I know Rashid Khalidi. You, Senator McCain, are no Rashid Khalidi. And you, Senator Obama, are most certainly no Rashid Khalidi either.
I don’t know Khalidi very well, but I interviewed him in 1989 for a book on Palestinian political views, and I’ve talked to him on the phone a few times since. I know that he is a superb scholar, as anyone else who has met him, listened to him speak, or read any of his many books knows. He is non-polemical, his tone in both writing and speaking is measured, he writes nothing except what can be backed up by solid evidence. He does not “bash” Israel, and does not “bash” the United States for unquestioningly supporting Israel; he writes only about Israeli and U.S. policy in terms of how these policies affect Palestinians living under Israeli domination and Middle East peoples living under U.S. hegemony. His criticism of Israel is reasoned, unemotional, and balanced. He has frequently criticized the policies of the Palestinian leadership — that PLO that McCain personally equated to neo-Nazis, that Sarah Palin mocked, and to which the McCain campaign has linked Khalidi — in similar terms.
It would dignify the charges against Khalidi too much to deny specifically that he is a terrorist or an anti-Semite or an Israel hater. Khalidi himself is wise to have ignored the charges, referring to the political atmosphere today, in his only statement on this imbroglio, as “this idiot wind.”
The irony in this entire mess is that Khalidi has never been a PLO spokesman — in fact, was chosen to advise the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference specifically because he was not linked to the PLO. Israel’s condition for attending the conference – which the United States, as always, bowed to – was that no member of the Palestinian delegation be associated with the PLO. It is a further irony that it would matter little even if Khalidi had been and were still a PLO spokesman. Do these idiot politicians not know that Israel recognized the PLO 15 years ago, that the U.S. has been talking to the PLO ever since, that the PLO heads the recognized leadership of the Palestinians, the semi-governmental Palestinian Authority, that Bill Clinton hosted PLO leader Yasir Arafat and many of his PLO lieutenants in the White House 13 times during his tenure, that George Bush has hosted Mahmoud Abbas, current PA president and PLO leader, several times at the White House, that Israel is negotiating (after a fashion) with Abbas?
It is perhaps easy to dismiss the McCain-Palin rantings as the desperate hate speech of rightwing nuts who have no other means of attacking Barack Obama. The charges against Khalidi are obviously in the same vein as the “Obama is a Muslim/Obama associates with terrorists” charges. But what is totally unconscionable and unacceptable is Obama’s own reaction to the anti-Khalidi ravings. Although it is not surprising from a man who repudiated Jeremiah Wright, his pastor and friend for 20 years, Obama’s betrayal of Khalidi is outrageous and, frankly, quite slimy. After the McCain charges, Obama’s campaign hurried to issue a statement affirming, as its first order of business, Obama’s fealty to Israel and following this up with an assurance that Obama does not agree with Khalidi’s views. No denunciation of the anti-Semitic or the neo-Nazi charges against Khalidi; no recognition of Khalidi’s very reasoned, moderate scholarship; no indication of any loyalty to a friend. Just a frightened, expedient, Obama-must-never-be-associated-with-criticism-of-Israel reaction.
Thus have U.S. politics fallen utterly and completely into the hands of Israel and its vociferous and moneyed supporters in the United States. This sorry episode is clear testimony to how abjectly U.S. political discourse and virtually all U.S. politicians have been absorbed into the Israel lobby’s pro-Israeli and specifically anti-Palestinian agenda. It is also testimony to Barack Obama’s cold, calculating, and highly dishonorable political expediency. However much his political supporters might contend that he will change once elected, he continues to give the lie to that hope.
KATHLEEN CHRISTISON is the author of two books on Palestinians and U.S. policy on Palestine-Israel, and has a book forthcoming next year from Pluto Press, co-authored with Bill Christison, on the Israeli occupation and its impact on Palestinians. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.