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.
That changed Wednesday morning. In a second interview, McCain said: "Apparently, this is a tape with a dinner that Mr. Ayers, the former and now still unrepentant terrorist, was at and also one of the leading spokespersons for the PLO. Now, why that should not be made public is beyond me."
And campaigning in Ohio, Palin told a large crowd, "It seems that there's yet another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama going back several years."
Palin openly mocked the Los Angeles Times for what she said was pandering to Obama. "It must be nice for a candidate to have major news organizations looking out for their best interests like that," she said, as the audience cheered her on.
The Times wrote in April about the banquet as part of a broader story examining Obama's relationship with the Palestinian community in Chicago. The paper issued a statement yesterday saying that its source asked it not to release the video.
Jamie Gold, the newspaper's readers' representative, said in a statement: "More than six months ago the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of the events shown on the videotape. The Times is not suppressing anything. Just the opposite -- the L.A. Times brought the matter to light."
The original story reported that Obama praised Khalidi at the dinner, saying that his many talks with him had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."
In their comments Wednesday, McCain and Palin called Khalidi a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, apparently an effort to portray Obama as anti-Israel. The New York-born Khalidi has denied being a spokesman for the PLO.
Since 1993, the PLO has been recognized by the United States and Israel as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meet regularly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
As an Oxford-educated Middle East scholar who holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia, Khalidi has been highly critical of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also of the dysfunction within the Palestinian national movement led for decades by Yasser Arafat.
Khalidi has questioned the plausibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the position favored by the Bush administration and McCain. But he has also described the more controversial bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- the creation of one state where Arabs and Jews would live together and all have the right to vote -- as problematic.
Staff writers Juliet Eilperin, traveling with Palin, and Scott Wilson in Washington contributed to this report.