Concerns raised about Sen. Barack Obama's relationship with Palestinian-American Professor Rashid Khalidi have prompted critics of Sen. John McCain to try to link him to Khalidi as well.
A reporter for the liberal Huffington Post Web site noted that the International Republican Institute (IRI) during the 1990s gave grants to a Palestinian think tank, which Khalidi co-founded. McCain became chairman of the IRI's board of directors in 1993.
The Huffington Post's Seth Colter Walls pointed to a 1998 IRI tax return that showed the institute gave a grant of a little under $500,000 to what Walls calls "Khalidi's Center for Palestinian Research and Studies" (CPRS).
"The guilt-by-association game burns John McCain as well," wrote Walls, who was critical of attempts by McCain supporters to draw connections between Obama and the pro-PLO Khalidi, who holds a prominent professorship at Columbia University.
The McCain campaign wants the Los Angeles Times to make available a videotape it has, purportedly showing Obama speaking warmly and personally about Khalidi at an event in the professor's honor five years ago. The paper says it promised the source of the tape not to release it.
Walls described the links between Obama and Khalidi – whom he called "an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights" – as "rather tenuous."
The now-defunct CPRS was established in Nablus in 1993, the year the Oslo Accords launched Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. One of its seven founding trustees was Khalidi, who served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the peace talks leading to the Oslo agreement and was at the time a professor of Middle East history at the University of Chicago.
According to archived versions of the CPRS' non-operational Web site, the IRI was one of 14 international funders. Other included the National Endowment for Democracy, the Ford Foundation, the Rockerfeller Foundation, the Canada Fund and the Mennonite Committee.
The IRI, a body with a stated goal of promoting democracy worldwide, issued a statement Wednesday reacting to the claims. It confirmed giving grants to the CPRS during the 1990s for polling to measure support for the peace process and political groups in the self-rule areas.
"At that time no other organization could credibly conduct polling in the West Bank/Gaza," IRI said.
The institute said it did not at the time conduct background checks of grantees' founders, although it "did on a number of occasions vet CPRS as an organization, including, as was our custom, with the Israeli government, and we were given no cause for concern."
"We do not recall any contact between Mr. Khalidi and IRI, and there is no evidence that Mr. Khalidi benefited in any way from IRI's grants."
The CPRS was headed by Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian pollster. In 1999 Shikaki took flak from Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority for a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored report on corruption. In response he reportedly shut down the institute and reopened it under the name Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, where it continues to operate.
It is unclear how big a role Khalidi played in the CPRS. A Nexis major world newspaper search of "Rashid Khalidi" and "Center for Palestinian Research and Studies" for 1993-2000 – the period of the CPRS' existence – brings up no records. A search of "Khalil Shikaki" and "Center for Palestinian Research and Studies" delivers 25 news reports.
Attempts to reach Khalidi and Shikaki for comment were unsuccessful.