Rashid Khalidi admits that recent comments about right-wing influences "infesting" American and Israeli politics could have been expressed better. But the Columbia professor and Palestinian rights advocate said he was not singling out Jews.
"I recognize that it was infelicitous phrasing," he wrote to the Forward, reflecting on what he said Tuesday, in an appearance on Chicago public radio's "Worldview" program. "I was of course referring to those figures in and around the new administration and the Netanyahu government, irrespective of their religion, who promote a pro-occupation and pro-settlement political agenda."
Speaking on WBEZ earlier, Khalidi critiqued a coming pro-settlements and pro-occupation shift in United States policy under President-elect Donald Trump. "There are a group of people, a lot of them in Israel, some of them in the United States, who live in a world of their own," he told WBEZ's Jerome McDonnell. He added, "These people in fact infest the Trump transition team, these people are going to infest our government as of January 20, and they are hand in glove with a similar group within the Israeli government."
Eugene Kontorovich, a right-leaning Washington Post columnist, accused Khalidi of slandering Jews and called his statement anti-Semitic. "Rashid Khalidi repeatedly spoke of r-wing Jews 'infesting' the US government," Kontorovich said in an email to the Forward. "That's a very manifestly Semitic rhetoric — Jews as vermin."
Khalidi slammed Kontorovich, pointing out the fact that he lives in a West Bank settlement and has made racially charged remarks in the past.
"The very last person to give lessons in this regard is Eugene Kontorovich, who lives in the illegal settlement of Neve Daniel in the occupied West Bank, and who has described the 'Arab fertility rate' in Palestine as 'a disaster,' a racist trope if ever there was one," he wrote.
Born to a father of Palestinian descent, Khalidi is a prominent intellectual backer of their cause, writing a number of works as a post-colonial historian that reflect those sympathies. His beliefs have sometimes ignited controversy both on campus and in the wider world, as when his relationship to President Barack Obama surfaced in the latter's first run for the White House.