What You Should Know About Rashid Khalidi and Barack Obama

Katie Favazza
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Posted: Oct 29, 2008 11:17 AM
The McCain campaign is accusing The L.A. Times of suppressing a video that shows Obama and Rashid Khalidi. The LAT published a story about the video back in April, but is claiming that it promised the source that the video would not be released.

Why is this newsworthy? Let's review what we know about Rashid Khalidi and his relationship to Barack Obama.

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.
  • The Khalidis and the Obamas became "friends and dinner companions" while Sen. Obama taught at the University of Chicago, according to the L.A. Times piece, and the Khalidis also provided support to Obama's political career. The New York Times reported and confirmed as much in May of this year: 
For years, the Obamas had been regular dinner guests at the Hyde Park home of Rashid Khalidi, a Middle East scholar at the University of Chicago and an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the 1990s peace talks. Mr. Khalidi said the talk would often turn to the Middle East, and he talked with Mr. Obama about issues like living conditions in the occupied territories. In 2000, the Khalidis held a fund-raiser for Mr. Obama during his Congressional campaign.

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At Khalidi's going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. "You will not have a better senator under any circumstances," Khalidi said.

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor's going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

In Chicago, the Khalidis founded the Arab American Action Network, and Mona Khalidi served as its president. A big farewell dinner was held in their honor by AAAN with a commemorative book filled with testimonials from their friends and political allies. These included the left wing anti-war group Not In My Name, the Electronic Intifada, and the ex-Weatherman domestic terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. (There were also testimonials from then-state Senator Barack Obama and the mayor of Chicago.)

Still, Mr. Khalidi said ascertaining Mr. Obama’s precise position was often difficult. “You may come away thinking, ‘Wow, he agrees with me,’ ” he said. “But later, when you get home and think about it, you are not sure.”

...

Mr. Khalidi, who is now the director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, said, “I’m unhappy about the positions he’s taken, but I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed.” He added: “People think he’s a saint. He’s not. He’s a politician.”

In 2001, the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based nonprofit that describes itself as a group helping the disadvantaged, provided a $40,000 grant to the Arab American Action Network, or AAAN, at which Khalidi's wife, Mona, serves as president. The Fund provided a second grant to AAAN for $35,000 in 2002. Obama was a director of the Woods Fund board from 1999 to Dec. 11, 2002, according to the Fund's website. According to tax filings, Obama received compensation of $6,000 per year for his service in 1999 and 2000.

The $40,000 grant from the Woods Fund to AAAN constituted about a fifth of the group's reported grants for 2001, also according to tax filings. The $35,000 Woods Fund grant in 2002 made up about one-fifth of AAAN's reported grants for that year as well.

Though Khalidi has seen little of Sen. Obama in recent years, Michelle Obama attended a party several months ago celebrating the marriage of the Khalidis' daughter.

In interviews with The Times, Khalidi declined to discuss specifics of private talks over the years with Obama. He did not begrudge his friend for being out of touch, or for focusing more these days on his support for Israel -- a stance that Khalidi calls a requirement to win a national election in the U.S., just as wooing Chicago's large Arab American community was important for winning local elections.

Khalidi added that he strongly disagrees with Obama's current views on Israel, and often disagreed with him during their talks over the years. But he added that Obama, because of his unusual background, with family ties to Kenya and Indonesia, would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians.

The evidence is all there; this is a damaging relationship for Obama. It's clear why the media (and their sources) that revere him would not want to release a videotape of the two men displaying an affinity for one another. The McCain campaign has every right to press for the release of this video. Can you imagine the outcry if Fox News obtained, but would not release, a video that showed McCain with a damaging friend? Or how quickly another news organization would be willing to release a similar video?

It's true that the story is old (again, the LAT piece was published in April), but the McCain campaign is smart to create this headline less than a week out.
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Katie Favazza is an editorial consultant who also blogs at KatieFavazza.com and RightWingNews.com.