The problem with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Credit: Wikipedia)

On Nov. 18, 2014, armed gunmen entered a Jerusalem synagogue and murdered seven men, including one Canadian, while they were praying. 

On June 29, 2015, terrorists fired their weapons at a random vehicle passing by, killing one person and leaving four injured.

On Aug. 23, 2019, a 17-year-old girl was hiking with her family when a roadside bomb exploded, immediately killing her and injuring her father and brother.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was involved in every one of these horrifying attacks. It’s not a coincidence that the PFLP is a listed terrorist entity in Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia, and the European Union.

And yet, the group has somehow managed to find relevance—astonishingly—on college and university campuses here in Canada. 

Student clubs at the University of Toronto recently invited PFLP terrorists to speak on campus, including a man who was deemed a “danger to the security of Canada” by the Canada Border Services Agency. Last year at Queen’s University, a student group launched a campaign calling for the release of PFLP terrorists. Many student clubs, typically Students for Justice in Palestine or Students Against Israeli Apartheid have lauded the PFLP on social media.

Some Toronto educators are even calling for the terrorist group to be introduced to elementary school students.

Don’t believe me? Just ask any teacher who received a dossier about the Arab-Israeli conflict from Javier Davila, a teacher employed by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Because the dossier was both “unvetted and unapproved,” the school board launched an investigation into his actions. He recently celebrated being “reinstated without discipline.”

In fairness, Davila’s cause is a noble one. Calling awareness to the devastating conditions Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are forced to endure, often at the hands of their own leaders, is necessary. A few of the sources he shared were educational and offered unique Palestinian narratives (though it would have been nice for him to also offer Jewish narratives, just for balance.)

But many of the other sources are harmful, hateful, and dangerous, including links to the official website of the PFLP and materials that justify suicide bombings. For good measure, he also advised his peers to read articles celebrating PFLP terrorists such as Ghassan Kanafani and Leila Khaled. 

Davila has not responded to statements from numerous Jewish organizations, including my own, on why the content in his dossier is antisemitic. From our perspective, the links he shared romanticize terrorist groups that encourage Jew-hatred to impressionable young minds. It’s somewhat impossible not to view that as antisemitic.

The problem with the PFLP is that it purports to stand for Palestinians—after all, Palestine is right there in its name—when in reality it is an extremist group that has no interest in human rights or establishing peace. It cares not for the millions of Palestinians who simply want to live normal lives and see the conflict come to an end. It only wants to see bloodshed.

By sharing links to the PFLP as part of an educational resource for Toronto educators, Davila is advancing the route of terrorism and war rather than negotiations with Israel. That in itself warrants a reprimand from his employers. “Standing for Palestinian rights” does not need to be akin to “Death to Israel.”

In fact, as Canadians and as mutual allies to both peoples, is it not our job to forge a path forward where everyone gets to exist in peace and prosperity?

For members of Toronto’s Jewish community, the decision to reinstate Davila without discipline is a devastating one. This is because we are acutely aware of the antisemitic overtones inherent in every operation carried out by the PFLP. To legitimize this organization is to legitimize antisemitism in our community. And at a time when antisemitism has dramatically increased on TikTok and elsewhere on social media, and when we are seeing violence against Jews on the streets of Toronto, this decision will only exacerbate the problem. 

If the PFLP were to be used as an educational resource by educators, it would lead to systemic antisemitism in our schools. Because it failed to reprimand him, the TDSB would be complicit in this phenomenon. At this point, an apology to the Jewish community without an acknowledgement of error would be worthless. Much more would need to be done to gain back our trust.

Daniel Koren is the executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada.