Barry Rubin recently posted an article on the Obama-Israel relationship here. He makes some good points, but what caught my attention was an offhand remark:
By the way, note that the Los Angeles Times has still not released the video of Obama speaking at a Palestinian meeting. Why not? Surely if his speech was so banal there would be no reason to withhold that evidence. We know about Reverend Wright and a lot more as well. But if the policy in the White House had been different, no one would be dwelling on that now.
The event in question was a 2003 going-away party for Obama’s friend, Rashid Khalidi. In an April 2008 article, the LA Times described it thus:
CHICAGO — 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 yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor’s going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.
Their belief is not drawn from Obama’s speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed.
At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, 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.” …
Among other community events, Obama in 1998 attended a speech by Edward Said, the late Columbia University professor and a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement. According to a news account of the speech, Said called that day for a nonviolent campaign “against settlements, against Israeli apartheid.”
The use of such language to describe Israel’s policies has drawn vehement objection from Israel’s defenders in the United States. A photo on the pro-Palestinian website the Electronic Intifada [see below -- ed] shows Obama and his wife, Michelle, engaged in conversation at the dinner table with Said, and later listening to Said’s keynote address. Obama had taken an English class from Said as an undergraduate at Columbia University…
At Khalidi’s going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. “You will not have a better senator under any circumstances,” Khalidi said.
The event was videotaped, and a copy of the tape was obtained by The Times. (my emphasis)
In October 2008, a mini-media furor erupted. The McCain campaign demanded a copy of the video, but the Times refused, with editor Russ Stanton claiming that “it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it…”
The Times claimed that it had done its duty to inform the public by describing the party in the original article. But while the article transcribes some militant anti-Israel statements made by others, Obama’s remarks as quoted are scrubbed clean of any political content. Only his opinion of Mona Khalidi’s cooking remains.
Can we believe that he made no comments whatever about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his speech? Even the Times doesn’t assert that. Conservative bloggers (see also here) and commentators demanded that the Times at least release a full transcript of Obama’s words at the event, but the Times refused — even though such a transcript would not violate its promise to its source any more than the original article did.
The election is long over, and Bill O’Reilly et al seem to have forgotten about the tape. But the question of Barack Obama’s intentions in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue burns even brighter today than it did in 2008. Obama has been called everything from a staunch friend of Israel to an anti-Zionist who has made a secret agreement with the Saudi king to “deliver Israel”.
Obama’s remarks to pro-Israel audiences have been made public. Now it’s time to find out what he says to his Palestinian friends.
It’s time for the LA Times to release a transcript of Barack Obama’s remarks at the 2003 meeting, or adequately document the agreement which prevents it from doing so — if there is one, which I doubt.