McCain spokesman Micheal Goldfarb embarrassed himself on CNN while attempting to insinuate that Barack Obama's friend Prof. Rashid Khalidi is some kind of antisemitic terrorist.
Goldfarb was asked how McCain can attack Obama when McCain's organization funded Khalidi's NGO. Goldfarb claimed everybody knows about Obama's associations with antisemites, but when pressed, he couldn't think of anyone else to falsely accuse.
Khalidi is, in fact, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. He's a eminent mainstream scholar, a beloved teacher, and the author of standard university textbooks on the Middle East.
Before I go any further, I just want to say that I agree with Rashid's friend and colleague Barnett Rubin who finds it "demeaning, insulting, and depresssing" to have to defend Khalidi against such transparently ridiculous charges.
Khalidi is an American citizen born and raised in New York City. He was educated at Yale and Oxford. Khalidi became friends with Barack Obama while the two men were teaching at the University of Chicago.
Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer who teaches law and journalism at Columbia, knows Khalidi personally. In a recent blog post, he defended his colleague from right wing attacks by the McCain campaign and its surrogates.
"Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights," Horton wrote, "He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies."
Under John McCain's leadership, the International Republican Institute gave several research grants to Khalidi's foundation, including one 1998 award worth nearly half a million dollars.
Khalidi is a frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs in the mainstream media. He is regular guest on the Charlie Rose Show. He has also appeared on ABC News with Peter Jennings, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS News, and NPR. His book, Resurrecting Empire, got a good review in the New York Times from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
John McCain even did a joint interview with Khalidi with Leslie Stahl of CBS in 1991.
Khalidi's critics claim that he was a spokesman Palestine Liberation Organization in the early eighties, a charge he denies. The main "evidence" to support this contention is a 1982 column by Thomas Friedman that describes Khalidi as a spokesman for a Palestinian press agency. Khalidi says Friedman made a mistake.
While he was a professor in Beirut in the early eighties Khalidi often spoke to the media about the P.L.O., but he was a scholar who studied the group, not an employee.
Friedman's subsequent writing on Khalidi matches Khalidi's own description of his work in Beirut. In 1985 Friedman wrote a very positive review of Khalidi's book on decision-making in the P.L.O.. If Friedman thought that Khalidi had been an official spokesman for the organization, I doubt he would have praised his book as a work of history.
"Rashid Khalidi witnessed this war at first hand. An Oxford-trained Palestinian historian with close contacts in the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, he had both the academic background and the political sources needed to assess Palestinian decisionmaking during the weeks of siege," Friedman wrote, "After having conducted additional interviews with members of both the P.L.O.'s leadership and the American Administration, and having sifted through the extensive archive of telexes and documents maintained by the P.L.O., Mr. Khalidi has produced an extremely valuable analysis of how and why the P.L.O. made the decisions it did during that fateful summer of 1982."
If Khalidi were known as "Joe the Mid-East Studies Prof," the McCain campaign would never have slandered him. It's as if the campaign made a list of Obama's friends, picked the guy with the scariest most "Arab sounding" name, and branded him a terrorist.
The man has done absolutely nothing wrong. Yes, he's pro-Palestinian. That doesn't make him a terrorist. Yes, he has been critical of Israel's human rights record in Palestine. That doesn't make him an antisemite.
If John McCain is too ignorant or too bigoted to see the difference between an academic critic of of the Israeli occupation and a terrorist, he's even less fit to be president than I thought.
More likely, McCain knows perfectly well that Khalidi is neither a terrorist nor Jew-hater. McCain's own institute, which is dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights, funded Khalidi's work in Gaza for many years. McCain appeared on television opposite Khalidi in 1991, which I doubt he would have done if he really thought Khalidi was a terrorist.
During the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000, the state was embroiled in a controversy over whether to remove the Confederate flag from atop the state capitol building. McCain refused to take a stance saying that he regarded the Confederate flag as a matter of "heritage."
This act of moral cowardice was immediately recognized for what it was, shameless pandering. Even McCain was ashamed of himself.
Having lost, he begged for forgiveness for his "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition". "I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles," McCain said after the fact.
I wonder if McCain will eventually apologize to Rashid Khalidi for this year's desperate racist pandering. He'll have lots of time to regret it after he loses.