Former IRI Chair Defends Khalidi

By Natalie Gewargis

Nov 3, 2008 11:58am

R. Bruce McColm — past president of the McCain-chaired International Republican Institute (IRI) when it first granted money to an organization co-founded by Rashid Khalidi — e-mails Ken Silverstein at Harper’s and pushes back against the attacks on Khalidi from Sen. McCain’s campaign.

(More background on this controversy HERE, HERE and HERE.)

McColm writes:

"Rashid Khalidi was well known for his criticism of Yasir Arafat. He never was a spokesman for the PLO and was a professor at the Institute for Palestine Studies and a professor at American University in Beirut," McColm writes. "He was the founder of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies. I was President of IRI during 1993 through 1995. The Clinton Administration wanted the various NED-related institutes to begin working on the West Bank.

"All our proposals had to be approved at board meetings with John McCain in attendance and in agreement. John did think highly of these grants. IRI didn’t really want to work on the West Bank in any activities of political development. Two pro-Israel board members — Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick and then-Senator Connie Mack of Florida — were skeptical of such an enterprise. IRI decided to fund the Center for Palestine Research and Studies because of its academic bent and the fact that it would conduct attitude surveys — polls on socioeconomic attitudes on the West Bank.

"Press accounts have the first grant being given in 1993 — I remember slightly later than that. Whether Khalidi actually did the research I do not know but we were aware of his reputation and his ‘moderate’ stance to the issues. McCain moved the approval of the first grant with the acceptance of Dr. Kirkpatrick and Senator Mack. Over time, the Center conducted over 30 polls for the IRI. My understanding was that grants extended far beyond my tenure to l998.

"It was always my understanding that Khalidi was directly involved in the research. We were impressed by the initial polls and analysis. So obviously IRI continued to believe in their work after I left. Ironically, it was Khalidi’s academic background and his known coolness to the PLO that attracted our interest. How strange to see the McCain campaign use Khalidi as a ‘type of terrorist’ with whom Obama hangs around."

- jpt

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