Khalidi’s Challenge

The word is out: the Edward Said chair, long a mystery and a subject of controversy has donors somewhat tied to Saudi Arabia.

As I noted back in January,

“Along with the millions of Saudi petrodollars flowing to the United States to fund their public relations campaign, millions continue to flow into the pockets of terrorist cells around the world. It is actually quite embarrassing that Columbia University, one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the world, has legitimized and institutionalized such a clear and apparent bias, thereby entrenching the sides of the conflict, instead of searching for ways to compromise and diffuse it.”

I must admit that I personally see nothing wrong with Rita Hauser’s donation–Ms. Hauser was a registered agent of the Palestinian Authority–as long as it can be made clear that the money was not intended to fund violent acts against Israel. The PA is, after all, a body that is supposed to represent the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people, and I cannot fault someone hoping to somehow better their fellow nationals.
On the other hand, the Saudi backed donation and the fact that the school remains silent on the rest of the donors is certainly troubling.
So Rashid Khalidi’s challenge is to prove to the world that this will not compromise his actions as the soon-to-be-director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute. Yes, his remarks last June were troubling to say the least. But I can somewhat understand in theory the part about fighting armed Israelis–if, that is, they are on duty and in a conflict situation. Just as I think Israel has a right to kill armed Palestinians, attacking the IDF is different than attacking civilians–and yes, “settlers” are civilians. As a former soldier who served in the Gaza Strip and West Bank I was well aware that I could be killed in combat–such is the nature of war.
But buses and pizzerias are not the battlefield, and “resistance to occupation” during a peace-process is no more than murderous coercion, with no legitimacy. And Khalidi would be wise to draw that distinction publicly when he takes office at Columbia.
Also, while his comparison of the Nakba–or the events of 1948–to the Holocaust was out of line if and only for the utter lack of perspective and dimensions, Khalidi was known to be a fair and balanced scholar before, and I hope he will prove that in the future.
On the other hand, the Said Chair must be fully disclosed if he and Columbia are ever to regain their credibility.


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