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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Posted: November 8, 2008 02:37 AM

Does Emanuel Appointment Signal Obama Pro-Israel Tilt?


There seems to be a semi-conspiratorial meme developing in the left blogosphere that Rahm Emanuel's appointment as Obama chief of staff (along with Dennis Ross' potential role at State possibly dealing with Iran or Israel-Palestine negotiations) involves a sort of "pro-Israel fix" in which Aipac guarantees itself both access and an administration fully supportive of Israeli interests. I don't buy it. But before I explain why, I must add that this doesn't mean that I'm not watching developments carefully like a weather vane to see which way the wind blows.

Regardless of Rahm Emanuel's past, during which he volunteered at an IDF base during the Persian Gulf war, he is a political professional. He understands, unlike some other DC politicians like Jane Harman (who's actually been lobbying to get herself named CIA chief), that his loyalty must be to Barack Obama and not to Aipac or even Israel itself. Barack Obama is no fool (unlike George Bush). He won't suffer an insubordinate staffer or someone whose allegiance is clouded or whose decision making apparatus is compromised.

And unlike George Bush, I think Obama has a much deeper sense of political mission and agenda. Dick Cheney was able to perpetrate his outrages due to a president who had no sense of political self. That isn't the case with Obama. No one is going to take this man for a ride, political or otherwise.

All that being said, I AM deeply alarmed by this Jerusalem Post story which quotes an interview with Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, Rahm's father, in which the elder gentleman says the following:

Dr. Benjamin Emanuel said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Seems to me, in this odd and gratuitous non-sequitur, the dad is inadvertently sabotaging his son's prospects; not to mention how the Arab world is going to react to a statement like that which is probably already featured prominently at Al-Jazeera. I realize Rahm Emanuel's father doesn't speak for his son. But still, this kind of jingoism and racism is absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable even in one's father.

The original Hebrew language interview with the 82 year-old Emanuel puts the latter's own life story in context. He grew up in Jerusalem and in 1933, his brother, Emanuel Auerbach, was murdered in an altercation with an Arab. Memorializing his brother, his parents took the family name, Emanuel and moved to Tel Aviv. Given this sense of personal loss, it isn't surprising that Rahm Emanuel's father turned to the radical right-wing terror group, the Irgun, and ran guns for it before the 1948 war.

It's also important to note that Rahm's brother, Ezechiel, interviewed in the same article had this to say:

Like everyone, my brother wants to see peace in the region. This would be his highest wish. This is what you need. This is what we need. And like every sensible person, Rahm believes in a solution of two states for two peoples. The question is: how to get there.

American Jews have a schizophrenic relationship to Israel. Here we have within a single family the bifurcation perfectly illustrated. The older generation marches to the drummer of past national trauma and personal suffering. The newer generation looks for a way past, that allows both peoples to live in peace. The question becomes-which pole will dominate? Will it be the atavistic return to one's protective shell represented by Dr. Emanuel's racism? Or will it be the tolerant, open, forward-looking sentiments of Dr. Emanuel's son, Ezechiel? The jury is out. But for their to be real peace, the younger generation must win in the end.

As for Ross, I am a bit more concerned about him. While one could argue that he at least tried to be an honest broker during his Clinton administration years, he is closely identified with WINEP, an Aipac-related think tank. His statements towards the end of the campaign on Iran, though designed to reassure those in the right-wing leadership of the American Jewish community, were unnecessarily categorical and bellicose. I just don't see how you assign negotiating a peaceful agreement with Iran to someone with Ross' views.

I also think because of the failure of Camp David and Taba and his role in that, it would be a mistake to give the Israel-Palestine portfolio to him once again. Obama does need an experienced hand in this, but not one who has failed as Ross has. To be clear, I'm not personally blaming Ross for the failure. There's more than enough blame to go around on all sides. But he's still tarnished by what happened back in 2000 and the issues need fresh blood and fresh eyes.