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.”
This truth, of course, was well recognized by the early Zionist leaders.
Explaining the origin of the state Sarah Palin describes as the “victim” rather than the “perpetrator”, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, in a recent article inForeign Affairs, explains how Israel was born in 1948 with “the often violent expulsion of 700,000 Arabs as Jewish soldiers conquered villages and towns throughout Palestine.” Ben-Ami notes that “the Zionists committed more massacres than the Arabs, deliberately killed far more civilians and prisoners of war, and committed more acts of rape.” This policy of terrorizing the Arab population of Palestine for the purpose of ethnic-cleansing “helped demarcate the boundaries of the new state”.
Ben-Ami quotes then Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion as saying, “The Arabs of the Land of Israel have only one function left to them — to run away.” Ben-Ami adds, “And they did; panic-stricken, they fled in the face of massacres in Ein Zeitun and Eilabun, just as they had done in the wake of an earlier massacre in Deir Yassin. Operational orders, such as the instruction from Moshe Carmel, the Israeli commander of the northern front, ‘to attack in order to conquer, to kill among the men, to destroy and burn the villages,’ were carved into the collective memory of the Palestinians, spawning hatred and resentment for generations.”
The ethnic-cleansing of Palestine by the Jews “was in no small measure driven by a desire for land among Israeli settlers”, Ben-Ami observes, noting in addition that “The hunger for land persists to this day”.
Indeed. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Jewish settlements in those territories are illegal, a violation of international law, and contrary to international treaties to which Israel is a party, including the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Charter.
The “hunger for land” that “persists to this day” is also still accompanied by the policy of terrorizing the Palestinian people.
According to the organization Remember These Children, 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed since September 2000 compared with 123 Israeli children.
Catherine Cook of the Middle East Research and Information Project has noted that “The majority of these children were killed and injured while going about normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping, or simply being in their homes. Sixty-four percent of children killed during the first six months of 2003 died as a result of Israeli air and ground attacks, or from indiscriminate fire from Israeli soldiers.”
That trend continues. This year, 4 Israeli children were killed at by a Palestinian gunman in a single incident in Jerusalem. In this same period of time, 72 Palestinian children have been killed, most by attacks from the Israeli Defense Force within the Palestinian territories.
According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, since September 2000 4,871 Palestinians have been killed compared with 1,061 Israelis. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, 32,744 Palestinians and 8,341 Israelis have been injured over the same time period.
U.S. financial support for Israel is upwards of $3 billion annually. In addition, the U.S. provides military and diplomatic support for Israel, including the use of its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Israel against resolutions seeking to condemn it for its crimes against the Palestinian people and its other neighbors.
During the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, for instance, the U.S. vetoed a measure calling for a cease-fire, insisting that Israel be given more time to finish its destruction of southern Lebanon and further terrorize its people. Commenting on the Israeli actions, the Israeli newapaper Haaretz noted that “The tactic of pressuring civilians has been tried before, and more than once. The Lebanese, for example, are very familiar with the Israeli tactic of destroying power stations and infrastructure. Entire villages in south Lebanon have been terrorized, with the inhabitants fleeing in their thousands for Beirut.”
The World Health Organization observed that Israeli’s air strikes against Lebanon had “caused widespread destruction of the country’s public infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and road networks preventing the humanitarian community from accessing vulnerable populations and civilians fleeing war-affected areas.” Israeli military operations “caused enormous damage to residential areas and key civilian infrastructure such as power plants, seaports, and fuel depots. Hundreds of bridges and virtually all road networks have been systematically destroyed leaving entire communities in the South inaccessible.
While the Israeli siege of Gaza and illegal occupation and settlement of the West Bank continue, and while the Palestinian people continue to be terrorized under Israeli policies, the two leading candidates for the presidency bicker over who is more worthy of condemnation for their association with Rashid Khalidi.
The media, for its part, has failed to challenge even one iota of the fundamental racism inherent in the assumption that its a sin to associate with a Palestinian who is critical of Israel, and the deep anti-Semitism–against Arabs–inherent in the axiom that it is a “slur” to consider Israel anything other than the “victim” in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
John McCain, in attempting to portray Obama as somehow racist against Jews by comparing the dinner honoring Mr. Khalidi to a “Neo-Nazi outfit”, revealed his own deep racism and contempt for the Palestinian people.
But let the final word be for Barack Obama. If he were a man worthy of the presidency, far from issuing denials and disavowals, his campaign would rather embrace Mr. Khalidi and his views. Obama, unlike his opponent, is willing at least to acknowledge his “own blind spots” and his “own biases”. That’s a start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough for a man seeking to lead the nation whose support for Israel is the single most important mechanism in denying the Palestinian people their equal rights and preventing a viable, sustainable peace in the Middle East from becoming obtainable.