Martin Kramer on Rashid Khalidi and Barack Obama: Kindred Spirits

Martin Kramer has been following the career of former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi for years, and is convinced that Khalidi’s “moderation” is a sham: Khalidi and Obama: kindred spirits.

Were we to see the videotape, it might give us some sense of how far down the road Obama went in that [anti-Israel] direction—and not all that long ago. It would be interesting to know, for example, if there was reference to Iraq. In 2003, when Khalidi’s friends gave him his goodbye party, he was deep into propagandizing against the Iraq war. Among his arguments, he included this one:

This war will be fought because these neoconservatives desire to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony. They are convinced that the Middle East is irremediably hostile to both the United States and Israel; and they firmly hold the racist view that Middle Easterners understand only force. For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.

This argument against the war was not at all unusual on the faculty of the University of Chicago at the time. Another professor of Middle East history, Fred Donner, gave it blatant expression on the pages of the Chicago Tribune, calling the Iraq war “a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the president’s team—particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.” So perhaps it is not surprising that Obama, in his October 2002 antiwar speech, declared:

“What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

No mention of Cheney or Rumsfeld—and no need to mention them, to a constituency that knew who was really behind the push for war, and why. (Later, the same argument would figure prominently in The Israel Lobby, co-authored by another Chicago professor, John Mearsheimer.)

Obama, when pressed during an appearance before a Jewish audience, admitted that “I do know him [Khalidi] because I taught at the University of Chicago.” This sounds wholly innocuous; I also know Khalidi because I taught at the University of Chicago—twice, in 1990 and 1991, when I had an office on the same hall. Obama continues: “And I do know him and I have had conversations.” Well, even I’ve had conversations with Khalidi. (A former Chicago graduate student who must keep meticulous records writes to me that he spotted me on December 6, 1990, at the Quad Club lunching with Khalidi.) Nor does it mean much if Khalidi introduced Obama to Edward Said; Khalidi introduced me to Edward Said in New York in November 1986.

The difference is that while I came away from these encounters convinced that Khalidi’s purported moderation was a sham, and have said so, Obama went the other direction, maintaining their friendship right up to Khalidi’s send-off from Chicago, to which he contributed an encomium. Which is why I’d really like to see that videotape. I’m just curious which of Rashid Khalidi’s virtues I somehow missed, and Barack Obama saw.

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