Michael Coren: Obama courts trouble with dubious decision to appoint Emanuel - Full Comment: "Michael Coren: Obama courts trouble with dubious decision to appoint Emanuel
Posted: November 18, 2008, 9:00 AM by Kelly McParland
Euphoria is by its nature transitory and unreliable, and never more so than when induced by political celebrity and media hysteria. Oh the disappointment when the holy icon comes down from the wall and is revealed as just another mediocre portrait. They wanted him to Barack their world, but in his first major appointment the President-elect has sent the dreamers back to their barracks. He asked Rahm Emanuel to be the White House Chief of Staff, thus alienating those domestic political opponents he claimed he wanted to include in his new America and, perhaps more importantly, outraging the Arab and greater Muslim community.
Emanuel’s entire political career as a Bill Clinton staffer and a congressman has been characterized by extreme partisanship and personal attacks. He has cultivated the reputation of political pit bull, relished the much-told stories of how he screamed at friends as well as enemies and stabbed knives into tables as he listed critics who would be “dead, dead, dead.” Beyond the obvious hypocrisy of Obama’s first major act being the selection of one of the least conciliatory figures in Washington politics, Emanuel’s intimate ties to, and support for, Israel have caused consternation and anger in even moderate and pro-Western Arab circles.
He is the son of a leading revisionist Zionist family, his father Benjamin being a former member of the Irgun, otherwise known as Etzel or IZL. Revisionism was an alternative and more militant form of Zionism, offering a different path to that of the more socialistic and pragmatic mainstream. Its tough nationalism produced two underground military organizations, the Irgun and LEHI or The Stern Gang. They fought both the local Palestinians and the British Army and police between 1931 and 1948.
Regarded by the occupying British, the Arabs and by many in the rest of the Jewish community in pre-Israel Palestine as terrorists, the Irgun was involved in attacks on British soldiers and Palestinian civilians that are even now deeply disturbing and divisive. When I was working on my university thesis on LEHI, I was shocked by the hostility shown toward these organizations by other Israelis, some of whom had served in commando units, known as the Palmach, in the 1940s in Palestine. Their dedication and sacrifice was beyond question, as was their rejection of what they saw as the self-serving violence of the Irgun.
This, of course, was the father and not necessarily the son, but it is far from unreasonable to assume that the new Chief of Staff has been influenced by his beloved father’s ideas and the context of his precise kind of Jewish nationalism. Just recently, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Benjamin Emanuel is said to have replied, when asked about his son’s appointment, “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
This may be the apparent racism of an older generation, but it hardly inspires confidence. Rahm Emanuel himself was born with dual Israeli and American citizenship due to his father, but renounced his Israeli nationality before entering politics. He also served briefly as a civilian volunteer for the Israeli military in 1991 during the Gulf War, has spoken numerous times to pro-Israeli rallies and organizations and is an active campaigner for the Jewish state. None of which is in any way surprising or inappropriate for an average Jewish person in North America. Only a bigot or a fool would see conspiracy or malice where there is loyalty, courage and commitment.
But Rahm Emanuel is not ordinary and is not in an ordinary position. How, for example, would the world in general and the Jewish world in particular react to an active supporter of the Palestinian cause whose father was a member of a nationalist Arab group with terror links being appointed to a senior position in the White House? The answer is as obvious as the question is rhetorical. This is not an issue of placating Arab and Muslim fanatics but of rebuilding a relationship of trust with responsible leaders and secular pragmatists who, together with the West, can carve out a workable peace in the Middle East.
Already dozens of informed editorials and opinion columns in the Arab press have expressed incredulity at the Emanuel appointment, pointing out that it plays into the hands of the absolutists who detest the prospect of a new Middle East where Israel is considered a partner and the United States an ally. Frankly, it also bad for even hard-line supporters of Israel. The State Department, the diplomatic corps and overall American policy should be, for moral reasons if nothing else, supportive of Israel’s security. Now their statements will be perceived in the Arab mind through the prism of the real or imagined sway of the chief of staff.
The apologists have been quick to explain and justify. Writing in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, a close friend of Emanuel, replied to attacks that have actually seldom been made in an American media as reluctant to criticize Obama as it is to explore the new chief of staff’s credentials. “Rahm, precisely because he’s a lover of Israel, will not have much patience with Israeli excuse-making, so when the next prime minister tells President Obama that as much as he’d love to, he can’t dismantle the Neve Manyak settlement outpost, or whichever outpost needs dismantling, because of a) domestic politics; b) security concerns, or c) the Bible, Rahm will call out such nonsense, and it will be very hard for right-wing Israelis to come back and accuse him of being a self-hating Jew.”
Hardly. It’s rash politics, poor government and short-sighted policy. Can we pose as an enlightened radical but behave with less decorum, empathy and understanding of the external world than even our predecessor? Apparently so. Or to put it another way, Yes we can.