Jon Wiener: Obama and the Palestinian Professors





[Mr. Wiener is a professor of history at UC-Irvine.]

Ten years ago, Barack Obama went to a lecture by Edward Said, the prominent Palestinian intellectual. Should that be page one news now? The LA Times thinks so – they ran a story on their front page on Thursday on the event, headlined "Campaign '08: Allies of Palestinians see a friend on Obama."

Obama's attendance at that speech is news today, of course, because of the Jewish vote. The Times made that clear when it quoted Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who expressed "concern" about Obama's "presence at an Arab American event with a Said."

Said, who was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University before his death in 2003, is identified by Times reporter Peter Wallsten as "a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement." It would be more accurate to call him "a Palestinian and a leading American intellectual." The author of more than a dozen books, his 1978 book "Orientalism" became the founding work of the new field of cultural studies, and is now assigned at hundreds of colleges and universities and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Said also published political essays in The Nation and elsewhere. He was a fierce critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, but also an outspoken secularist who opposed both the doctrine and the tactics of Hamas. In his later years he was also a critic Yasser Arafat's leadership of the PLO.

And what did Edward Said say in that speech ten years ago that Barack Obama heard? He "called for a nonviolent campaign" – note "nonviolent" – against Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

That this would be considered page one news today is a sign of just how low American politics – and political reporting – has fallen.

And there's more: Edward Said was not the only Palestinian intellectual Obama had contact with in Chicago! He was friends with Rashid Khalidi, a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. Khalidi and his wife held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000 when he ran for the House; when Khalidi left Chicago for a chair at Columbia University in 2003, the Obamas went to his going-away party.

Here reporter Peter Wallsten scored a journalistic coup of sorts: he got hold of a videotape of the going-away party. On the tape he found "a young Palestinian American [who] recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians."

And Obama was at the party where the poem was read! -- page one news for the LA Times.

Who exactly is Rashid Khalidi? Small world: he now holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University, and he's the author of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. The Times piece calls him "highly visible" – that can't be good. It does report that "he is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a ‘war crime' and criticized the conduct of Hamas." That, however, is buried in the story in paragraph 30.

Times reporter Wallsten called Rashid Khalidi, and found out he had been "out of touch" with Obama "in recent years." Khalidi "added that he strongly disagrees with Obama's current views on Israel, and often disagreed with him during their talks over the years." (Obama says he is a "stalwart" supporter of Israel and its security needs, and opposes any US dialogue with Hamas.)

Khalidi added that, because of Obama's "family ties to Kenya and Indonesia, he would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians."

A Palestinian says Obama "would be more understanding": here's another story for page one.

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omar ibrahim baker - 4/18/2008

Mr Friedman
You claim that
"(a)You seem to think that our papers are not filled with news stories and (b)commentary that criticizes any and all aspects of Israeli behavior"

(a) is, overall, generally Ok.
(b) is absolutely WRONG
(My a&b)


N. Friedman - 4/17/2008

Omar,

Come now, Omar. Americans are exposed to everything that the rest of the world is exposed to, yet... Americans view things differently than people in other parts of the world.

You seem to think that our papers are not filled with news stories and commentary that criticizes any and all aspects of Israeli behavior. In fact, they are. It is just that most Americans do not see the dispute the way you do.

Moreover, most Americans see the Arab regions as being populated by people who behave rather badly. As a result, there is not much sympathy for the Palestinian cause. In this regard, you will find more sympathy for Palestinian Arabs among Jewish Americans than is typical for Americans.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/16/2008

Mr Friedman
You may be surprised how well I know the USA and how many people I have spoken to and listened to very attentively!
As briefly as possible I can , in this respect, distinguish only three categories within the American public:
a- The religiously motivated; quite often with very little knowledge of, or interest in, the post biblical era.

b-Jews and semi Jews, i.e. the Evangelicals
AND
c-a huge majority that knows nothing beyond what was fed to it in the past (A land with no people for a people with no land) and what is being fed to it NOW by US media.

The reaction of the overwhelming majority of (c) was to say, after we spoke was: "WE DID NOT KNOW"!

I am fully aware that the average American, with very little interest in anything beyond his immediate family, US economic conditions and HIS job security, has been brainwashed by AIPAC , and ilk, mainly through DISINFORMATION and SUPPRESSION of facts and of the other viewpoint.

Both missions of which you seem to heartily welcome as evidenced by your welcomed, but uncharacteristically inane, first post here; which missions, DISINFORMATION and SUPPRESSION of facts and of the other viewpoint, happen to be the real topic of Professor Wiener's excellent post!

For your information I want to state that we do NOT expect US policies re Palestine/Israel to change whoever is the next US President nor do we expect Obama, if elected, to ever challenge the Zionist lobby.

However I am very happy to notice that some Americans are noting, and thus unveiling, the real face of Zionism/Foxman and that Zionism is AFRAID of what Americans might hear and come to know!
For plain IGNORANCE has been, historically, your best ally!


N. Friedman - 4/16/2008

Omar,

In that large numbers of Americans supported the creation of Israel, Jews being a small percentage of such supporters and, in fact, very much late comers to the idea, your theory is, as is typical of you, factual wrong and remarkably ahistorical.

Americans support Israel for many reasons. For Christians who believe in restorationism - which is roughly 70 million Americans -, Israel is supported because Israel plays a central role in the Christian end of days myth. For liberals, Israel is supported because Israel is a beleaguered democracy. For conservatives, Israel is supported because Israel stands up for its rights and, under difficult odds, has survived and thrived. There are a host of other reasons why Americans tend to support Israel.

You may not like these facts but, frankly, a visit to the US and some remote familiarity with the US would dispel the nonsense you are peddling.

You write: "Only those Jews and fellow travellers would support a nation/state that came into existence as the result of dislocating, dispossessing and disfranchising an indigenous people in HIS own homeland that he has inhabitated and populated for some 14 centuries!"

Clearly, you are unfamiliar with the history of the Americas, where all of the countries displaced the native population and, in large measure, eliminated them entirely. In fact, the US disenfranchised American Indians, largely destroying their civilization and their existence as people.

I might add, the Muslim invaders did much the same thing in many of their conquests, most especially in India.

Further, your account of what Israel did is simply not correct. More accurately, Jews, with the permission of the government which ruled the land, migrated and built homes - i.e., acted upon a basic human right, namely, to migrate to a place where refuge is available. They also sought a role in the governance of the country - which is also a basic human right. They were violently attacked and defended themselves from being annihilated. In the process, large numbers of people - Jews and Arabs - were displaced.

As for your actual response to my comment that it is perfectly fair for all aspects of a candidate to be examined and judged...

Obama, so far as I am concerned, can hang out with any and all of the groups he prefers or, perhaps, just to see what such groups are about. That is his privilege.

However, if he wants to win an election, his choices (e.g. the sorts of groups he associates with) are open to scrutiny. Hence, if his associations had included the KKK, that, to me and most other Americans, would be disqualifying. On the other hand, if he had an association with Mother Teresa, that would not bother me or most other Americans. But, any of his political associations bear on his candidacy and, as such, are fair game for discussion.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/16/2008

Mr Friedman
Yes only THOSE Jews who believe in the myth of a promised land, not withstanding that it was bound to be be a usurped land, would on their own support Israel's colonialist project in Palestine.

Only those Jews and fellow travellers would support a nation/state that came into existence as the result of dislocating, dispossessing and disfranchising an indigenous people in HIS own homeland that he has inhabitated and populated for some 14 centuries!

RE your comment:
"It is perfectly appropriate that the background of all of the candidates be examined and scrutinized. Part of that process involves noting the sorts of events that a candidate attends.
(Obama seeks to be president so his views and associations should be front page stories (#121854)
by N. Friedman on April 11, 2008 at 1:05 PM)

You, plural, seem to ask for the right (?),the privilege (?) to predetermine
-what event a candidate can attend
-whom to listen to
-what to read
Which will inevitably lead to:
-what to think
and
-what NOT to think

However were you to care about US interests and standing, more than or as much as Israel's , you would, should (?), ask of candidates to know everything there is to know about anything that could affect those interests and standing.

Obviously you seem NOT to; Mr Friedman!


N. Friedman - 4/16/2008

Then again, Omar, the article may only show that most Americans are pro-Israel. The why of it all is another matter.

Of course, addressing contradictory facts cannot be expected to get in the way of your predictable arguments - such facts do not even give you pause. But consider: your view is that only Jews might think on their own to support Israel. Surely, you have enough imagination to think that there are others, beside Jews, who support Israel.

Of course, your entire MO is propaganda, not history and not even fact.


omar ibrahim baker - 4/15/2008

Professor Wiener's short but succinct post tells more about the reach, influence and impact of Zionism on the USA than a much longer dissertation would.
It tells much more than it says!
That attending a lecture by or having a coffee with a Palestinian Professor is headlines news at a major USA newspaper that would , inevitably in the USA of the 21st century , be a cause for concern and consequent censure cum political/electoral blackmail by AIPAC &Co denotes equally the degree to which the “open” American political system of free exchange of ideas has been debased and abused !

That is NOT only a measure of the ridiculous control a minority has attained over the majority in a presumed democracy as much as it is of the majority’s apathy, deterioration and submission to that minority.

It is also an indication of the degree of success with which the relentless campaign of that minority to brainwash the majority and of its successful imposition of a political/intellectual reign of terror on it!

Traditionally the US public majority was brainwashed by that minority and conditioned to accept the intrinsically unacceptable and heartily defend it by its fabrications, disinformation, exploitation of innate biases and its out right suppression of facts and of alternative outlooks and opinions.

Now, after the outstanding success it has achieved thus far, it has embarked on the second phase of its domination of “public opinion” by tabooing any mention of the adversaries of that minority at all.!
Presently it is no longer enough that you should NOT listen to or read what they have to say or NOT allow them any means of accessing the public or deny them the usual platforms of public political information and exchange of views of a democracy.
Now you have to believe, and make those that know forget, that they, the adversaries of that minority, exist at all
FOR:
“Obama's attendance at that speech is news today, of course, because of the Jewish vote. The Times made that clear when it quoted Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who expressed "concern" about Obama's "presence at an Arab American event with a Said."”
However the American public will ultimately realize, hopefully not too belatedly, that it is no longer merely a question of US policies re the Palestine/Israel conflict that that minority is conditioning him to unquestioningly accept but the issue of the reign of terror that minority has imposed on him and the overall political/intellectual suzerainty it has imposed on his electoral system.
Foxman’s “concern” over merely “being present” at an “event” is a telling measure over the reach of that domination.


R.R. Hamilton - 4/12/2008

Obama sure seems to have a lot of "crazy uncles", doesn't he? Except, unlike real uncles, he wasn't "born with these". Interesting that the only relation Obama has thus far seen fit to "throw under the bus" was his poor grandmother.


N. Friedman - 4/11/2008

It is perfectly appropriate that the background of all of the candidates be examined and scrutinized. Part of that process involves noting the sorts of events that a candidate attends.


Nicholas Clifford - 4/11/2008

Heavens! I once went to a lecture by Said, and more than that, was a guest in a small dinner for him before he spoke. Should I be worried?
Incidentally, he turned out a capacity audience, all expecting Palestine-Israel fireworks; but what they got was the imperialist antecedents of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and such (this was back when he was working on Culture and Imperialism). Fascinating, whether or not one agreed with him.

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