The Los Angeles Times Should Release the Khalidi Tape for Passover


Passover 2012, which started at sunset on Friday, April 6, will not be a particularly auspicious one for the Jewish people.

Despite being superficially strong in many ways, Israel — the sole Jewish state — and Jews in general face more determined opposition than they have at any time since World War II. From terrorists in the South of France to professors at Boston’s Northeastern University, anti-Semitism is rife.

Meanwhile, Iran, which repeatedly calls for the extermination of Israel, draws ever closer to nuclear weapons capability. And the once vaunted “Arab Spring” has turned into the darkest of winters, with Egypt morphing into its own Sunni version of a Khomeinist Islamist autocracy, with women in veils, Christians attacked, homosexuals jailed and the peace treaty forged at Camp David fragile as a potato chip.

But have no fear. Our president “has Israel’s back.” Or so he says.

Others, of course, feel differently. Mindful of his odd behavior beginning when he was a candidate and promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem but took it back the next day, to his disrespect (both public and private) for Israel’s prime minister, preferring, as he does, Turkey’s quasi-Islamist leader, to the curious fact that one of the few countries in the Middle East and Europe that this peripatetic president has yet to visit is our ally Israel, one could easily be skeptical of Obama’s sympathy for the Jewish state.

At this moment, he and his minions seem to be doing their level best to rein in Israel vis-a-vis Iran, making sure Netanyahu and Co. dare not act for their own self-preservation without the approval of their powerful U.S. ally, an approval that is unlikely to be forthcoming — the most recent example being the leak of a possible Israeli military alliance with Azerbaijan.

So it’s hard not to see Obama as, to be polite, ambivalent toward the Jewish state; to be impolite, one could call his attitude passive-aggressive, with all the semi-conscious hostile intent that diagnosis implies.

And, to continue in that vein, plenty of clinical evidence exists, several old friendships, that would lead one to think Obama might be, again consciously or unconsciously, deeply antagonistic to Israel, because these old friends had attitudes toward Zionism as adverse as the appalling Holocaust-denying professoriate at Northeastern.

Which leads me to the Los Angeles Times and the Khalidi tapes.

I wrote in April 2010:

Rashid Khalidi — a Palestinian-American historian known for his strong pro-Palestinian opinions — is currently the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia and director of that university’s Middle East Institute. After Khalidi received this Columbia appointment in 2003, a farewell dinner party was held in his honor in Chicago. A videotape was made of that party where many good things were said about the Palestinian cause and many bad things about Israel. Then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama was in attendance, as were, some say, William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

That tape was given at some point by an unknown person to Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times. Wallsten then reported on some of its contents in a brief Times article of April 10, 2008, titled “Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama.”

Perhaps because it was so attenuated, that article engendered a cry for the release of the full tape. What really happened at the party? What was said? How did Obama react? People wanted to know more details of the Middle East views of the presidential candidate. But the Times was effectively mum and sequestered the tape in its safe.

In response to a charge of suppression of information by the McCain campaign, the paper’s editor Russ Stanton said:

“The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it. The Times keeps its promises to sources.”

Was this an oral promise made by the paper or by the reporter? Or was there a written agreement, as would be more proper and normal in such circumstances? The Times has not told us, nor has it produced a written agreement of any sort, even without the source’s name. We don’t know either whether a transcription is proscribed.

The Times has told us almost nothing. We have to take this all on faith, just as we do this risible comment by the paper’s “readers’ representative” Jamie Gold, quoted in the same article with Stanton:

“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.”

Detailed? Brought the matter to light? I am tempted to use the tired Internet acronym ROFLOL. But let’s examine Wellsten’s original article, instead. It begins:

It was a celebration of Palestinian culture — a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.

“A special tribute came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

“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.'”

And? Well, that’s about it. Wellsten doesn’t tell us much more from the videotape or the party other than:

“A young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, ‘then you will never see a day of peace.'”

One speaker likened “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been “blinded by ideology.”

That’s it. No word of the details of how Obama reacted or what he really said, other than the short quote above.

Interestingly, that sole Obama remark, as reported by Wallsten, contains an ellipsis in the middle. After the then-state senator says the Khalidis had given him “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases” comes a strategically placed dot-dot-dot. We don’t know what those blind spots and biases were and what he might have thought of them. Or how he might have changed. That, in Wallsten’s or some Times editors’ judgment, was best left on the tape.

So what are we to think? We have an administration that not only ascribes most of the Middle East blame to Israel, but also has banned “Islamism” and all related words, even “Islam” and “jihad,” from our national security documents. They’re completely gone. Indeed, even the Fort Hood massacre, so clearly inspired by Islamic extremism, has now been shifted into the comfortable category of the lone, angry killer.”

That was what I wrote roughly two years ago. I also wrote a polite request for the Los Angeles Times to release the tape in the public interest. Not surprisingly, there was no reply, public or private, although I have written for the paper on several occasions (full disclosure: not recently).

Meanwhile, Passovers have come and gone, and Barack Obama is running for a second term, making the usual play for the usually reliable Jewish vote, courting AIPAC and so forth, telling people what they want to hear.

But is that what he really thinks, and how he will act in the moments of crisis almost certainly ahead?

Because of Iran, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is more than ever a life or death matter — and a lynchpin in the global struggle for Western civilization.

Is it too much to ask the Los Angeles Times — the hometown paper of the city with the fourth-largest Jewish population in the word, bigger even than Jerusalem — finally to release the Khalidi tapes for Passover 2012?

I am skeptical that it would have the courage, but I will force myself to remain hopeful.

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