Last night, I noted that left bloggers like Ali Abunimah were looking to Rahm Emanuel’s ascendancy like Vatican observers searching for the wisp of smoke from St. Peter’s chimney telling the faithful a new pope has been chosen.
Of course, they view Emanuel as a pro-Israel front for Aipac. And his new job is supposed to guarantee that Aipac has the Obama administration in the bag. This, of course, is a severe misreading of presidential politics and a misunderstanding of the role of chief of staff. Emanuel will not be making policy. He will be implementing it. His own voice will not be ascendant. Rather, Barack Obama’s voice will be.
I quoted Rahm Emanuel’s father’s racist comments about Arabs which were meant to bolster the son’s pro-Israel bona fides:
“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.”
Thanks to Israeli reader, Amir, I now have the original Maariv article and it tells a more nuanced story. Dr. Emanuel is 82 years old–not that excuses his prejudice. While he was a member of the right-wing Jewish nationalist terror group, the Irgun, the article notes that in Jerusalem in 1933, Emanuel’s brother, Emanuel Auerbach, was murdered in an altercation with Arabs. To memorialize their son, his parents changed their family name to Emanuel and moved to Tel Aviv.
I think it’s important to put Dr. Emanuel’s comments in the perspective of his personal trauma and suffering. Of course, we would like everyone who experiences such suffering to come out of it with increased empathy for the “other.” But alas that’s not often the case.
It’s also important to note that Dr. Emanuel’s sons don’t share his hardline views. In an interview with Rahm’s brother Ezechiel, the latter says this about Rahm:
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.
I’ve written before of the schizophrenic nature of the Diaspora relationship of Jews to Israel. Here we have within a single family the bifurcation perfectly illustrated. The older generation marches to the drummer of past 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? The jury is out.
Analysts have said that the Middle East will not be Obama’s first priority when he takes office. The economy will be. That’s all well and good. But we must remember that this is precisely how George Bush prioritized when he came into office. Israel-Palestine wasn’t a top priority. When you assign it a low priority it tends to jump up and bite you when all hell breaks loose, as it periodically does. It would be much more advisable for Obama to get ahead of the curve and be prepared to take advantage of opportunities to break through the current impasse. The only way to do this is to give this matter priority. If Obama doesn’t, it will sneak up on him and hijack his agenda at some tragic point in the future.