In reaction to the plethora of information regarding Obama's relationship with Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, Obama supporters have seized on a piece by Seth Colter Walls at the Huffington Post alleging that McCain too is tainted by "guilt-by-association" because in 1998 the International Republican Institute (IRI), whose board he chaired at the time, gave a $500,000 grant to the now-defunct Center for Palestinian Research and Studies" (CPRS) and Khalidi was one of its seven founding trustees. And the Obama campaign has done likewise.
But according to CNS News (emphasis added):
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."
CNN's Political Ticker "Fact Check" on the matter examines the same information and lamely concludes that "There was a relationship in the 1990s between the IRI, chaired by McCain, and the CPRS, co-founded by Khalidi, which received IRI funding." In the same piece, McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sets the record straight: "John McCain has never met Rashid Khalidi, while Barack Obama has acknowledged a close friendship with him."
That should put this alleged connection to rest, but Obama supporters continue to tout this story. Whether they choose to accept the facts in the case or not, the idea that a fleeting "six degrees of separation" connection of this sort can be compared to the 10-plus-year friendship (and history of financial back-scratching) between Obama and Khalidi is absurd. There's simply no comparison.
Furthermore, accusing those who point out Obama's long list of unsavory friends and colleagues of practicing "guilt-by-association" is a red herring. As columnist Thomas Sowell recently pointed out, these are not associations; they are alliances. And Obama, he added, "time and again...allied himself with people who openly expressed their hatred of America."
Seeking to shed light on Obama's murky background and vague, and often contradictory, proclamations via his political alliances is entirely appropriate. Unless, of course, he and his supporters have something to hide.
Update (11/4): Some have pointed to R. Bruce McColm, who was president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) during the time the grant was given to CPRS, and his take (at Harper's Magazine) on McCain's involvement. Nowhere does he imply that McCain and Khalidi met and although McColm states that "it always my understanding that Khalidi was directly involved in the research," he does not say the same for McCain.
However, McColm's contention that "it was Khalidi's academic background and his known coolness to the PLO" that attracted IRI's support" rings true in light of the doublespeak Khalidi is known for (i.e. saying one thing in Arabic and another in English) and the naivete among politicians of both parties towards dealing with so-called "moderate" Palestinian representatives (Mahmoud Abbas being the latest). If McCain and the IRI were taken in by Khalidi, they certainly wouldn't be the first.
Finally, McColm claims Khalidi was "never was a spokesman for the PLO," which is preposterous in light of the abundant evidence to the contrary. Indeed, Middle East studies historian Martin Kramer notes McColm's denial in the course of proving just the opposite.
All that aside, the fact remains: there's no comparison between McCain's fleeting encounter with Khalidi and Obama's ten-plus-year friendship. It's apples and oranges.