Letter from Professor Jonathan Roth to Ruth Kifer regarding a poster depicting a Palestinian terrorist on display in the library

October 7, 2011


From: Jonathan Roth

To: r. kifer

Date: Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Subject: Letter of September 14, 2011 Regarding Poster of Leila Khaled


Dear Ruth:


I am writing in response to your letter of September 14, 2011 (attached)

regarding my request, on behalf of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, to

removed the poster of Leila Khaled, entitled “Free Palestine” be removed

from the exhibit entitled “Prints for the People: the Art of Melanie

Cervantes and Jesus Barraza.”  The fact that the exhibit has now been

removed does not change the basic issues in this case, indeed, now they can

be discussed more objectively.


Neither myself nor Scholars for Peace in the Middle East request that this

poster be removed based on its political content. We all feel very strongly

in freedom of expression, and reject any form of political censorship.  We

found it ironic that the Presidential Directive 2009-01 was quoted in this

regard, as this directive was issued in response to protesters preventing

the Israeli consul from speaking at SJSU.


As I clearly expressed in our meeting, the objection to this poster was not

on the basis of its politics, but rather on its implied threat to Israeli

and Jewish students.  According to university’s policy workplace violence

includes “The actual or implied threat of harm to an individual or a group

of individuals.” In this case the implied threat to Israeli and Jewish

faculty, staff and students is quite clear.  It is quite possible that this

is also a violation of the City of San Jose Workplace Violence policy.


The poster (attached) shows an armed Palestinian woman, Leila Khaled.

Ms. Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,

a group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist

organization.  She organized and participated in in at least two terrorist

incidents herself, hijackings of airplanes in 1968 and 1970. While no-one

was killed in either incident, Ms. Khaled was armed and the threat of deadly

violence was clear.  In a PFLP hijacking in 1977, the pilot of the aircraft

was murdered.  The PFLP has killed civilians in and outside Israel,

including the massacre of 28 innocent people at Lod Airport and the bombing

of a Paris synagogue, which killed four people. The PFLP does not recognize

or accept the State of Israel, and the slogan “Free Palestine” with an armed

individual means not to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but to

eliminate the State of Israel, by force.  It implication is clear that this

force includes the killing of Israeli and Jewish civilians inside and

outside Israel.  While the meaning of this image might not be obvious to the

average American viewer, it is instantly recognizable to Israelis and to

Zionist Jews.


Neither the First Amendment nor the Presidential Directive were, or are,

intended to protect implied threats of violence.  A public statement to this

effect would be most appreciated.


From the point of view of the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel content of the

poster, We agree with your point during our meeting that the best response

to hateful speech is not censorship, but more speech.  You invited the

supporters of Israel to propose an exhibit giving an alternative point of

view, and we are grateful for that invitation. It seems to me that your view

was that library displays, including those in the Cultural Heritage Center,

were open to all, presumably on a first-come-first-served basis.  From my

own experience in proposing a display for the CHC, however, is that such

proposals are considered by an Advisory Committee, and are subject to

approval by the Director. We have already discussed the need to make the

Advisory Committees aware that they are not entitled to judge library

exhibits based on their political content.  Could you please clarify whether

a proposed display at the Cultural Heritage Center would be subject to a

veto on political or other grounds by the Director?


Thank you for your kind consideration in this matter,


All the best,




Jonathan P. Roth

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East


History Department

San Jose State University

San Jose CA 95192-0117

Tel: (408) 924-5505

Fax: (408) 924-5531

email: jonathan.roth@sjsu.edu



Jonathan P. Roth


History Department

San Jose State University

San Jose CA 95192-0117

Tel: (408) 924-5505

Fax: (408) 924-5531

email: jonathan.roth@sjsu.edu