Obama & Rashid Khalidi

Today in Boca Raton, Florida, Obama was peppered with a question from a Florida voter on his relationship with Rashid Khalidi, a Professor at Columbia University in New York. Obama became defensive and indignant over the question calling it “guilt by association.” ABC News reports on the exchange.

“You mentioned Rashid Khalidi, who’s a professor at Columbia,” Obama said. “I do know him because I taught at the University of Chicago. And he is Palestinian. And 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.”

But then Obama pushed back, launching a broader defense of his associations, while acknowledging that some past relationships have caused people in the Jewish community concerns.

“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,” he said. “So we gotta be careful about guilt by association.”

Okey dokey. Since Obama omitted some facts, allow me. Obama failed to mention that Rashid Khalidi hosted a fundraiser for him when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000, or or that he attended a testimonial dinner for Khalidi and praised him when Khalidi left Chicago to chair Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies Department, or that while he served on the Board of the Woods Fund, it voted to grant $40,000.00 to the Arab American Network, an organization headed by Khalidi’s wife, Mona Khalidi. The Woods Fund is also the focus of his relationship with William Ayers, the unrepentant Weatherman terrorist.

It’s guilt by association because such a relationship suggest a pattern of behaviour. These relationships are long-standing and run years not an occasional chat as Obama would have us believe. It’s a pattern of behaivour oft-repeated by Obama. He cultivated relationships in Chicago that now must be jettisoned because they imperil his Presidential ambitions.

Does this sound like a casual relationship? The story from the Los Angeles Time:

It was a celebration of Palestinian culture — a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.

A special tribute came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. . . . It’s for that reason that I’m hoping 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.”

It sounds like Rashid Khalidi has a rather special role amongst Obama’s 900 friends, Mr. Popularity that he is. And at the very least Palestinians seem to expect something different from Obama, and that’s fine, my problem remains that Obama wants to be all things to all people. If Obama has told Arab-Americans one thing, then he should not be telling Jewish-Americans something else.

Today, five years later, Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois who expresses a firmly pro-Israel view of Middle East politics, pleasing many of the Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel whom he is courting in his presidential campaign. The dinner conversations he had envisioned with his Palestinian American friend have ended. He and Khalidi have seen each other only fleetingly in recent years.

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor’s going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

Their belief is not drawn from Obama’s speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed.

At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, 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. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, “then you will never see a day of peace.”

Obama is a tad hypocritical and dances around the truth. His relationship with Rashid Khalidi is anything but casual. It is rather damning perhaps less damning than his 20 year relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or with Tony Rezko, but it is nonetheless a matter of concern especially since he keeps on telling different audiences different things. If the Senator were more forthcoming, then perhaps he wouldn’t face these sort of imbroglios.

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