Who is Rashid Khalidi and why is he a factor in the presidential election?

Ray Hanania

Posted Nov 1, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Who is Rashid Khalidi and why is he a factor in the presidential election?

By Ray Hanania

To hear supporters of John McCain explain it, you would think Rashid Khalidi was a gun-toting terrorist bent on the destruction of the United States. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of a campaign by the McCain supporters to add Khalidi to a growing list of questionable associations they claim plague Democrat Barack Obama.

They said Khalidi was a spokesman for the PLO – isn’t that what they say about every Palestinian who has an opinion?

They said Khalidi has criticized Israel as an “apartheid state” – apartheid is a South African government policy of discriminating against Black people because of their race, imposed by the South African government when it was ruled by Whites. If you replace “race” with “religion,” there could be some similarities in a debate about Israel’s abuse of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

To make matters worse – what could be worse than all this? — The Los Angeles Times Newspaper has a video tape of Barack Obama saying nice things about Khalidi at a 2003 dinner banquet send-off when Khalidi went from his job as a political science professor at the University of Chicago to occupy the Edward Said chair named in honor of Khalidi’s mentor at Columbia University in New York City.

All evidence, McCain’s supporters insist, is proof the media is biased against McCain and is protecting Obama.

Worse – there’s always something worse in situations like this – some people got up at the dinner and read some poetry that included some strident attacks against Israel. A few others even used the “Z” word (Zionist) in their heated rhetoric at the event.

You starting to see a pattern here?

Khalidi is from one of Palestine’s pre-1948 land-owning aristocracies. One of the privileged class. He even has an affected “British-like” accent that adds luster to his “blue blood.”

He is the author of a bunch of books on the history of Palestine and why the Arabs lost the 1948 War, books that very few Americans have ever read, and maybe should if they really care about Arab-Israeli peace.

He was a part of the Edward Said contingent of activists who convinced PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to pursue peace with Israel, a movement that began in 1988 and that led to the signing of the famous agreement on the White House lawn in 1993 between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was murdered by an Israeli fanatic supporter of extremist Benjamin Netanyahu, a former Israeli prime minister who is positioned to run again. But who cares about that?

But like Edward Said, Khalidi lost confidence in Arafat and recognized that the peace process wasn’t going to achieve what they had hoped for. Edward Said became Arafat’s biggest critic – even more so than the Israelis – and Khalidi became an Edward Said “mini-me,” trashing Arafat and the peace process, too.

Their idea is that peace would lead Israelis and Jews to recognize that the idea of a religious state is not a good one. For Jews, that is. No one ever says anything about all the one-religion Islamic States that exist all around Palestine.

Jews and Israelis didn’t see that as the goal of swapping land for peace and creating two-states. They, and many Palestinians, too, believed that “two-states” really means two states, and that compromise means compromising on one’s demands.

Khalidi is far from being a “PLO” spokesman. In fact, he was far from being an Arafat cheerleader. He was most often seen in the company of the Chicago-based Jabha al-Shabiyyah, the Arabic name for the political supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, headed by Dr. George Habash, a “Christian” anomaly who embraced “Marxism” and said violence was the only way to re-establish Palestine.

He is also one of the Palestinian community’s most eloquent spokes people, frequently booked to give speeches at Palestinian events.

But even that doesn’t make Khalidi a bad guy “terrorist” as he is being called. The fact is the “Jabha” have many members in Chicago who are pals with politicians including Mayor Richard M. Daley and Gov. Rod Blagojevich. They get government contracts and grants and have much control over the handful of government sponsored events honoring Chicagoland’s 250,000 strong community.

How did Obama come to know the Palestinian community? Was it his “Muslim” upbringing, or some sinister plot to get Israel? Or, might it be something more simple, like the fact that 65 percent of grocery stores in the African American community are owned and operated by Arab Americans who are mostly Palestinian and Jordanian.

These grocers chose the Black community to own and run stores because people in White neighborhoods didn’t like them and chased many of them out in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of them bought their stores from Jewish owners and they run good stores, although there are a few problems as there are in any similar situation where one race has a presence in another racial community.

The fact is many African Americans sympathize with the core issues that are the foundation of Palestinian grievances against Israel.

Did Obama say the words cited in the numerous reports of anti-Israel hate? No. Did Obama embrace the activists who crowded around Khalidi at Arab community centers where portraits of Habash adorned the walls?

Some day, we Americans might get past character-assassination and guilt-by-association so we can see for ourselves what freedom and Democracy are really about.

And then, we might try to be fair to the Palestinians.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talks how host. He can be reached at http://www.radiochicagoland.com )