Leila Khaled and the hijacking of human rights

As the adage goes, ‘actions speak louder than words’. In today’s world however, words often speak louder than actions.

Human rights activism is a superb illustration of this shift. Today, one simply needs to call themselves a human rights activist in order to “become” one.

Such a trend allows for severe manipulation of public discourse and opinion: when challenged, the “human rights” activist simply reinforces his self-proclaimed credentials; thereafter, challenges to him become framed as challenges to “human rights”. His challengers are incriminated, his potential challengers are intimidated, and thus, he achieves a sense of impunity.

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement relies heavily on this deceptive dynamic. On paper, they have given themselves valiant human rights credentials, yet, in reality, their behavior reflects the exact opposite.

BDS’ discourse is almost exclusively centered around the demonization (not criticism) of the Jewish State of Israel. This should have sufficed to disprove their stated agenda of human rights from the onset – but it didn’t.

Then, when blatant racism and violent incitement started creeping into their events, this should certainly have sufficed to alienate BDS – yet this too, did not. In recent times, the movement has sung “Shoot the Jew;” They have placed pig-heads in Woolworths’ stores in order to ward off Jewish customers; globally, their events are used as platforms for leeching anti-Semites to spread some of the vilest antisemitism seen since pre-war Europe.

Yet, despite all of this the South African branch of the movement has been allowed to flourish on our campuses and public spaces.

BDS is now planning to bring Leila Khaled on a speaking tour of South Africa in February. Leila Khaled is a plane hijacker and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is, among other things, responsible for a recent massacre of Jews in a synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. On its posters, the BDS Movement unashamedly advertises Khaled holding an AK-47 rifle and proudly describes her as a plane hijacker. The confidence which allows such audacity can only be the result of a growing sense of impunity.


If we track the trajectory of the movement from inception to current day, we will notice a gradual trend of increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and action. Thus far, this trajectory has culminated in a movement that today has the confidence to openly celebrate terrorists. We largely have ourselves to blame: they kept pushing the boundaries, and our response over time was too timid.

So how should we respond?

For one, South Africa needs to draw a red line when it comes to harboring terrorists. A flippant attitude in this regard previously allowed Al-Shabaab terrorist, Samantha Lewthwaite (known as the White Widow), to take refuge in South Africa; now another terrorist is going to be allowed access to South Africa – only this time out in the open, with the audacious claim of being a human rights activist.

Leila Khaled should not be allowed to come to South Africa. Universities should ban her from their campuses – if not on principle then in the interests of ensuring a feeling of security for all students.

Secondly, there needs to be a much more severe backlash against the BDS movement, which is not only wholly undemocratic in its ideology and actions, but is a tangible danger.

BDS itself should be inspected for having close ties with open proponents of Radical Islam. Media Review Network is just one of these affiliates; its leader, Iqbal Jasset, recently justified the brutal massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris. South African security authorities should cut out the Radical Islamic threat now, even in its infancy, before it grows to the proportions we are currently seeing in Europe.

Woolworths is setting a positive example by taking BDS to court for unruly behavior at its stores. More organisations and individuals should follow suit. Most importantly, we must not be duped nor seduced by “human rights” credentials – especially when they are self-proclaimed by an organisation that so often violates basic human rights itself.

Human rights credentials do not simply become true if they are said enough times. Because one man’s terrorist so happens to be another’s freedom fighter, does not mean that there exists no absolute standard by which to classify a terrorist. It could instead mean the man that views the terrorist as a freedom fighter has a warped sense of freedom – and in this case it does: Plane hijackers who take women and children hostage, are not freedom fighters.

Through its hypocrisy and hatred, the BDS Movement has hijacked the term ‘human rights. As the movement stands on the verge of inviting an actual hijacker, the concept of genuine human rights stands to be tainted to an even greater extent. South African authorities must intervene.

The time to act is now.

About the Author
Josh is the former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) Cape Council; and Tikvah Fellow
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