Rashid Khalidi draws fire from the right for remarks at awards ceremony

Historians in the News

[Brendan Goldman is a senior at New York University majoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, and an intern at the Middle East Forum. This essay was sponsored by Campus Watch.]

“This is not an Israeli-Palestinian debate,” Stanley Cohen, the director of the Scone Foundation, said. “It is [a conference] to honor the archivist profession.”

Cohen’s statement was half true: the event was not a “debate,” but only because there were no dissenting opinions to challenge keynote speaker Rashid Khalidi’s monologue portraying the Palestinians as powerless victims of an Israeli foe intent on destroying their historical records.

Cohen was speaking to an audience of approximately 150 people, mostly members of the general public and scholars of the Middle East, at the Scone Foundation’s “Archivist of the Year” award ceremony, held January 25 at the CUNY Graduate Center’s expansive auditorium in the heart of New York City.

The event was billed as an opportunity to honor the joint recipients of the seventh Archivist of the Year award, Yehoshua Freundlich of the Israeli Archives and Khader Salameh of the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library. Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and a former spokesman for the PLO, and Professor David Myers, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, were the event’s keynote speakers....

The American academics proved decidedly less capable of keeping politics out of their speeches. Myers spoke first, stating before he began his address that, “self-critical research,” meaning criticism of the Palestinian narrative, was a “defining feature of [Khalidi’s] work”—a preposterous claim that could not withstand the evidence presented in Khalidi’s own words....

Khalidi later made clear that Palestinians, unlike Israelis and Americans, are exempt from the obligation to challenge their national myths: “The collective memory of the Palestinians was perfectly clear,” Khalidi said of the precision of the Palestinian refugees’ recollection of their “expulsion” from the Jewish state.

He neglected to mention that even according to the controversial estimates of the New Historians, at most a third of the Palestinian refugees of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence were expelled; the rest left on their own accord, Palestinians’ “collective memory” to the contrary notwithstanding....

Khalidi ended the awards ceremony on a decidedly less optimistic note. He discussed how Germany and France had fought wars for a century and a half and had to wait 60 years after those conflicts ended before they could establish a joint “peace” curriculum for their schools. He then concluded, “[A Palestinian State], I fear, is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon, if ever.”

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