NGO cancels movie screening about Palestinian hijacker after criticism from Israel

Benjamin Weinthal

Writing Fellow for the Middle East Forum

5 min read
Ex-Palestinian Liberation Front member Leila Khaled.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFPEx-Palestinian Liberation Front member Leila Khaled.

A movie about convicted terrorist Leila Khaled, who attempted to hijack an EL Al plane in 1970, was set to be presented as an opportunity for discussion

Israel’s Foreign Ministry took to Twitter, now known as X, to slam the Jerusalem-based German NGO The Willy Brandt Center (WBC) for celebrating the convicted Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled in a film presentation slated for Wednesday.

The ministry responded with a sarcastic tweet to the center's post on X, which invited people to attend the screening of “Leila Khaled: Hijacker” with “popcorn.”

“Because who doesn’t love theatre popcorn and TERROR? Leila Khaled is a Palestinian terrorist responsible for hijacking a plane from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1969. The Willy Brandt Center in Jerusalem will be screening a film celebrating her legacy of terror and violence,” the ministry wrote.  

It also suggested “Recommendations for their next film screening: 9/11: The Heroic Hijacking. Breakfast with the Taliban. Finding Fidel!”

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i24NEWS sent press queries to the WBC, and received a statement from the board saying the screening of the film was canceled "immediately after those grave misunderstandings. The WBC does not justify terrorism in any form. The WBC takes an uncompromising stand against anti-Semitism.”

The statement lamented that the post had been made without the "necessary explanatory text," which was supposed to make clear that the screening was a forum for "critical debate," and apologized for the "mistake." 

"The goal of this screening would have been to demystify terror and violence and to delegitimize them as a means of enforcing political and social concerns." 

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Khaled, who lives in Jordan, was one of the hijackers of TWA flight 840 on its way from Rome to Tel Aviv, diverting it instead to Damascus. The following year, she was part of a squad that attempted to hijack EL AL flight 219 that was on a stopover in Amsterdam. It was during this failed attempt that was arrested, later being released as part of a prisoner exchange deal. A member of the U.S. and EU-designated terrorist entity the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), she has previously conducted public speaking tours in western European countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain and Greece. 

Khaled has been an advocate for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel during her European visits. After Khaled spoke at Vienna’s Austrian-Arab cultural center in 2016, the author of this report exposed that the Austrian bank Bawag closed the center’s account due to the alleged connection to terrorism via Khaled.

The late Willy Brandt, after whom the the center in Jerusalem is named, was a German Chancellor who, in the context of Israel-German relations, is considered controversial. In 1973, when Israel was on the defensive during the Yom Kippur (October) War, Brandt refused to let the American military use the Bremerhaven harbor to delivery badly needed military aid to the Jewish state.

The WBC Jerusalem, which is supported by German government funds, states on its website that "The Willy Brandt Center is a unique center for encounters and communication in Jerusalem. Here, young people from the entire world meet and engage in cultural exchange beyond borders. Within the framework of our events, we are able to overcome conflicts in multifaceted ways.”

The Willy Brandt House in Berlin, the headquarters for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic party, previously faced criticism from the former head of the Berlin Jewish community, Alexander Brenner, for hosting the left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence in 2012. 

i24NEWS sent press queries about the Khaled film screening to German Ambassador Steffen Seibert and the German Foreign Ministry. 

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lior Haiat, confirmed to i24NEWS in June that Israel rebuked Seibert for interference in Israeli domestic affairs, including allegedly honoring Palestinian terrorists.

Seibert participated in an annual alternative ceremony held on Israel's Memorial Day, known as the Joint Memorial Ceremony, which commemorates Israelis and Palestinians who have lost their lives over the course of the conflict.

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