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July 25, 2010; Source: Haaretz | With friends like this, President Obama doesn’t need enemies.  A Columbia University history professor named Rashid Khalidi is attempting to raise a few hundred thousand dollars in donations to purchase a U.S. ship to participate in an upcoming flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.  According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, Khalidi is a presidential friend, but to hammer the point home the ship will be rechristened “The Audacity of Hope,” obviously a play on the President’s two autobiographies.

It is unclear the coalition with which Khalidi aligns himself. Some articles refer to the International Solidarity Movement, which solicits tax deductible donations in the U.S. through its fiscal sponsor, the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, but the Free Gaza Movement website identifies the Khalidi group as “U.S. Boat to Gaza” which accepts tax deductible contributions through the Institute for Media Analysis in New York City.

As we reported earlier, Palestinian officials continue to express dismay that tax deductible charitable donations in the U.S. have gone to organizations that support the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank (see here as well), though there will presumably be Israeli consternation about fundraising for a U.S. boat in the next big flotilla operation, scheduled for September or October.

Charity and philanthropy is caught in the middle.  In recent months, performers such as Elvis Costello and others have cancelled concerts in Israel, but Jethro Tull defied pressure and chose to maintain its performance schedule, though donating all proceeds from its concerts to groups pledged to Jewish/Arab/Christian coexistence.

Charity and philanthropy are inherently small “p” political, especially in hot-button Middle East issues.  Writing in Slate and Newsweek, one columnist slammed Costello (and other boycotting stars like Meg Ryan) with a not very subtle suggestion that they will find themselves hard pressed to disassociate their actions from anti-Semitism.  Do tax deductible charitable donations for West Bank settlers or Gaza flotilla participants mean that the U.S. government is endorsing their activity?  We don’t think so, do you?— Rick Cohen