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October 31, 2008

The McCain spokesman and the phantom antisemite

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."

The McCain campaign is attacking an innocent academic in a way that can only be described as racist.

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.

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A quote overused to the point of having become a cliché, but nevertheless occasionally apposite –

Army attorney Joseph Welch, June 9, 1954 to Sen. Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy Hearings:

"You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

If they carry Florida, they'll say it was worth it (though I think they are overestimating the gullibility of Jewish seniors.) IOW, no, no shame. But we knew that already when McCain repackaged himself as a Bush-hugger.

Lindsay,

Excellent post! I've watched Khalidi many times on Charlie Rose, and other TV interviews, and discussion panels. He's a real scholar. To say he is informed is an understatement. It has been clear to me, over the years, that Khalidi has been pro West and very pro America.

On a technical note, Arabs and a large part of the non-Jewish middle east peoples are Semites. Jews and Arabs are both children of Abraham. I have seen Arab critics of Israel bristle at the charge of antisemitism and proudly assert that Abraham is their father, TOO. "How can we be antisemitic when we are Semites as well."

I agree with you that the McCain campaign attack on an innocent, and pro America, academic is racist. Hell, it's antisemitic.

Great post.

Can you shed any insight on Obama's mystery friend that "we all know" about? Whom did he have in mind?

Are you in favor of releasing the tape?

This is a great article. Thank you.

"He'll have lots of time to regret it after he loses. "
I don't know about that. I won't be surprised if the strain of the campaign, compounded by the loss, kills him.

me

I'm sure that would break your heart

I think Goldfarb was bluffing about the mystery friend. He got caught out.

If the LA Times got the tape on background, they shouldn't release it. As a journalist, you can't go around burning sources under political pressure.

The rumor I'm hearing is that the tape shows Obama and Khalidi embracing. If so, that's touching.

I know a couple people who know Khalidi personally and nobody has a bad word to say about him. It's not an understatement to say that he's a beloved figure. I'm told he's just a charming low-key guy who has a lot of friends.

A comment from a Fox site that will surprise some

It would be refreshing to hear Obama make the same defense of Khalidi that you do, Lindsay, and to take the wind out of the sails of those pushing for release of the tapes by saying something like "There have been claims that the video tape shows me embracing Khalidi. I did embrace him--he's a long-time friend, an important scholar and a valuable voice both for justice for the Palestinians and for peace in the middle east." That's change I could believe in.

It was very instructive to see how Palin rolled out this newest smear at a rally yesterday. As soon as she uttered Khalidi's name, and before she said anything about the PLO, the crowd erupted in boos.

Now, I'd bet good money that of the several thousand people in that crowd, somewhere between 0 and 10 had ever heard Khalidi's name before. It was a purely Pavlovian response: Arab-sounding name --> BOOOOOO!

Sickening.

Man, I'm glad the media people are fed up with that crap! Wooooww...

I'm in favor of releasing the tape after the election so that the GOP can't edit it out of context and use it in McCain ads.

Also, Phantom-this -- you do realize that the tape is private property? I thought you were in favor of private property. If the owner of the tape doesn't want it released, or only shown to a select group of people, isn't that his right? Aren't you a proponent of property rights?

I'll take you seriously Phantom, when you call for Cheney to release the minutes from his early-on energy meetings.

So let me ask you this, if the owner of the tape doesn't want it released before the election, because he doesn't want it effecting the election, and since you asked everyone here the same question: Are you in favor of releasing the tape?

It's already impacting the election in some way. I'd encourage the LA Times to push for permission to release.

Don't worry about Cheney. He'll soon be gone. And yes, I have no problem with him releasing those minutes.

Oh my

Someone's gone way off the script

Talking about what Cheney was up to during the last 8 years is looking backwards.
But did you hear what Ayers was doing 40 years ago?

Berto

C'mon. No one's supposed to know. We were all 8 years old at the time.

"TNRtv: JUDIS ON MCCAIN'S DIRTY POLITICS

"TNR senior editor John B. Judis delves into the dark abyss of McCain's latest attacks. He argues that the subtle incitements of racial warfare and underhanded implications of foreign nativity have placed McCain's politics among the dirtiest in recent memory."

http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2008/10/30/tnrtv-judis-on-mccain-s-dirty-politics.aspx

Phantom, Erica Jong is a good writer, but let's not pretend she's some important political or community leader. Nowadays, people who want to read about second wave feminism will probably read The Feminine Mystique or the early issues of Ms., not Fear of Flying.

Republicans are going down and what drags them is the weight of their own hate, ignorance and greed. The world is tiring of it...tiring. And I'm not talking about those who still have all the power, financially. But the people.

On last night's Daily show a "Christian conservative" republican in Ohio (I believe) has decided to vote for Obama because, as a community organizer supporting impoverished Appalachians, she took offense at the McCain/Palin characterization of her activity.

Re: Norman Costa's point above, you are certainly right that Arabs and Jews are both "Semitic" as are Assyrians/Chaldeans and, at least linguistically, many Ethiopians (Amharic being a Semitic language.)

But it was self-described German antisemite Wilhelm Marr who coined the term in the late 1800s.

It's a distinction without a difference, really. Muslim fascists have no problem borrowing anti-Semitic tropes used by European fascists. For example, Ahmadinejad hosted a Holocaust denial conference. This is not how pro-Palestinian radicals (who, for all their fault, are rarely anti-Semitic) argue - they tend to say that the Holocaust doesn't mean Jews should get to trample Palestinians.

Once in awhile Arabs pretend outrage that the term "anti semite " only to mean anti Jewishness, though they know damned well what the word means.

I'll pretend to be offended that whites are called " Caucasians " though few have any ties to the Caucasus.

"I wonder if McCain will eventually apologize to Rashid Khalidi for this year's desperate racist pandering."

I'm sure he'll "deeply regret" all of these things whether he wins or loses. He's been using that line since the Keating scandal, and look how far its gotten him.

I approve of this message!

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