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, in 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 Emanuel’s physician-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. After all, I have more progressive politics than either of my parents. But still, this kind of jingoism and racism is absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable even in one’s father.
Many are pointing to this statement as if it is a reflection on Rahm. It isn’t unless he specifically agrees with the sentiment or defends his father’s words or beliefs regarding Israel or Arabs.
The Maariv interview seems not to be available on the Hebrew language site. If anyone has access to it and can send it to me I’m eager to receive it.
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.