One of the lowest moments of this entire campaign has been the McCain campaign’s repulsive smear job of Rashid Khalidi. The best remark about the whole episode came from Khalidi himself, who when asked for comment by the Washington Post, replied, “I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over.”
As I’m sure most readers know by now, Khalidi is the Palestinian American scholar and director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute who Senator McCain recently compared to a “neo-Nazi.” McCain’s camp has also claimed that Khalidi was a spokesman for former PLO leader Yasir Arafat, though there is no evidence this is true. As my colleague Scott Horton noted:
The McCain–Khalidi connections are more substantial than the phony Obama–Khalidi connections…The Republican party’s congressionally funded international-networking organization, the International Republican Institute–long and ably chaired by John McCain and headed by McCain’s close friend, the capable Lorne Craner–has taken an interest in West Bank matters. IRI funded an ambitious project, called the Palestine Center, that Khalidi helped to support. Khalidi served on the Center’s board of directors. The goal of that project, shared by Khalidi and McCain, was the promotion of civic consciousness and engagement and the development of democratic values in the West Bank.
Consider here, too, the recollections of R. Bruce McColm, who was the president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) — appointed to his post with strong support from John McCain — when it first granted money to Khalidi’s group. In an email today, McColm told me:
Rashid Khalidi was well known for his criticism of Yasir Arafat. He never was a spokesman for the PLO and was a professor at the Institute for Palestine Studies and a professor at American University in Beirut. He was the founder of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies. I was President of IRI during 1993 through 1995. The Clinton Administration wanted the various NED-related institutes to begin working on the West Bank. All our proposals had to be approved at board meetings with John McCain in attendance and in agreement. John did think highly of these grants. IRI didn’t really want to work on the West Bank in any activities of political development. Two pro-Israel board members—Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick and then-Senator Connie Mack of Florida—were skeptical of such an enterprise. IRI decided to fund the Center for Palestine Research and Studies because of its academic bent and the fact that it would conduct attitude surveys—polls on socioeconomic attitudes on the West Bank. Press accounts have the first grant being given in 1993—I remember slightly later than that. Whether Khalidi actually did the research I do not know but we were aware of his reputation and his “moderate” stance to the issues. McCain moved the approval of the first grant with the acceptance of Dr. Kirkpatrick and Senator Mack. Over time, the Center conducted over 30 polls for the IRI. My understanding was that grants extended far beyond my tenure to l998. It was always my understanding that Khalidi was directly involved in the research. We were impressed by the initial polls and analysis. So obviously IRI continued to believe in their work after I left. Ironically, it was Khalidi’s academic background and his known coolness to the PLO that attracted our interest. How strange to see the McCain campaign use Khalidi as a “type of terrorist” with whom Obama hangs around.
Update: Martin Kramer writes to say there is evidence that Khalidi was a spokesman for the PLO. Readers can judge for themselves. What’s clear from McColm’s remarks is that in the 1990s the International Republican Institute, not the most radical outfit, was entirely untroubled by Khalidi and had high regard for his work. That Khalidi is being smeared by the McCain camp is beyond dispute.