Rashid Khalidi and the PLO

As the subject of Barack Obama’s friend Rashid Khalidi has gained traction in the media and the blogosphere, one of the talking points parroted by Obama apologists is that Khalidi was never a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization, at a time when it was listed as a terrorist group by the US government.

But is it true that Khalidi was not affiliated with the PLO?

In a word, no. Khalidi of the PLO.

As for Khalidi’s denial, there are ample grounds to question it. In 2004, when he made it, Khalidi wrote that between 1976 and 1983, “I was teaching full time as an Assistant Professor in the Political Studies and Public Administration Dept. at the American University of Beirut, published two books and several articles, and also was a research fellow at the independent Institute for Palestine Studies.” Khalidi claimed he had time for little else. “I often spoke to journalists in Beirut, who usually cited me without attribution as a well-informed Palestinian source. If some misidentified me at the time, I am not aware of it.”

Now if someone misidentified me on the pages of the New York Times—Tom Friedman, no less—I’m sure I would be aware of it. So would you. Yet Khalidi did not seek a correction of Friedman’s characterization at the time, although the Times regularly issues corrections of such mistakes, and presumably would have done the same for Khalidi.

Khalidi’s self-description as being a preoccupied professor while in Beirut also contradicts a statement he made in a 2005 interview. After listing the stations in his academic career, he is asked this question: “You were also involved politically as well?” Khalidi: “Well, yes. I was deeply involved in politics in Beirut.”

It is worth explaining what it meant to be “deeply involved in politics in Beirut” during the civil war in Lebanon. It was not at all like community organizing in Chicago. The Lebanese state had ceased to function; the political actors were all armed militias, Lebanese and Palestinian. Every individual needed to be affiliated with such an organization, if not for bread then at least for protection. Khalidi was known to be affiliated with, and protected by, Arafat’s Fatah. A 1979 New York Times report (by Youssef Ibrahim) described Khalidi as “a professor of political science who is close to Al Fatah.” In Beirut, to be “close” to an organization meant you enjoyed its protection in return for loyalty and services rendered. Khalidi’s wife also worked as an English translator for the PLO’s press agency, Wafa. So savvy journalists knew that if they wanted the Fatah spin, they could get it from Khalidi.

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