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 Saturday, November 01, 2008

Khalidi: The Republicans' Latest Smear Against Obama

  Read here article by Stephen Zune
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus. He is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism

The smear campaign by John McCain, Sarah Palin and their supporters reached a new low this past week with their attacks on Democratic nominee Barack Obama for his former ties with Palestinian American scholar Rashid Khalidi.

This is just one of a series of desperate guilt-by-association tactics by the Republicans to make the staunchly pro-Israel Obama appear to be anti-Israel and may be designed less to harm the Democratic nominee's chances of election as to limit politically his options for addressing urgent matters of Israeli-Palestinian peace upon becoming president.

Unlike education professor and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, Obama and Khalidi and their wives actually did have a social relationship back when they both taught at the University of Chicago and their kids attended the same lab school.

It is ironic that Khalidi -- a U.S.-born graduate of Yale and Oxford who formerly served as president of the Middle East Studies Association -- has become the focal point of these attacks, however.

Indeed, the political orientation of this highly regarded scholar, who currently has an endowed chair at Columbia University, has been absurdly mischaracterized.

Curiously, however, neither Obama nor his campaign has been willing to come to his defense.

Slandering a Noted Scholar

Both McCain and Palin have referred to Khalidi as a former "spokesman" for the Palestine Liberation Organization, citing his time in Beirut during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the then-exiled PLO was based there and some of its armed factions were still engaged in terrorism.

Khalidi was NEVER a spokesman for the organization, however, instead serving during that period as a fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and as a professor at the American University in Beirut. (I first met Khalidi in the Lebanese capital back in 1981 and recall him as someone who clearly embraced an independent and moderate nationalist perspective.)

Later, he served in an advisory capacity for the non-PLO Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace talks.

Campaigning on Wednesday, Palin referred to Khalidi as "another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama going back several years." Fox News and scores of other pro-Republican news outlets have similarly accused Khalidi of being an "extremist" and a "supporter of terrorism."

In reality, rather than allying himself with anti-Israeli extremists, Khalidi is far more closely identified with Palestinian moderates and the Israeli peace camp. For example, he serves on the national advisory committee of the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, a highly regarded interfaith group advocating dialogue, education and peace advocacy.

Furthermore, while recognizing the international legal right for a people to resist uniformed foreign occupation forces, Khalidi has opposed terrorism and has explicitly stated that killing Israeli civilians is a "war crime" and "a violation of international law."

The apparent source of many of these misrepresentations of Khalidi come from a 2004 Washington Times article written by Asaf Romirowsky and by Jonathan Calt Harris of the right-wing Middle East Forum, which falsely accused Khalidi of "shilling for terrorists."

In addition, despite Khalidi's well-known criticism of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the article was headlined "Arafat Minion as Professor." Neither the mainstream media nor the Obama campaign have bothered to cite Harris' notorious history of demonstrably false reporting and mischaracterizations of Khalidi and other Middle East scholars who have dared question Bush administration policy in the Middle East. (That same year, Harris wrote a widely circulated article for the National Review Online -- another source of a series false claims against Khalidi -- in which he manufactured an anti-Semitic remark that he claimed I had made as a speaker on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington sponsored by the American Committee on Jerusalem, a group for which Khalidi once served as president. Fortunately, the event was taped, so I succeeded in getting NRO to drop the fabricated quote from the article when I threatened legal action.)

Unfortunately, the Obama campaign has yet to defend Khalidi from any of the demonstrably false mischaracterizations of Khalidi's political positions, simply claiming that Obama "does not share Khalidi's views."

For example, when McCain demanded that the Los Angeles Times release a tape -- which it received on the condition that it not be made public -- of a social event Obama attended in honor of Khalidi, McCain declared, "If there was a tape of John McCain in a neo-Nazi outfit, I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different." Regretfully, the Obama campaign has yet to challenge the Republican nominee's unconscionable comparison of this respected Arab American scholar to neo-Nazis.

Indeed, instead of coming to Khalidi's defense against these and other racist and transparently false attacks against him, the Obama campaign has instead launched a counterattack, pointing out that the International Republican Institute, a government-funded foundation nominally headed by McCain, funded a project founded by Khalidi known as the Center for Palestine Research and Studies.

The IRI has provided more than $800,000 to the group, which engages in polling and other survey research on Palestinian sociopolitical attitudes. It is unclear, however, what the Democrats find so objectionable about the center's work.

Both campaigns, then, are effectively buying into this myth that there are these far left academics who are unduly influencing our policy makers and/or squandering our tax dollars. In doing so, both McCain and Obama are thereby contributing to the growing anti-intellectualism and ongoing threats to academic freedom in this country.Read here for more

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