With 72 hours left in the campaign, the McCain brain trust finally recognizes that its effort to link Barack Obama to “unrepentant domestic terrorist” Bill Ayers is having as much of an impact on voters as the “experience” argument.
So it is trying trotting out a new smear.
It is blasting Obama for consorting with the unrepentant domestic Palestinian Rashid Khalidi. Never mind that he is a distinguished professor of Arab studies at Columbia, Khalidi once taught at the University of Chicago where he and Obama knew each other. Taking one last stab at instilling shadowy associations between Obama and Arabs in the minds of uninformed voters, the McCain team is slandering a thoughtful and respectable man.
Appearing on CNN Friday, McCain’s shameless and utterly unrepentant flack Michael Goldfarb chirped, “Barack Obama has a long track record of being around anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric.” Challenging Goldfarb, anchor Rick Sanchez asked, “Can you name one other person besides Khalidi who he hangs around with who is anti-Semitic?” Goldfarb couldn’t, but the damage had been done – not to Obama, but to Khalidi, whose anti-Semitism had been presented as a matter of accepted fact.
I don’t know Khalidi personally though I’ve read his recent book Resurrecting Empire. But I know that there is nothing in his record to justify smearing him as a bigot. While the McCain campaign has presented him as a “PLO spokesman” – and it wouldn’t be a crime if he were – in fact, Khalidi was simply an outside adviser to the Palestinian delegation at negotiations convened by Republican secretary of state James Baker during Bush The Elder’s administration.
Apparently, McCain is now so hostile to diplomacy that participating in American-sponsored talks is deemed anti-American.
Yes, Khalidi is a supporter of Palestinian rights and a serious critic of Israel and of American policy in the Middle East, and he is well to the left of Obama. But he condemns violence, criticised Yasser Arafat’s corruption and cronyism, and has consistently acknowledged Jewish suffering. Fair-minded friends of Israel have praised his writing. New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman, hardly a Jew-hater, described Under Siege, Khalidi’s book about PLO decision-making during the 1982 Lebanon war, as “extremely valuable” and “generally objective, lucid and incisive”.
Professor Khalidi is on the board of sponsors of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a publication founded by prominent Palestinian and Israeli journalists to encourage dialogue between the two sides. By the degraded standards of McCain and Palin, McCain himself could be branded as an enemy of the Jews. As has been widely reported, under McCain’s leadership the International Republican Institute gave nearly a half-million dollars to a Palestinian research center Khalidi co-founded.
Yet McCain’s attacks on Khalidi are categorically different than his attacks on Ayers.
The Ayers attacks were unfair to Obama, who was not particularly close to the man and never gave a hint of condoning Ayers’ youthful violence. Ayers has done shameful things, so his public excoriation was not entirely undeserved. This is not true of Khalidi. He is guilty of nothing. The dangerous implications of McCain’s assaults on him stretch beyond this election, suggesting that friendship with prominent Arabs is grounds for suspicion and thus dangerous for ambitious politicians – unless the Arabs belong to the Saudi royal family.
Given our leader’s failure to even try understanding Arab grievances, no wonder the Bush administration made catastrophic foreign policy blunders in the region that could take decades to repair. Obama’s engagement with a prominent, moderate Palestinian intellectual should be a point in his favor. In any rational society, it would be.
By trying to turn their acquaintance into evidence of subversion, McCain does more than further disgrace himself. His reckless rhetoric threatens to push legitimate criticism of Israeli and American policy even further outside the bounds of acceptable political discussion, making straight talk on the Middle East ever more elusive.
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative journalist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.
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