October 31, 2008

Obama’s ties to former U of C international studies prof raised as campaign liability

It’s no full-blown October Surprise, but Republican presidential nominee John McCain has invoked his Democratic rival’s relationship with a controversial Palestinian scholar with increasing fervor in a seeming effort to undermine Barack Obama’s professedly pro-Israel foreign policy stance.

Currently a professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, Rashid Khalidi taught at the University of Chicago for 15 years, serving as director of the University’s Center for International Studies. A co-founder of the Arab-American Action Group, Khalidi has long been a vocal opponent of American action in the Middle East and of Israel’s presence in Palestine. Khalidi’s critics allege that during the 1970s he served as a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a charge he denies.

When Khalidi left the U of C in 2003, Obama, then a professor at the Law School, attended a farewell party held in Khalidi’s honor. Obama delivered a speech reminiscing about frequent evenings at Khalidi’s dinner table.

According to an article published in April by the Los Angeles Times, which claims to possess a tape of the event, Obama said that his conversations with Khalidi and his family 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.”

Another controversial figure, Bill Ayers, was also present at the party. Ayers was co-founder of the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist group. His relationship with Obama has been raised as an area of concern by the McCain campaign.

On Tuesday, more than half a year after the article was published, the McCain campaign demanded that the Times release the tape to the public. “A major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi,” said McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.

“The election is one week away, and it’s unfortunate that the press so obviously favors Barack Obama that this campaign must publicly request that the Los Angeles Times do its job­—­­­make information public,” he said.

The Times has countered that it is obligated to its source not to release the tape and that its April article was a fair representation of its contents.