McCain Again Points to Obama's Associates

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin swung into the final full week of campaigning with appearances in crucial battleground states that will decide the 2008 presidential election.
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008

MIAMI, Oct. 29 -- Sen. John McCain compared the director of Columbia University's Middle East Institute to a "neo-Nazi" and called on the Los Angeles Times to release a video of a 2003 banquet at which Sen. Barack Obama talked about the professor, Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian American scholar and friend of Obama's from Chicago.

"What if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet?" McCain asked in one of several interviews with Cuban American radio stations Wednesday morning. "I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different."

McCain also alleged that Vietnam War-era radical William Ayers had been at the banquet -- something that has not been reported by the Times -- adding to a growing flap over the release of the videotape, which the Times said had been provided by a source on the condition that the paper not air it.

"We should know about their relationship," the Republican presidential candidate said, referring to Ayers. "Including, apparently, information that is held by the Los Angeles Times concerning an event that Mr. Ayers attended with a PLO spokesman. The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public."

McCain's advisers said the tape would reveal his opponent's reactions to banquet speeches mentioned in a Times article about the event that was published in April. The article said that "a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism" and that another "likened 'Zionist settlers on the West Bank' to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been 'blinded by ideology.' " A spokeswoman for McCain said the senator based his allegation about Ayers on another newspaper article -- a New York Sun report in 2005. The Sun, however, reported only that Ayers had contributed to a commemorative testimonial book for Khalidi.

By raising questions about the banquet, McCain's advisers are hoping to hit a trifecta: linking Obama to a person who might worry Jewish voters in Florida and elsewhere about his commitment to Israel, reintroducing Ayers into the discussion with only a week left, and once again challenging Obama's honesty when it comes to his personal associations.

Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Obama, called the issue "just another recycled, manufactured controversy" and rejected the implication that Obama should be tarnished by his association with Khalidi.

"Barack Obama has been clear and consistent on his support for Israel, and has been clear that Rashid Khalidi is not an adviser to him or his campaign and that he does not share Khalidi's views," Sevugan said. He noted that a nonprofit group that McCain chaired once helped fund a polling organization founded by Khalidi.

The International Republican Institute, which McCain has chaired since 1993, awarded a grant of $448,873 in 1998 to the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, which was co-founded by Khalidi, according to IRI documents.

Reached by e-mail, Khalidi declined to comment.

In May, Obama acknowledged knowing Khalidi, with whom he taught at the University of Chicago. Obama called him a "respected scholar" but said that Khalidi does not reflect his views on Israel and that he is "not one of my advisers."

McCain has spent weeks trying to make Obama's relationship with Ayers an issue, saying that Obama has not been truthful with the American people about how close the two are. But in recent days, he and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had stopped publicly questioning the Democrat's associations.

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