Obama and Ayers: The Khalidi Question
The Swamp has a long profile on University of Chicago Professor William Ayers. I don't think that Obama's association with Ayers is a problem because of Ayers' Weatherground past. And I support President Clinton's pardon and clemency for the two members of the group because it was based upon valid considerations and because we need Presidents who give more, not fewer grants of clemency.
In addition, I have admired Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, for taking in and raising Chesa Boudin from the age of 14 months, when his parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were arrested for their misdeeds with the Weather Underground. Chesa went on to graduate from Yale and become a Rhodes Scholar and an advocate for children of the imprisoned. A few years ago he wrote a very moving article, I am the son of Inmate 83A6158, about a jail visit with his parents. Kathy Boudin finally was released on parole in 2003.
I also applaud the work that Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn and Obama have done on behalf of juvenile offenders.
For the past few weeks, however, I have been concerned about a totally different issue with respect to Prof. Ayers: his political views concerning Palestine and Israel. The LA Times recently explored Obama's connection to those politics through his and Ayers' service on the board of the Woods Fund, during which time he and Ayers voted to award a grant of $70,000 to an organization created by Rashid Khalidi. The article raises questions about the depth and sincerity of Obama's expressed support for Israel. [More...]
Khalidi, like Ayers, held a fundraiser for Obama at his home. The Ayers event was in 1995 as Obama was making his first bid for the Illinois state senate. Khalidi held his event for Obama in 2000 when Obama made his failed bid for the U.S. House. From the LA Times article linked above:
In 2000, the Khalidis held a fundraiser for Obama's unsuccessful congressional bid. The next year, a social service group whose board was headed by Mona Khalidi received a $40,000 grant from a local charity, the Woods Fund of Chicago, when Obama served on the fund's board of directors.
At Khalidi's going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. "You will not have a better senator under any circumstances," Khalidi said.
The following is taken from a column about a debate on Mideast policy that took place at Columbia University in 2005, at which Khalidi was a panelist [Mideast Parley Takes Ugly Turn At Columbia U., The New York Sun, February 4, 2005, available on Lexis.com.]
How did a great institution of higher learning allow itself to be transformed into a platform for vicious political propaganda and hate speech directed against one country, Israel? Surely one crucial moment in this transformation was Columbia's decision to raise $4 million - including a contribution from the United Arab Emirates - to create the Edward Said endowed chair in Arab studies, and then to give the prize to professor Khalidi.
We don't doubt that Mr. Khalidi has academic credentials. Compared to professors Massad and Pappe, he is a model of decorum and moderation. But when Columbia academic officials made this choice they knew they were getting a Palestinian political activist. From 1976 to 1982, Mr. Khalidi was a director in Beirut of the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA. Later he served on the PLO "guidance committee" at the Madrid peace conference.
In bringing professor Khalidi to Morningside Heights from the University of Chicago, Columbia also got itself a twofer of Palestinian activism and advocacy. Mr. Khalidi's wife, Mona, who also served in Beirut as chief editor of the English section of the WAFA press agency, was hired as dean of foreign students at Columbia's SIPA, working under Dean Anderson.
In Chicago, the Khalidis founded the Arab American Action Network, and Mona Khalidi served as its president. A big farewell dinner was held in their honor by AAAN with a commemorative book filled with testimonials from their friends and political allies. These included the left wing anti-war group Not In My Name, the Electronic Intifada, and the ex-Weatherman domestic terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. (There were also testimonials from then-state Senator Barack Obama and the mayor of Chicago.)
The message sent by Columbia University officials by this choice was that they were determined to honor the memory of Edward Said by continuing to have radical Palestinian activism on campus.
I don't know whether this column is right-wing propaganda or has some kernels of truth. But Obama has placed Khalidi in issue by his outreach to Jewish voters in the presidential campaign and his statements at a campaign event such as "Nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have."
It would be one thing if he acknowledged, if true, that he wasn't always such a strong supporter of Israel -- particularly while he was a state legislator in Illinois -- and explain his evolving positions. Or, if he thinks he has been consistent in his support for Israel, explain this. I'd like to hear him distance himself from the expressed beliefs of Rashid Khalidi, just as he has distanced himself from objectionable remarks of Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Wright.
Larry and Susan at No Quarter have been all over Khalidi and Obama and Ayers. I have far fewer problems with Ayers than Larry and his co-bloggers, and certainly none based on his work on behalf of juvenile offenders.
But I would like an explanation from Obama on his expressed support for Israel and his past support for Khalidi, which was shared by Ayers. In view of Obama's extensive reachout to Jewish voters, I think that's a reasonable request.
Again, my prior post on this is here.
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