Obama sought to reassure Florida's Jewish community he is pro-Israel today. Here's what he had to say in response to a question about Rashid Khalidi.
"You mentioned Rashid Khalidi, who's a professor at Columbia," Obama said. "I do know him because I taught at the University of Chicago. And he is Palestinian. And I do know him and I have had conversations. He is not one of my advisors; he's not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel's policy."
...."To pluck out one person who I know and who I've had a conversation with who has very different views than 900 of my friends and then to suggest that somehow that shows that maybe I'm not sufficiently pro-Israel, I think, is a very problematic stand to take," he said. "So we gotta be careful about guilt by association."
He apparently didn't mention Khalidi hosted a fundraiser for him when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000, or or that he attended a testimonial dinner for Khalidi and praised him when Khalidi left Chicago to chair Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies Department, or that while he served on the board of the Woods Fund, it voted to grant $40,000.00 to the Arab American Network, an organization headed by Khalidi's wife. From the LA Times: [More...]
It was a celebration of Palestinian culture -- a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.
A special tribute came from Khalidi's friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi's wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.
His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. . . . It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation -- a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world."
On the fundraiser:
....In 2000, the Khalidis held a fundraiser for Obama's unsuccessful congressional bid. The next year, a social service group whose board was headed by Mona Khalidi received a $40,000 grant from a local charity, the Woods Fund of Chicago, when Obama served on the fund's board of directors.
Khalidi's praise for Obama:
At Khalidi's going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. "You will not have a better senator under any circumstances," Khalidi said.
Today, five years later, Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois who expresses a firmly pro-Israel view of Middle East politics, pleasing many of the Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel whom he is courting in his presidential campaign. The dinner conversations he had envisioned with his Palestinian American friend have ended. He and Khalidi have seen each other only fleetingly in recent years.
And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor's going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.
Why the Palestinians like Obama:
At Khalidi's 2003 farewell party, for example, a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, "then you will never see a day of peace."
One speaker likened "Zionist settlers on the West Bank" to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been "blinded by ideology."
Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground. But his presence at such events, as he worked to build a political base in Chicago, has led some Palestinian leaders to believe that he might deal differently with the Middle East than either of his opponents for the White House.
Here's Khalidi on the Charlie Rose Show, May 12, 2004 (available on Lexis.com):
KHALIDI: Palestinians and the Israelis are going to continue to live in a situation of what I would call worse than apartheid. There`s one state and one sovereignty between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. There`s one state and one sovereignty that controls everything to do with security, and the Palestinians live in open-air prison camps, reservations, call them what you will, tiny little dots, splotches in a swath of Israeli control of most of the West Bank.
CHARLIE ROSE: What might change that prognosis?
RASHID KHALIDI: The Israeli people could change it, and the United States could change its policy back. That, and the Palestinians getting -- and finally, the Palestinians and the Arabs getting their act together.(emphasis supplied)
Here's Khalidi in 2001, speaking at an Open Tent meeting on six prerequisties for peace in the Middle East (Rashid Khalidi Outlines Peace Prerequisites at Open Tent Plenary, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs July 31, 2001, available on Lexis.com):
The third prerequisite, Khalidi said, is Israel's acceptance of the pre-1967 Green Line.
"If we proceed that far," he continued, "the fourth prerequisite is a reversal of settlements, which have led to the settlers-only bypass roads, apartheid, racist zoning and violence." (emphasis supplied.)
Fifth is to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Sixth, according to Khalidi, is the right of return, compensation and acknowledgment by Israel of its responsibility to refugees it drove from Palestine. "It is outrageous that Israel ignores U.N. Resolution 194 and says the 300,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon cannot return," he asserted, "while any Jew in the world can go to Israel.
....When asked how other world powers could help the Palestinians, Dr. Khalidi commented: "I don't foresee an apocalypse, but there must be intervention to halt the apartheid. This downward spiral is dangerous for the Palestinians. What Washington doesn't see is the fury of the people in Arab countries. What is being done to the Palestinians is hidden in the U.S. but not in Arab states. The people are going to react and boycott U.S. products. (emphasis supplied)
When asked whether he called Israel's policies racist or compared them to apartheid, according to the New York Times, Khalidi responded (NY Times, February 28, 2005, available on Lexis.com):
The New York Sun has reported that Professor Khalidi has called Israel a "racist" state with an "apartheid system," and has endorsed the killing of Israeli soldiers as legitimate "resistance" to occupation.
TRUE? "I may have used the word 'racist' about Israeli policies," Professor Khalidi said in interviews Friday and yesterday. "In a speech I talked about the system of control of Palestinians, where they cannot move, and I said if that system is maintained, it would develop into worse than the apartheid system."
This is not to take a position on the policies and problems of Israel and Palestine -- that's far beyond my expertise. It's to point out that Obama is going after the Jewish vote by stressing his unwavering support for Israel while minimizing his ties to the very pro-Palestinean Khalidi.
Today Obama said he knows Khalidi because he taught at the University of Chicago, he's had a conversation with Khalidi and their kids attended the same school program. He doesn't mention the fundraiser Khalidi held for him at Khalidi's home or his warm testimonial remarks about their dinners together at Khalidi's home, or his voting to fund money to an organization headed by Khalidi's wife.
His minimization of his association with Khalidi is something I think pro-Israel Jewish voters should consider in deciding whether his pitch for their vote is sincere and truthful.
My prior posts on Obama and Khalidi are here.