Where the RNC found Joe the Plumber

Yesterday the RNC (also to be known as Really Nasty Condemnations) slid out yet more mud trying to fearmonger Senator Obama yet again as a terrorist. Since they cannot find any smoking guns from Obama’s record, the exit strategy has come down to throwing smoke-filled room stink bombs around Obama’s Chicago neighborhood. The latest mudpie comes at the expense of Professor Rashid Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said Chair of History at Columbia University. When Obama taught at the University of Chicago he was a colleague, neighbor and friend of Khalidi. For the RNC all it takes to be labeled terrorist these days is to be Palestinian. But they have chosen an individual who is a recognized international scholar and who is admired across a broad spectrum of the academy. His most recent book, The Iron Cage, attacks the excesses of Zionism on the Palestinian quest for statehood, but is also critical of the PLO and Palestinian violence. He writes as a historian, not a polemicist only interested in political spin.

This is not the first time that anti-Palestinian activists have attacked Professor Khalidi, who moved from Chicago to the Columbia chair a few years ago. Yes, professors Obama and Khalidi have been friends as well as colleagues at the same university and neighbors in the same community. But exactly how a well-regarded historian who graduated with a BA from Yale (the academic mother lode of U.S. Presidents) and a Ph.D. from Oxford metamorphoses into a radical anti-American terrorist requires a scifi scenario. Like Edward Said, whose chair he now holds at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Rashid Khalidi has always believed that “nonviolent resistance was integral to Palestinian success.” In a May article in The Nation, Khalidi lays out the current quagmire of Palestinian politics:

Today we are witness to the spectacle of two feeble and clueless Palestinian political movements, both lacking strategic vision and bereft of the selfless patriotism that would lead them to bury their petty differences, fighting like two cocks on a garbage heap, as the Arabic expression has it. They do so although overwhelming majorities of Palestinians have consistently demanded that they compromise with each other in the interest of national unity. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has abandoned any idea of popular mobilization, any last shred of an ethos of service to the people, any sense of the vital importance of national unity if even minimal Palestinian objectives are to be achieved, any respect for the democratic process that brought its rivals in Hamas into power in January 2006, and any sense of the danger of hitching the Palestinians to the bankrupt policies of a lame-duck American President who heads the most pro-Israeli Administration in US history.

The blindness of Hamas is as bad: neither able to fight nor to negotiate effectively, neither able to compromise with Fatah nor to govern on its own, and no more able to break free of the clutches of its external backers than is Fatah vis-à-vis its own foreign backers, Hamas has lurched from disaster to disaster since its unexpected victory in the 2006 elections. Undermined by the refusal of the United States and Israel even to attempt to negotiate with a Hamas-dominated government, last summer it made the fatal mistake of taking over the Gaza Strip in response to preparations for a US-supported coup by Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan. Hamas reached a low point in April, when a poll showed that it enjoyed the support of less than 18 percent of Palestinians (versus 32 percent for Fatah, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, however, is even more unpopular than Ismail Haniya of Hamas: 11.7 percent to 13.3 percent). The ideological bankruptcy and the degree of popular rejection of both of the formations that dominate Palestinian politics are illustrated by the fact that together they enjoy the support of barely 50 percent of Palestinians.

It is not the Joe-the-Plumber “death of Israel” that Professor Khalidi has discussed repeatedly in articles, books, class rooms and media forums, but some semblance of life for Palestinians. Can we not move beyond zero/sum prolonging of a conflict that must be resolved peacefully. But this does not deter those who wish to smear Obama as a friend of terrorists and enemy of Israel. Now there is even a website offering a reward of $200,000 for a video (supposedly suppressed by the LA Times) of a 2003 banquet in which Obama spoke about Khalidi, who was leaving Chicago for Columbia. No doubt they were both eating arugala.

Luke R. E. Publican