the violence she perpetrated: “I have learned that a woman can be a fighter, a freedom fighter, a political activist, and that she can fall in love, and be loved, she can be married, have children, be a mother…” In accompanying commentary, National SJP acknowledged both Khaled’s membership in PFLP and “engagement in militant action.”
- March 2020: National SJP posted a photo on Instagram paying homage to Rasmea Odeh.
- December 2019: University of California at Berkeley anti-Israel group Bears for Palestine (affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine) showcased photos of terrorists and PFLP members Leila Khaled and Rasmea Odeh in a display inside a university building. Khaled’s photo shows her posing with a gun.
- When pro-Israel organizations demanded the display be removed, Bears for Palestine responded in an op-ed in the student newspaper attempting to justify their actions, arguing that “It signals power and privilege to presume that individuals are ‘terrorists’ without first asking what forces them to resort to protests.” And they lament that critics of Khaled’s inclusion in the display “fail to mention the many atrocities the state of Israel has committed against Palestinians since the state’s inception.”
- January 2019: At a panel event at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, speaker Noss Petashnik, who was introduced as being affiliated with SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, remarked that “women have been visible in armed resistance in Palestine. One woman I want to give special mention to is Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP]…I mention her specifically because I remember reading her biography and feeling inspired by her story.”
- Summer 2017: In The Journal of Palestine Studies, an introduction to a piece on Rasmea Odeh glowingly states that Odeh’s “generosity of spirit, biting wit, and easy smile did not desert her throughout the years that she fought her case. To know Odeh is to be reminded that the work of organizing for social justice is about the collective rather than the individual, and that engagement, relationship building, and trust are the foundations of such work."
- December 2017: The San Francisco-based Arab Resource & Organizing Center unveiled a mural featuring Rasmea Odeh and Leila Khaled.
- October 2016: A document posted by left-wing intersectional activist group Decolonize This Place that remains on its website includes two images of PFLP terrorist Wadi Haddad, who The New York Times has described as “the strategist behind the Palestinian guerrilla movement’s [PFLP] hijacking of airliners and a shadowy figure linked to international terrorist groups.”
- May 2016: According to The Hill, a 2016 tour in the Palestinian Territories offered to American activists by social justice activist group Dream Defenders was led by a guide who identified himself with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Dream Defenders previously promoted the PFLP in its 2014 “Blacked Out History” campaign, which presented the PFLP alongside other “revolutionary organizations from around the world.” The curriculum stated that the PFLP “want to be free from global imperialism. They want liberation. They want equal rights. Just like the Dream Defenders.”