Earlier this week, John McCain once again attacked his presidential campaign opponent Barack Obama on the basis of his association with another individual. In this case the individual was Rashid Khalidi. Mr. Khalidi’s sin? He’s a Palestinian who has been critical of Israel. Obama’s sin? Speaking at a dinner five years ago held in honor of Mr. Khalidi.
Other speakers at the dinner were critical of Israel, accusing the state of committing terrorism against the Palestinian people, leading McCain to compare the dinner gathering to “a Neo-Nazi outfit”, and thus implying that criticism of Israel’s crimes is equivalent with racism.
The Los Angeles Times reported last April on the Obama’s presence at the dinner, noting that “a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel.” Another speaker noted that “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” shared one thing with Osama bin Laden; they were both “blinded by ideology.”
Obama, who has vigorously portrayed himself as a staunch supporter of Israel, said at the dinner that his talks with Mr. Khalidi and his wife Mona had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases” and expressed hope 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.”
Mr. Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University in New York.
The McCain campaign last Tuesday criticized the L.A. Times for withholding a videotape of the dinner. A campaign spokesman said, “A major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi.”
The L.A. Times explained that it “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.”
McCain himself lashed out at the L.A. Times for choosing to not release the videotape, accusing the paper of bias and comparing the dinner to a “neo-Nazi outfit”.
“I’m not in the business of talking about media bias,” McCain said, “but what if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet? I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different.”
McCain’s choice for vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, also criticized Obama’s attendance at the dinner. “Among other things, Israel was described there as the perpetrator of terrorism rather than the victim,” she said. “What we don’t know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he professes to support.”
She also accused the L.A. Times of bias. “It must be nice for a candidate to have major news organizations looking after his best interests like that,” she said. “We have a newspaper willing to throw aside even the public’s right to know in order to protect a candidate that its own editorial board has endorsed.”
The Obama campaign responded by emphasizing that Obama “has been clear and consistent on his support for Israel, and has been clear that Rashid Khalidi is not an adviser to him or his campaign and that he does not share Khalidi’s views.” They also observed that McCain is the chairman of the International Republican Institute, which gave $448,000 to the Center for Palestine Research and Studies. Khalidi was a founder of that organization.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt returned the criticism, saying, “Instead of giving lectures on media bias, John McCain should answer why, under his own chairmanship, the International Republican Institute repeatedly funded an organization Khalidi founded.” the McCain campaign responded by noting that “it is obvious that Khalidi and Obama are close friends, whereas McCain and Khalidi have never even met.”
What’s remarkable about the whole affair is the deeply embedded racism it reveals in both candidates’ campaigns and in the media.
Take the McCain campaign position that any association with Mr. Khalidi is somehow sinful, and criticism of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people abhorrent. This is a deeply anti-Semitic position–for Arabs are Semitic peoples, too–in that the underlying assumption is that Palestinian terrorism against Israelis is rightly condemned, but even the suggestion of Israeli terrorism against Palestinians regarded as a “slur” against Israel.
Or take the Obama campaign’s response, and how quickly they were to disavow Khalidi, essentially confirming that the McCain camp would be right to consider it worthy of criticism were Obama to share his views and even criticizing McCain in turn for chairing a group that gave money to Khalidi’s organization. The Obama camp’s response, in other words, served only to reinforce the underlying assumption of the McCain campaign.
Khalidi himself has observed the trend for criticism of Israel to be equated with anti-Semitism. In an article he wrote in The Nation magazine last May, he said, “It is considered by some to be a slur on Israel and Zionism, and indeed tantamount to anti-Semitism, to suggest that these events sixty years ago [leading to the creation of the state of Israel] should be the subject of anything but unmitigated joy.”
To Palestinians, these events are called al-Nakba–the expulsion. “Palestinians presumably do not have the right to recall, much less mourn, their national disaster if this would rain on the parade of celebrating Zionists everywhere,” Khalidi wrote. “The fact that the 1948 war that created Israel also created the largest refugee problem in the Middle East (until the US occupation of Iraq turned 4 million people into refugees) must therefore be swept under the rug. Also disregarded is the obvious fact that it would have been impossible to create a Jewish state in a land nearly two-thirds of whose population was Arab without some form of ethnic cleansing.”