Middle East studies in the News
John McCain's 'Trick or Treat'? [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Michael Dobbs
On the eve of Halloween, the McCain campaign has come up with a new villain to scare away votes from Barack Obama. He is Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and an Obama associate from his days at the University of Chicago. Regarded as a mainstream scholar by many American Middle East experts, Khalidi has been denounced as an "extremist" by some Jewish groups because of his pro-Palestinian views and sharp criticism of Israel. The Republican candidate is now tying to tie Khalidi to former Weather Underground leader William Ayers -- and suggesting for good measure that the mainstream media (in the form of the Los Angeles Times) is trying to suppress the connection.
Let's try to sort it all out.
The author of several books on the Middle East, Rashid Khalidi has long been a target of self-appointed "campus watchdog" groups who have dubbed him the "professor of hate" because he has spoken sympathetically about resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For their part, Khalidi and other academics have complained about a McCarthyist "witch hunt" aimed at stifling free debate on campuses. For more background on this controversy, see an article I wrote for The Washington Post four years ago, including interviews with Khalidi and his critics.
The McCain campaign has depicted Khalidi as a former "spokesman" for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Questioned about this claim, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers referred me to an April 10, 2008 story from the Los Angeles Times that reported that Khalidi "often spoke to reporters" on behalf of the PLO in the early 1970s while teaching at a university in Beirut. Khalidi has denied ever being a spokesman for the PLO, but this may be a question of semantics, revolving around whether he was a formal or informal spokesman.
The same Los Angeles Times story described a farewell party for Khalidi in Chicago in 2003 prior to his departure for New York that was attended by Obama. As described by the Times, the event included the recitation of a poem by a young Palestinian American accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians. Obama himself adopted a different tone in his comments, calling for Israelis and Palestinians to find common ground.
McCain has accused the Times of suppressing a videotape of the event that it obtained from a confidential source. The Times says that it is keeping a promise to the source not to air the videotape.
In two radio interviews on Wednesday, McCain claimed that the videotape would show that William Ayers also attended the party for Khalidi. According to the McCain campaign, he based this claim on a February 4, 2005 article in The New York Sun written by Sol Stern, a long-time Khalidi critic. But the Stern article does not say that Ayers was present at the party. Instead, it reports that Ayers contributed to a testimonial book that was presented to Khalidi at his farewell dinner. Obama and Chicago mayor Richard Daley also contributed testimonials for Khalidi.
"I never tried to say that Ayers was there," said Stern. "I didn't think it was a big deal at the time."
Stern told me that he was sent photocopies of a few pages from the testimonial book at the time that he was writing opinion pieces criticizing Columbia University for hiring Khalidi. He said he no longer has the photocopies.
The L.A. Times is being coy about what the tape actually shows, apparently out of deference to promises made to its original source. "We reported in April on everything that we saw on the tape that we considered newsworthy," the paper's Washington bureau chief, Doyle McManus, told me. "Our April story did not report that Ayers was at the event."
It turns out that McCain is treading on tricky ground when he cites the Khalidi case as an example of Obama consorting with terrorist sympathizers. The Obama campaign was quick to point out that an organization co-founded by Khalidi has received large sums of grant money from the International Republican Institute, chaired by McCain since 1993. One such grant was for $448,873 in 1998 to assist the Center for Palestine Research and Studies in its work in the West Bank.
The Pinocchio Test
This is a case of guilt by association gone haywire. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have had extensive dealings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is much more closely identified with the PLO than Rashidi ever was. Verdict: the McCain camp has wildly exaggerated the significance of the Obama-Ayers-Khalidi triangle.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org