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The L.A. Times Should Release the Khalidi Video

Here’s one way to keep hope alive: journalists are still more concerned with transparent journalism than they are with seeing Barack Obama cosseted all the way to the White House. Ron Rosenbaum and Jeff Goldberg have all come out against … Read More

By / October 31, 2008

Here’s one way to keep hope alive: journalists are still more concerned with transparent journalism than they are with seeing Barack Obama cosseted all the way to the White House. Ron Rosenbaum and Jeff Goldberg have all come out against the L.A. Times‘ collapsible refusal to disclose a videotape of a 2003 banquet at which Obama spoke warmly of Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies’ at Columbia University, and director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. According to the Times’ description of the piece it ran six months ago, "speakers expressed anger at Israel and at U.S. foreign policy, but that Obama in his comments called for finding common ground." Nothing especially shocking in that, one might think. So why can’t we all see what’s on the tape?

The Times is claiming that releasing the footage would compromise its source, which seems unlikely even if the source narrates the entire film. (Since when are video editing skills absent on the West Coast?) The newspaper’s intransigence had led many on the right to presume that Obama sat in silence or approval as the worst type of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric was loosed in his presence. Therefore, goes this logic, he’s a covert sympathizer with the PLO who’s just waiting to get elected before he invites AIPAC and American Jewry to join Jeremiah Wright and his white grandmother under what has got be the most merciless bus since Speed.

You can decide for yourself what kind of scholar-activist Khalidi is. John McCain, acting as chairman of the International Republican Institute in the 90’s, gave a $500,000 grant to the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, which Khalidi co-founded. The New York Sun accused him of misinterpreting international law when he called violence against IDF soldiers "resistance," but denounced violence against Israeli civilians. Jeff Goldberg, in a post about to be reprinted at Jewcy, writes,

[Khalidi's] a fierce partisan of the Palestinian cause, of course, and in my conversations with him, and in his writing, I see that his sympathies frequently cause him to distort Middle East history. But an anti-Semite? I don’t think so. In fact, Rashid Khalidi is one of the rare Palestinian advocates who argues, as he has with me, that Arabs must study Jewish history, including and especially the history of Jew-hatred, in order to better understand Israel, and to reach a compromise with it.

As for Obama’s relationship with Khalidi, his remarks in that original L.A. Times piece are indeed revealing:

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."

This quote has been widely circulated, but nowhere in quarters critical of Obama has it been pointed out that he acknowledges "biases" counter to Khalidi’s own. What might they be? And do "conversations" between the senator and the professor consist of arguments, debates, attempts to carve out a middle-ground position? Can the Times‘ videotape shed any light on these and other questions? Even if it can’t, the very fact that the tape has now become newsworthy in itself makes its exhibition a public good.

The L.A. Times has no legitimate excuse for keeping it from inquiring eyes.

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