During a visit to New York last March, my friend Gustavo Chacra (who has a great blog on our competitor newspaper, by the way) took me to watch one of the classes in his Master’s program at Columbia. The professor was Rashid Khalidi.

The classroom was packed and most of the students were younger than us. The class was about Middle Eastern History, and on that day the topics of discussion were populational equilibrium and political power in the region (since first the Jews and then the Palestinians used the demographic boom to try and redistribute power). He spoke for about an hour and a half without any hint of bias—despite the sensitive topic and the fact that he defends Palestinian positions outside the classroom. Nobody left their chair, nobody was talking, nobody was sleeping, nobody was doodling.

It was one of the most sensational classes I’ve ever had in my life.

Look, I studied at the University of São Paulo (Journalism, but I also took History, Social Science and law classes), I did my undergrad at NYU, I came from a good high school, I am the daughter of an excellent history professor and I have even been lucky enough in the past 11 years to work with many people who were smarter than average and who were willing to teach. So my list of memorable classes, in both narrow and broad terms, is long, VERY long.

But Khalidi’s class was one of those unique experiences. You didn’t want to miss a single word he said, as he frenetically scribbled numbers on the board and responded to each question with a logic and pertinence so fluid that it almost became easy to understand one of the most politically complicated regions on the planet.

Very well. The Chair of Arab Studies (a position formerly held by Edward Said) at Columbia and director of the University’s Middle East Institute, Khalidi, who is Palestinian, is being compared to terrorists and neo-Nazis by the McCain campaign. It’s surreal.

Things blew up today after McCain went around throwing tantrums because the Los Angeles Times, which has endorsed Obama, would not release a video that shows the Democratic candidate at a party in 2003 at which Khalidi was present (the video was obtained under that condition that it would not be made public, according to the LA Times).

“There is a video (…) with one of the principal spokesmen of the Palestine Liberation Organization [the extinct PLO of Yasser Arafat], and why it was not taken public I cannot say. I guarantee that if there were a tape of me and Sarah Palin and some neo-Nazis, that would be made public. Of course the American people need to know about this, particularly about Ayers, and also about the PLO.”

Ah, yes, the Republican campaign says that Bill Ayers, the ex-Weatherman who set off bombs in the US to protest against the Vietnam War in the 70s, was also there. OK, he doesn’t appear in the video, according to those who have seen it, but it is already known that Obama knows him—the Democratic candidate has already lamented what Ayers did in the past, but the Republican candidate continues to question the proximity of his rival’s ties to the current university professor when he was in Chicago.

Later, Fox News re-aired the interview, with McCain saying: “These people—Ayers and Khalidi—committed terrorist acts.”

Huh? Even Fox News was obligated to clear up that the professor never killed anybody—despite having questioned his past.

I remained silent. I am just going to include Khalidi’s bio from Columbia, one of the most prestigious universities in the US.

Oh yeah, ABC said that the International Republican Institute, an organization whose leadership McCain belongs to, has financed Khalidi’s projects.

Education

D.Phil. – Oxford University 1974

B.A. – Yale University 1970

Current Departmental Service

Personnel Committee

Interests and Research

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, specializes in Middle Eastern history.

Affiliations

Member, Search Committee for Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs

Member, Executive Committee, Middle East Institute

Editor, Journal of Palestine Studies

Member, Conseil Scientifique, Ramses2, Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme, Aix-en-Provence

Member, Council on Foreign Relations

Member, Board of Trustees, al-Quds University, Jerusalem

Member, Board of Trustees, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

Member, Advisory Board, Bruno Kreisky Forum, Vienna

Member, Advisory Board, Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East.

Member, Editorial Board, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa & the Middle East.

Manuscript reader, University of California Press; Cambridge University Press; University of Chicago Press; Columbia University Press; Harvard University Press; University of Indiana Press; Penn State University Press; Princeton University Press; University of Utah Press