Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and Director of the Middle East Institute (MEI) at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. In his role as MEI Director, Khalidi presides over a $300,000 annual grant from the federal government. He ranks among the most prominent members of the Middle Eastern studies community in the United States. His books are among the most frequently assigned works on the Middle East in American college syllabi. Arab and American media outlets alike seek him out regularly as a leading authority on the Middle East.
Khalidi is also a Board of Trustees member of the non-governmental organization MIFTAH; a notable fellow Board member is Khalil Jahshan, President of the Washington, DC-based National Association of the Arab Americans.
Khalidi was born in New York in 1950, the son of a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. He earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1970 and a Ph.D. from Oxford in 1974. During the Seventies, Khalidi taught for a brief time at a university in Beirut, where he often spoke to reporters on behalf of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Prior to joining the Columbia faculty, Khalidi was a professor at the University of Chicago, where he served as Director of both the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for International Studies.
Khalidi has long cited the late Edward Said as his major academic influence. Following the latter’s death in 2003, Khalidi penned an obituary that valorized Said for “giving a voice to the voiceless” via his “eloquent espousal of the cause of Palestine.” In this context, Khalidi likened Said to another of his idols, Noam Chomsky:
“Like Noam Chomsky and very few others, he [Said] managed not only to reshape his own field of scholarly endeavor, but to transcend it, influencing other fields and disciplines, and going well beyond the narrow boundaries of the American academy to become a true public intellectual, and a passionate voice for humanistic values and justice in an imperfect world.”
As with Said before him, Khalidi’s involvement with the Palestinian cause goes beyond mere support. News reports -- including a 1982 dispatch from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times -- suggest that he once served as Director of the Palestinian press agency, Wikalat al-Anba al-Filastinija. Khalidi’s wife, Mona, was reportedly the agency’s main English-language editor between 1976 and 1982. Khalidi so strongly identified with the aims of the PLO, which was designated as a terrorist group by the State Department during Khalidi’s affiliation with it in the 1980s, that he repeatedly referred to himself as “we” when expounding on the PLO’s agenda. Additional evidence of Khalidi’s intimacy with the PLO can be seen in his involvement with the organization’s so-called “guidance committee” in the early 1990s.
Khalidi’s 1986 book, Under Siege: P.L.O. Decision-Making During the 1982 War, was dedicated to Yasser Arafat. Opening with a glowing tribute to anti-Israel fighters (“to those who gave their lives during the summer of 1982 … in defense of the cause of Palestine and the independence of Lebanon”), the book offered an airbrushed account of PLO-instigated violence against Israelis and Lebanese. By contrast, Syria’s brutal occupation of Lebanon elicited no criticism from the author.
In 1995 Khalidi and his wife founded the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), noted for its view that Israel’s creation in 1948 was a “catastrophe” for Arab people.
In 1998 Khalidi published Palestinian Identity, a book in which he details what he believes are the major trials and indignities endured by Palestinians:
“The quintessential Palestinian experience, which illustrates some of the most basic issues raised by Palestinian identity, takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint…. For it is at these borders and barriers that six million Palestinians are singled out for ‘special treatment,’ and [are] forcefully reminded of their identity … [E]very Palestinian is exposed to the possibility of harassment, exclusion, and sometimes worse, simply because of his or her identity.”
Other books penned by Khalidi include: The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2007); Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and Americ’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (2004); and The Origins of Arab Nationalism (1993).
Characterizing Israel as a “racist” state that is “basically an apartheid system in creation,” Khalidi claims that the Israeli army is in possession of “awful weapons of mass destruction (many supplied by the U.S.) that it has used in cities, villages and refugee camps.”
Khalidi formerly expressed some tepid support for the notion of an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian one. In more recent years, however, he has taken to dismissing such a solution as hopelessly unrealizable. At a February 2005 conference at Columbia, titled “One State or Two? Alternative Proposals for the Middle East,” Khalidi agreed with his Columbia colleague, Joseph Massad, in declaring that the two-state solution was an impractical “utopian vision.” Khalidi further assailed Israel’s very legitimacy, proclaiming it to be “a state that exists today at the expense of the Palestinians,” an existence that “fails to meet the most important requirement: justice.”
The February 2005 conference was not the first time that Khalidi had dismissed the possibility of a two-state solution. In March 2004, when Israeli forces assassinated Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Khalidi told Newsweek: “I really think that the killing of this individual may well be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”
Khalidi deceptively styles himself as a “severe critic of Hamas.” But mere days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he rebuked the news media for what he termed their exaggerated “hysteria about suicide bombers.”
During a June 2002 speech before a conference of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Khalidi offered a justification for the murder of armed Israelis:
“Killing civilians is a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They are not soldiers. They’re civilians, they’re unarmed. The ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that’s different. That’s resistance.”
Scholarly institutions that do not promote anti-Israel propaganda have incurred Khalidi’s wrath. Appearing on Al-Jazeera TV in 2004, Khalidi took aim at the prominent Middle Eastern Studies think-tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). That the non-partisan center is headed by Dennis Ross (a respected diplomat and a former Middle East envoy in the Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations), and that it regularly hosts speakers from the Middle East who are critical of Israel, did not prevent Khalidi from execrating WINEP as “the most important Zionist propaganda tool in the United States.”
Khalidi strongly opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In an illuminating polemic which he penned for the January 2003 issue of the far-left journal In These Times, Khalidi, even as he conceded that “international terrorism has been sponsored by Iraq,” dismissed the notion that such an invasion could have any legitimate justification. Instead, he put forward a farrago of theories that he described as the “real reasons” for the impending war:
“First, it will be fought because of an aggressive, ideological vision of America's place in the world, propagated by the neo-conservatives who dominate the commanding heights of the American bureaucracy. Their vision proposes unfettered world hegemony for the United States, to be consecrated by the demonstration of U.S. power crushing a weak Iraq.
“Second, this war will be fought because of an obsession with control of the strategic resources (read: oil) and geography offered by the Middle East, with the view of neutralizing potential challengers to American hegemony in the 21st century [meaning primarily China].”
As Khalidi saw it, the looming war against Iraq was the brainchild of “racist” neo-conservatives who were: (a) doing the bidding of the Israeli Likud party to which they paid an undeclared allegiance; (b) aiming “to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony”; and (c) acting upon their “racist view that Middle Easterners understand only force.” “For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts,” wrote Khalidi, “sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.”
In March 2008 Khalidi called for the recompense of the Iraqi people for the suffering they had endured at the hands of the U.S. “We owe reparations to the Iraqi people,” he told an audience at Columbia University. Also speaking at that event was the socialist writer Anthony Arnove. Both Khalidi and Arnove called for mass anti-war activism and demanded America’s unilateral withdrawal from Iraq.
Khalidi similarly had opposed the first Gulf War in 1991, when he characterized public support for the U.S.-led defense of Kuwait as an “idiots’ consensus.”
Khalidi is longtime a friend of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. In the 1990s, Obama and his wife were regular dinner guests at Khalidi’s Chicago home. During the 2000 election cycle, Mr. and Mrs. Khalidi organized a fundraiser for Barack Obama’s unsuccessful congressional bid. In 2001 and again in 2002, the Woods Fund of Chicago, while Mr. Obama served on its board, made grants totaling $75,000 to Khalidi’s Arab American Action Network. In 2003 Obama would attend a farewell party in Khalidi’s honor when the latter was leaving the University of Chicago to embark on his new position at Columbia.
In a 2008 interview, Khalidi praised Obama effusively, stating that, if elected President, Obama would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than other politicians. “He has family literally all over the world,” Khalidi noted. “I feel a kindred spirit from that.”
Obama is not the only political figure whom Khalidi has supported. In 2003, for instance, the professor contributed $1,000 to Democrat Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s congressional campaign.
Among the donors to Khalidi’s endowed chair at Columbia are: (a) the United Arab Emirates; (b) the Hauser Foundation, a New York charity headed by Rita Hauser, a controversial philanthropist whose onetime law firm -- Stroock, Stroock & Lavan -- was registered with the Department of Justice as an agent for the Palestinian Authority until 2001; and (c) the Olayan Charitable Trust, a New York-based charity with ties to the Olayan America Corporation, an arm of the Saudi organization the Olayan Group.
At an October 2015 conference at SEIU headquarters in Washington, DC, Khalidi asserted that American police forces that were being trained in Israeli riot-control techniques were learning "how to subdue colonized populations" from the "masters of that kind of repression." He also characterized America's longstanding support for Israel as a "consensus of idiocy."