The Khalidi Gambit: McCain Attacks Obama for Connection to Palestinian Activist Whose Work McCain Helped Fund

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did a live interview with Radio Mambi in Miami this morning in which he went after Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for his connections to a “PLO spokesman.”

McCain was referring to Rashid Khalidi, who, five years ago, Obama toasted at a going-away party before Khalidi headed off to New York City to become a professor at Columbia University.

In April, the Los Angeles Times’s Peter Wallsten wrote about the toast, saying a “special tribute came from Khalidi's friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi's wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

“His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been ‘consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases...It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation -- a conversation that is necessary, not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table,’ but around ‘this entire world.’”

Wrote Wallsten: “In the 1970s, when Khalidi taught at a university in Beirut, he often spoke to reporters on behalf of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. In the early 1990s, he advised the Palestinian delegation during peace negotiations. Khalidi now occupies a prestigious professorship of Arab studies at Columbia.

“He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a ‘war crime’ and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi's opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.”

Wallsten had a videotape of the Khalidi party, which conservatives and, as of today Sen. McCain, are calling upon him to release.

"The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it," Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times, has said. "The Times keeps its promises to sources."

McCain today said, “The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public...I’m not in the business of talking about media bias...but what if there was a tape of John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit...I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different.”

But McCain has his own connection to Khalidi.

In 1993, McCain became chairman of the International Republican Institute. He still chairs that respected organization.

That same year, Khalidi helped found the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, self-described as “an independent academic research and policy analysis institution” created to meet “the need for active Palestinian scholarship on issues related to Palestine.” (Its archived Web site is HERE.)

Khalidi was on the board of trustees through 1999.

According to tax returns, the McCain-chaired IRI funded the organization Khalidi founded and served on to the tune of $448,873 in 1998 (click HERE to see the tax return)* as first reported by Seth Couter Walls at HuffPo.

The IRI continued to give money to the CPRS after Khalidi left the group as well.

Asked to respond to this seeming contradiction, McCain-Palin spokesman Michael Goldfarb writes, “It's long been clear that Obama and Khalidi have a close relationship -- that they were frequent dinner companions. It is another in a series of questionable associations, but it is not the focus of our request that the LA Times release this tape. It's clear from the Times story that the evening featured speeches that were anti-Semitic in tone and anti-Israel in nature.  As our initial statement said, 'This campaign wants to know how Barack Obama responded to that hate-speech, whether he was mingling with Ayers, who he once described as 'just a guy in my neighborhood,' and anything else that might be of interest to voters now deciding who to support in this election.'”

(Goldfarb is referring to two speakers at Khalidi's 2003 farewell party: "a young Palestinian American (who) recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, 'then you will never see a day of peace,'" and another who "likened 'Zionist settlers on the West Bank' to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been 'blinded by ideology.'")

Continued Goldfarb: “Why would the media withhold information that might be damaging to a presidential candidate? It is certainly a luxury that you and your colleagues have never afforded this campaign.”

For his part, Obama was asked about his relationship with Khalidi in May at an event with Jewish voters in Boca Raton, Fla.

“I do know him because I taught at the University of Chicago,” Obama said. “And he is Palestinian. And I do know him and I have had conversations. He is not one of my advisors; he’s not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy.

“To pluck out one person who I know and who I’ve had a conversation with who has very different views than 900 of my friends and then to suggest that somehow that shows that maybe I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel, I think, is a very problematic stand to take," Obama said. "So, we gotta be careful about guilt by association.”

- jpt

* This post has been updated after the IRI said a grant made to the CPRS in 1999 was later "de-obligated." A spokeswoman for the IRI says the organization is going over its books to get further clarification of the funds it gave the organization. The 1998 payment of $448,873 is NOT in dispute. When IRI gets back to us, we will share the information with you.

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