Middle East studies in the News
Academic Ties Used As Ammunition [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Sharmila Devi
One of America's most distinguished Arab academics has been dragged into presidential politics after John McCain portrayed the associate of Barack Obama as an enemy of Israel.
Mr McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, whose Republican campaign is sharply trailing the Democrats, questioned Mr Obama's pro-Israel credentials by raising his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a well-respected Palestinian-American scholar at Columbia University in New York.
The controversy centres on an old story in the Los Angeles Times about Mr Obama's ties with Palestinians and Jews. The newspaper obtained a videotape of a 2003 banquet where Mr Obama spoke of his warm friendship with Mr Khalidi and published a story about it back in April.
Commentators saw Mr McCain's decision to bring up the story as proof of his struggle to bring the focus back to foreign policy, which he himself has presented as his strength compared to his grasp of financial matters. But Americans have remained stubbornly gripped by the economic crisis of recent weeks.
Mr McCain urged the Los Angeles Times to release the videotape, saying it could shed light on Mr Obama's ties with Mr Khalidi, a leading Middle Eastern studies scholar. The Republican candidate said William Ayers, a former 1960s radical, was also present at the banquet.
"Now why that should not be made public is beyond me," Mr McCain said during a radio interview in Florida. "I guarantee you, if there was a tape with me and Sarah Palin and some neo-Nazi or one of those, you think that that tape wouldn't be made public?"
The Los Angeles Times said it could not release the videotape because of a promise made to the source who provided it.
Mr McCain also called Mr Khalidi a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which the academic has previously denied. A Columbia University spokesman said Mr Khalidi was on sabbatical and not taking media calls.
Regardless of the charge, Mr McCain appeared to have forgotten that the United States recognised the PLO 20 years ago.
It also emerged that Mr McCain had his own ties to Mr Khalidi through the Centre for Palestine Research and Studies, which the academic helped to found 15 years ago. The group received more than US$800,000 (Dh2.9 million) from the International Republican Institute, an organisation that Mr McCain chairs.
But out on the campaign stump in Ohio, Mrs Palin also brought up the banquet.
The friendship between Mr Khalidi and Mr Obama appears to have been cemented when they were both professors at the University of Chicago. Mr Khalidi and his wife Mona hosted a political fundraiser for Mr Obama in 2000.
The Republican claims were dismissed by Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, as a "recycled, manufactured controversy".
"Barack Obama has been clear and consistent on his support for Israel, and has been clear that Rashid Khalidi is not an adviser to him or his campaign and that he does not share Khalidi's views," he said.
Indeed, Mr Obama caused consternation in the Arab-American community earlier this year when he won a standing ovation during a speech to Aipac, the pro-Israel lobbying group, with his declaration: "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
Throughout the campaign, Mr Obama has said his commitment to Israel's security is "non-negotiable".
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) urged American Muslims to vote next Tuesday as part of the fight against Islamophobic bias and stereotyping in political campaigns.
Cair also urged candidates, public officials and opinion leaders to follow Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, in speaking out against anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The group said it was worried by several recent incidents, such as the recent distribution of 28 million anti-Muslim DVDs to voters in presidential swing states nationwide. There have also been persistent rumours, meant as a smear, that Mr Obama is not Christian but a Muslim.
Anti-Obama claims also appeared in Israel this week. France flatly denied a story in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, which said Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, was very critical of Mr Obama's positions on Iran.
Ha'aretz quoted a senior Israeli government source who said Mr Sarkozy viewed Mr Obama's stance on Iran as "utterly immature" and comprised of "formulations empty of all content".
"The remarks attributed by the newspaper Ha'aretz to the president of the French Republic concerning Senator Obama's positions on Iran are groundless," said a statement released by the French Embassy in Washington on Tuesday.
"To the contrary, the in-depth discussions between the president of the Republic and Senator Obama on Iran during their meeting in Paris in July demonstrated a broad convergence of views on this issue. President Sarkozy and Senator Obama agree to oppose Iran's development of a military nuclear capability."
Mr Obama has said he would set conditions for any meeting with Iranian leaders and consistently stated his opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
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