Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama, the L.A. Times, and the PLO

OK, this campaign is getting into pure silliness and stupidity. Back in May, I wrote a piece for Religion in the News entitled "Obama and the Jews" in which I touched on what I thought was a very important L.A. Times article published in the spring, a singular article amongst all those which looked at Obama's Chicago past in determing his stance on the Israeli-Arab conflict. I wrote then:

In an April 10 story, Los Angeles Times national political reporter Peter Wallsten described Obama as having a close social relationship with Chicago-area supporters of the Palestinian cause going back to the late 1990s, while at the same time pursuing a pro-Israel policy when he ran first for a seat in Congress and then for the U.S. Senate...
Critics of Obama also pointed to his long-standing friendship with academic Rashid Khalidi as evidence of a secret anti-Israel agenda. Supporters responded that he was a classic “pro-Israel” Democrat—that his acceptance of friends and associates with whom he disagreed was merely an indication of his “new style” inclusive politics.

Now this story has been catapulted into a last-week and desperate campaign trope. Republican candidate John McCain complained today that the Times has refused to release a videotape it posseses of a 2003 party thrown in Khalidi's honor in which Obama participated, as if this is some kind of nefarious thing. Sarah Palin today absolutely mangled Khalidi's name, called "Khaladi" a spokesman of the "Palestinian (sic) Liberation Organization," and said to supporters: "It must be nice for a candidate to have major news organizations looking out for their best interests like that. Politicians would love to have a pet newspaper of their very own."

All of this is pure bullshit, plain and simple. I've never met Khalidi, but I've read 3 of his books, and assigned one of his books to my students. He is one of the leading lights of the Palestinian-American intellectual scene, an honest historian who in his most recent book, The Iron Cage, gives an impassioned and persuasive account of the failures of Palestinian leadership and policies. Of course Khalidi is critical of Israel, and American policy towards Israel and Palestine. So what? I have heard from Jewish colleagues that he has been a fair doctoral advisor, and I know he works with credible Israeli and Palestinian figures. At a time when the PLO was being engaged diplomatically by both Israel and the US (essentially the last 15 years, after both the US and Israel had come to regard the PLO as a legitimate party, and not a terrorist organization) he has apparently consulted with that organization during the Oslo and beyond years. In no conceivable way could his participation with Palestinian diplomacy these last two decades be regarded as engaging in terrorism. Let's be very clear -- the Palestine Liberation Organization has many problems, but it has been more than 15 years since it has been defined by any responsible entity as a terrorist organization.

And let's not forget that Khalidi was a participant in the now defunct Center for Palestine Research and Studies (which conducted polls of Palestinian public opinion), and which, according to the AP, received in 1998 a half-million dollar grant from the International Republican Institute (an organization supporting the advance of democracy throughout the world). Who was the chair of the IRI in 1998? Senator John McCain.

What a load of crap.

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