A Nashville judge has uncovered bogus invitations that say she's sponsoring a lecture for a scholar whose stance on Palestinian issues and friendship with President Barack Obama have raised questions about Obama's support for Israel.
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle said she discovered Thursday that invitations sent in her name announce a Feb. 12 lecture by American-Palestinian Rashid Khalidi at the First Amendment Center in Nashville.
But center officials say Khalidi is not scheduled to speak there. Instead, former Tennessee U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, a Democrat, will be teaching a class at the center that day.
When she learned there was a public figure at the center that day, Lyle said she became concerned security might be compromised at the center and contacted the FBI. FBI officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Lyle is not sure who sent out the invitations, but says it's very possible a disgruntled litigant is behind it. She said an attorney told her about the invitation and that she's aware of at least two other lawyers receiving them.
"As a trial judge, you make decisions every day people don't like, so it exposes you to people wanting to in some way harm you," Lyle said. "I really couldn't say exactly what motivated it."
Khalidi is a professor of Middle East Studies at Columbia University and longtime friend of Obama. He has publicly criticized Israel, but he and Obama have both said they hold very different opinions on Israeli issues. Their friendship has been used to raise questions about Obama's support for Israel.
In the waning days of the presidential campaign, Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, criticized Obama for attending a 2003 party for Khalidi.
Khalidi told The Associated Press on Friday from his home in New York that he was "saddened but not surprised" by the fake invitation.
"This is the first I've heard of it. I'm very sorry this has happened," he said. "Sporadically, I've had things like this happen over the years."
For example, Khalidi noted that while he was a professor at the University of Chicago, someone was able to access his e-mail and sent messages in his name.
"When you've been slandered and your name has been dragged through the mud ... there's really not much you can do," he said. "I kept a low profile (during the election) because I couldn't possibly get down in the mud."
Khalidi and Obama met while both were teaching at the University of Chicago and living in the same neighborhood. Khalidi and his wife, Mona, hosted a political fundraiser for Obama in 2000, and the Woods Fund charity gave money to the Arab-American Action Network, run by Mona Khalidi, while Obama served on the charity's board.
Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, said he's puzzled by the invitation, but isn't concerned about any potential security problems.
"We're known in the Nashville community for having events where public speakers appear," he said. "We really are focused not so much on foreign policy, but First Amendment issues."