"The Jews of Europe were jumping out of a burning building, and no one can blame them for doing so. But they landed on other people. They landed on the Palestinians, and for that the Jews have to right their wrong."
The above words, paraphrased, were spoken by Dr. Rashid Khalidi when I heard him speak seven years ago in Philadelphia at an alumni gathering of University of Chicago students. (I didn't go to Chicago, but the person with whom I attended had earned his M.A. there.) Dr. Khalidi was speaking on the topic of nationalism in the Middle East, including Zionism, Palestinian nationalism, and Kurdish nationalism. He spoke for about an hour, and I can say with confidence that he said nothing with which I disagreed.
Of course, now Khalidi's name is a household word, thanks to the dirty tricks wing of the presidential campaign of Senator John McCain, which, using Gov. Sarah Palin as their pit bull, has accused Senator Barack Obama of being friends with a man (Khalidi) who is critical of Israel and has close ties to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Never mind that, for all the friendship that Senator Obama and Dr. Khalidi may have shared, Senator McCain authorized giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1990s to Dr. Khalidi's Center for Palestine Research and Studies. Never mind that guilt by association can put Senator McCain in an even more awkward position, considering his demonstrable links not only to Charles Keating, but to key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal and to G. Gordon Liddy, who plotted the bombing of the Brookings Institute long after William Ayers had retired from the Weather Underground. Never mind those things. Mind, instead, how stupid the McCain campaign is taking you for if you take the bait on the Obama-Khalidi "accusation."
Why is it stupid? Here are just a few of the reasons:
1. The accusation that Dr. Khalidi has ties to the PLO has never been proved.The sole publication that has uncategorically stated this was Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, a far-right newspaper well known for its editorial slant. Meanwhile, the right-leaning, English-language Jerusalem Post (one of the editors named his son after Ariel Sharon) has stated outright that Khalidi never worked for the PLO.
2. The allegation of PLO ties on Dr. Khalidi's part is further disproved by his attendance as an adviser at the 1991 Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid, convened by President George H.W. Bush following the first Iraq War. In case you don't recall, the restrictions that had been put on the Palestinians with regard to these talks were several, not the least of which was that no member of the PLO was permitted to attend. That's why Yasir Arafat wasn't there.
3. Meanwhile, then leader of the Israeli opposition, Yitzhak Rabin, was negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians under the auspices of the Norwegian government. And with whom was he negotiating? The PLO. In fact, the current Palestinian Authority government is headed by a PLO member, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas. What many people do not understand is that the PLO has always been an umbrella organization of several smaller Palestinian independence groups. Some of these groups have clear links to terrorism and parted ways with the PLO in the wake of Oslo. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash's Marxist outfit, would be a prime example. The key group that stayed under the PLO umbrella was Arafat's Fateh party, of which Abbas is now head. Members of George W. Bush's administration have met with Abbas regularly and Israel even aided Abbas in his war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So even if Dr. Khalidi were a member of the PLO, is that really such a terrible thing? Yes, Fateh has engaged in acts of terrorism in the past, but so had three former Israeli Prime Ministers: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.
4. Dr. Khalidi's views have been characterized by supporters of Senator McCain, most recently Rudy Guiliani, as "anti-Israel." In fact, Dr. Khalidi supports a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as does the Bush administration and every administration since 1967. That Dr. Khalidi has been vocal in criticizing Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians ought to be put in the context of the conflict itself. Dr. Khalidi's family is from Jaffa, the ancient port that abuts Tel-Aviv. They were expelled during the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli conflict. The fact that over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from the 1949 Israeli cease-fire borders is no longer seriously disputed by any historians either within or outside of Israel. So if Dr. Khalidi is anti-Israel for stating this, then we'd better indict Israeli historians such as Benny Morris and Tom Segev while we're at it. If Dr. Khalidi has been critical of Israeli settlement in the Palestinian Territories, then we'd better lump him together with former President George H.W. Bush, as well as former President Clinton. If Dr. Khalidi has pressed for East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state, then perhaps it should be borne in mind that East Jerusalem is territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 war and that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which both the U.S. and Israel have agreed to, requires Israel to withdraw from occupied territory in exchange for peace. If the Palestinians can offer peace, then East Jerusalem must be negotiated.
5. Among Dr. Khalidi's most vocal supporters has been Dr. Lee Bollinger, the current President of Columbia University and a Jewish American. If we recall Dr. Bollinger's attack on Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when the latter spoke at Columbia last year, I think we can say with surety that Dr. Bollinger is no fan of so-called terrorism and is a notable advocate for Israel's security.
The primary reason that Dr. Khalidi is being used as a red herring by the McCain campaign is that he's a Palestinian, and when many Americans think of Palestinians, they unfortunately think of terrorism first. The Bill Ayers accusation and the "Obama is a Muslim" attack having done little damage to Senator Obama's lead in the polls has led the McCain campaign to combine the two prongs of their attack into one. Enter Dr. Khalidi.
The other reason that Dr. Khalidi is an issue is that Florida, which is second only to New York in the number of Jewish voters, is not in the bag for Senator McCain on November 4. And what's the best way of scaring Jewish voters into voting McCain/Palin? Tell them that Senator Obama hangs around with Palestinian terrorists.
That's not just Arab-baiting, mind you. That's Jew-baiting, albeit of a different variety, yet, as a Jew, I still find it offensive. Should there be any Jews that are on the fence still and the Obama-Khalidi connection has given you pause, then please realize what Senator McCain and Governor Palin are doing in pressing this point about Dr. Khalidi. Is it good for the Jews? Decidedly not.Andrew E. Mathis is a medical editor, Holocaust historian, and adjunct professor of English and humanities at Villanova University.