Republican Jews, and other McCain supporters, have been paying a lot of attention to Barack Obama’s relationship with Rashid Khalidi. But John McCain has his own affiliation with the Palestinian-American academic and activist.
McCain has been chairman of the International Republican Institute since 1993, an organization which "advances freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law." And in 1993, the Center for Palestine Research and Studies – an organization which Khalidi co-founded and was a member of its board of directors from 1993-1998, started conducting opinion polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the help of funding from IRI.
In fact, in 1998, the IRI’s second largest grant of $448,873 went to CPRS for survey work in the West Bank, according to IRI’s Form 990. That seems remarkably similar to a Republican Jewish Coalition criticism of Obama: The Democratic presidential nominee served on the board of the Woods Fund, which provided a $40,000 grant in 2001 and a $35,000 grant the following year to the Arab American Action Network, a group co-founded by Khalidi. The organization – whose president at the time was Khalidi’s wife, Mona – "works to improve the social, economic and political conditions of Arab immigrants and Arab Americans" in the Chicago area.
What’s the difference? RJC executive director Matt Brooks argued there were a couple of them. Brooks said there was nothing wrong with serving on a board that gave a Khalidi-affiliated organization funds – the issue, he said, was the type of organization being funded. He pointed to a report that the AAAN sponsored an art exhibit at DePaul University entitled "The Subject of Palestine," which featured works related to what Palestinians call the "Nakba" or "catastrophe" of Israel’s founding in 1948. That exhibit took place in 2005, three years after Obama left the Woods Fund board.
Brooks further emphasized that he was more concerned about the personal relationship between Obama and Khalidi, and whether Obama agreed with Khalidi’s opinions about the Middle East.
Khalidi is considered a moderate by Palestinians and many in the pro-Israel community. The L.A. Times article notes that he has called killing civilians a "war crime," although he’s also long been critical of Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Obama and Khalidi became friendly as professors at the University of Chicago in the 1990s and neighbors in Hyde Park, and the Khalidis held a fundraiser for Obama’s unsuccessful congressional bid. Obama also attended a farewell dinner for Khalidi in Chicago in 2003, prior to his move to Columbia University, in which he said that his conversations with the Khalidis were "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases," according to an April Los Angeles Times article, which obtained a video of the dinner. The paper reported back in April that the dinner also included the recital of a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and criticizing U.S. suppport of the Jewish state.
This week, there has been renewed interest in that videotape from certain corners of the media and blogosphere – culminating in Tuesday’s demand by McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb that the L.A. Times publicly release the tape. He also charged the publication with "intentionally suppressing information." The Times responded that it obtained the tape from a source on the condition that it not be publicly shown, and the paper "keeps its promises to sources."
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Sarah Palin jumped into the fray over Khalidi. "It seems that there is yet another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama going back several years," said the Republican vice presidential nominee on Wednesday at an event in Bowling Green, Ohio.
"This is important because his associate, Rashid Khalidi … in addition to being a political ally of Barack Obama, he’s a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization," she said.
McCain also brought up the connection in a Miami radio interview.
Khalidi has denied being a spokesperson for the PLO. He served as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid peace talks in 1991.
Obama has specifically addressed his relationship with Khalidi during the campaign. At an appearance at a Florida synagogue back in May, he said in response to a question: "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."
He continued, "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…So we gotta be careful about guilt by association."
UPDATE #2: Jake Tapper of ABC News has a statement from IRI confirming that it did provide money to CPRS, while saying it does not recall "any contact with Khalidi.