In the first major appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama has named as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel, an Israeli citizen and Israeli army veteran. This is the man who arranges the President's schedule, staffs out the agenda, includes, excludes.
Rahm Emanuel volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians.
Emanuel's father’s unreconstructed ethnic outlook has been memorably embodied in his recent remark to the Ma’ariv newspaper that :
"Obviously he [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel… Why wouldn't he be [influential]?
What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."
He favored the war in Iraq, and when he was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 he made great efforts to knock out antiwar Democratic candidates
Emanuel's father, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was a member of Menachem Begin's Irgun forces during the Nakba.
He named his son after "a Lehi combatant who was killed" -- i.e., a member of Yitzhak Shamir's terrorist Stern Gang, responsible for, in addition to other atrocities against Palestinians, the more famous bombing of the King David Hotel and assassination of the UN peace envoy Count Folke Bernadotte.
The editorial in the next day's Arab News (Jeddah) was entitled "Don't pin much hope on Obama -- Emanuel is his chief of staff and that sends a message". This editorial referred to the Irgun as a "terror organization" (a judgment call) and concluded:
"Far from challenging Israel, the new (Obama) team may turn out to be as pro-Israel as the one it is replacing."
Obama repeatedly pledged unconditional allegiance to Israel during his campaign, most memorably in an address to the AIPAC national convention which Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery characterized as "a speech that broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning", and America's electing a black president has always been more easily imagined than any American president's declaring his country's independence from Israeli domination.
Why would Obama, a man of unquested brilliance, have chosen to send such a contemptuous message to the Muslim world with his first major appointment?
Why would he wish to disabuse the Muslim world of its hopes (however modest) and slap it across the face at the ealiest opportunity?
A further contemptuous message is widely rumored to be forthcoming -- the naming as "Special Envoy for Middle East Peace" of Dennis Ross, the notorious Israel-Firster who, throughout the 12 years of the Bush the First and Clinton administrations, ensured that American policy toward the Palestinians did not deviate one millimeter from Israeli policy and that no progress toward peace could be made and who has since headed the AIPAC spin-off "think tank", the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
For decades, the Palestinian leadership has been "waiting for Godot" -- waiting for the U.S. Government to finally do the right thing (if only in its own obvious self-interest) and to force Israel to comply with international law and UN Resolutions and permit them to have a decent mini-state on a tiny portion of the land that once was theirs.
This was never a realistic hope. It has not happened, and it will never happen.
So it may well be salutary not to waste eight more days (let alone eight more years) playing along and playing the fool while more Palestinian lands are confiscated and more Jewish colonies and Jews-only bypass roads are built on them, clinging to the delusion that the charming Mr. Obama, admirable though he may be in so many other respects, will eventually (if only in a second term, when he no longer has to worry about reelection) see the light and do the right thing.
It is long overdue for the Palestinians themselves to seize the initiative, to reset the agenda and to declare a new "only game in town".
No American president -- least of all Barack Obama -- could easily support racism and apartheid and oppose democracy and equal rights, particularly if democracy and equal rights were being pursued by nonviolent means.
No one anywhere could easily do so. The writing would be on the wall, and the clock would be running out on the tired game of using a perpetual "peace process" as an excuse to delay decisions (while building more "facts on the ground") forever.
Democracy and equal rights would not come quickly or easily.
Forty years passed between when, on the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King cried out that he had been to the mountain top and had seen the promised land and when Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States. (The Bible suggests a similar waiting period in the wilderness for Moses.)
Forty-six years passed between the installation of a formal apartheid regime in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a fully democratic and nonracist "rainbow nation".
While it may be be hoped that the transformation would be significantly quicker in Israel/Palestine, it is clear that many who already qualify as "senior citizens" will not live to see the promised land.
However, if the promised land of a democratic state with equal rights for all is correctly and clearly perceived and persistently and peacefully pursued, there is ample reason for confidence that Israel/Palestine will one day experience the tearful exaltation of a "Mandela Moment" or an "Obama Moment", restoring hope in the moral potential both of a nation and of mankind, and that the Jews, Muslims and Christians who live there will finally reach their promised land.
Rahm Emanuel - Background
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Rahm Israel Emanuel (Hebrew: רם ישראל עמנואל) was born in Chicago, Illinois. His first name, Rahm, means "high" or "lofty" in Hebrew, while his last name, Emanuel, means "God is with us."
According to his father, his son is the namesake of Rahamim, a Lehi paramilitary group combatant who was killed. Rahm’s surname was adopted by his family in 1933, after Rahm’s paternal uncle, Emanuel Auerbach, was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Jerusalem.
Emanuel's father, Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a pediatrician who was born in Jerusalem and was a member of the Irgun, a Jewish militia which operated from 1931 to 1948 during the British Mandate of Palestine.
His mother, Martha Smulevitz, worked as an X-ray technician and was the daughter of a local union organizer. She became a civil rights activist; she was also once the owner of a Chicago-area rock and roll club. The two met in Chicago in the 1950s.
Emanuel's older brother, Ezekiel, is an oncologist and bioethicist, and his brother Ari is a talent agent in Los Angeles who inspired Jeremy Piven's character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage. Emanuel himself is the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing. Emanuel is a first cousin of Howard Stern Show writer Benjy Bronk. Emanuel also has a younger adopted sister named Shoshanna, 14 years his junior.
When his family lived in Chicago, Emanuel attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish day school. After his family moved to Wilmette, he attended public school: Romona School, Wilmette Junior High School, and New Trier West High School.
He and his brothers attended summer camp in Israel. At some point during his high school years, while working at an Arby's restaurant, Emanuel severely cut his right middle finger. He sought medical attention only after suffering severe infection as a result of the wound, resulting in the partial amputation of the finger. The story of this event has changed over time - it was once rumored that he lost it in combat for the Israeli army, when it was blown off by a Syrian tank.
He graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981, and went on to receive a master's degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985. While still an undergraduate, he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago.
Emanuel was a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, repairing truck brakes in one of Israel's northern bases.
Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule, converted to Judaism shortly before her wedding.They are members of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Chicago.They have three children, son Zachariah and daughters Ilana and Leah.
Emanuel is a close friend of fellow Chicagoan David Axelrod, Chief Strategist for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign. Axelrod signed the ketuba, a Jewish marriage contract, at Emanuel's wedding, an honor that goes to a family friend or distant relative.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation is quoted as saying: "It's a very involved Jewish family"; "Amy was one of the teachers for a class for children during the High Holidays two years ago."
Emanuel has said of his Judaism: "I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me." Emanuel's family lives on the North Side of Chicago, in the North Center neighborhood.
A Plea from Israel :Come, Obama, Change My Life
(Edna Canetti wrote this for MachsomWatch. The piece was translated from Hebrew by George Malent)
Obama my dear, they tell me that you are going to change the world. Do me a favor, come and change my life personally.
Come to Israel, grab its stupid leadership by the throat and take its foot off the neck of another people. Come and force us to do what is clear, and written, and fitting, and necessary, come and get us out of the Territories, if necessary do it with a smile that reveals million-dollar teeth. If necessary bare your teeth and force us to do it.
Make it so that I don’t have to get up in the morning – I who hate to get up early, to go to the checkpoints, to watch and to weep. Make it so I will not have to see 19-year-old children who have been duped into believing that they are defending the home front by pointing rifles at five-year-old children.
Make it so that when my daughters take a shower for half an hour I don’t have to think about Ayad’s family from Awarta that puts buckets under all the washbasins in order to reuse the water which is more precious than gold. Because the settlements need the West Bank’s water more than the Palestinians do.
Make it so that when I sit in a traffic jam I don’t have to think about the vast numbers of cars that are standing at the entrance to Tul Karem while each one is checked by soldiers and dogs because there has been a warning that they’re about to blow up Tul Karem.
Make it so that when my sister urgently rushes to the hospital to give birth and when I rush my husband to the hospital practically with red lights flashing, I don’t have to think about the women giving birth and the heart patients and the wounded people who are stopped at the entrance to Nablus because their vehicle has no permit to enter.
Make it so that when I see a soldier in uniform on the street I do not wonder what he did last night. What house he entered in a “Straw Widow procedure”,* what boy he beat up in the alleys of Hawara because he smiled the wrong way.
Make it so that in the morning I don’t hear the satisfaction in the voice of the radio newsreader who relates that the IDF has killed six terrorists.
Obama my dear, this autumn I did not go to the olive harvest. It didn’t work out. Please make it so that I will not suffer from pangs of conscience because I am not doing enough. That I am living my own good life, pursuing my career, while for the other people just to get home safely is a career in itself.
Please relieve me of this pain that I have all the time deep in my belly. It never lets up, I can never really enjoy life, children, friends or work, because my mind is preoccupied with the image of the shepherd in Baq’a standing by the locked gate and shivering with cold because the redhead with the key has not showed up, and the bound blindfolded boy, and the three-year-old girl who got hit on the head by the carousel at the checkpoint, and the barriers of dirt and the concrete blocks that stop the lives of so many people from flowing smoothly.
Come, Obama, come and save us from ourselves.
And if that is what they mean when they say you are not a friend of Israel, then don’t be a friend. We have already had friends who arm us and justify every horror we carry out and save us from the international courts. Be a true friend. Save us from ourselves. And don’t do it for the world, do it only for me, so I can have peace. You owe it to me. I do not believe in God but still I prayed for you.
From Israel: Turning the Page
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In a world where a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable, and therefore everything is possible.
During the last few weeks, the Jews in America and in Israel have been asking:
Is he (Obama) good for the Jews?
One contribution to the answer was provided by the American citizens in Israel who have already voted. According to press reports, almost all of them are Jews, most of them are Orthodox, and most of them voted for John McCain.
Official Israel has been hard put to hide its fear of Obama. A black man. A man whose grandfather was a Muslim. Whose middle name is Hussein. An unknown quantity.
Obama, on his part, has gone out of his way to show that he would support the Israeli government exactly as his predecessors have. He groveled in the dust before AIPAC.
He surrounded himself with Bill Clinton's Jewish aides and hinted that they would enjoy the same status in his future administration. But go and believe a candidate's election promises. They are worth as much as a garlic's skin, as we say in Hebrew.
Some people do believe in promises. I have received an e-mail message from a British person:
"So instead of the Jewish neocons who have ruled Washington we shall get the Jewish Zionists who ruled there under Clinton.
What's the bloody difference?"
But official Israel is full of angst. The public TV channel has spread pro-McCain propaganda quite openly (while on commercial Channel 10, the commentator Nitzan Horowitz exuberantly supported Obama.)
A senior official leaked to Ha'aretz that Nicholas Sarkozy had privately warned of the frightening inexperience of Obama – a story (whether true or false) designed to provide the McCain campaign with live ammunition in its fight for the Jewish vote in Florida. In a scandalous gesture, the right-wing Israeli ambassador in Washington, Salai Meridor, traveled to a remote town to meet Sarah Palin (of all people!).
So, is he(Obama) "Good for Israel"?
In the old Jewish way, this question must be answered with another question: "For which Israel?"
There is more than one Israel, as there is more than one America.
George W. Bush, our devoted friend, betrayed his "vision" and gave Ariel Sharon an all-encompassing permit to enlarge the settlement blocs, each of which is a deadly land mine on the road to peace. He hindered Israel from making peace with Syria, which he added to the "Axis of Evil." His invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq gave an immense push to the anti-Israel Muslim fundamentalists, to the creeping domination of Lebanon by Hezbollah and to the strengthening of Hamas in Palestine. No wonder Osama bin Laden prays for a McCain victory. (Perhaps that's the only hope left for McCain.)
Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, another great friend of Israel, helped Ehud Barak after Camp David to spread the lie that "I have turned every stone, offered them everything they wanted, Arafat has rejected all my generous offers, we have no partner for peace." This mantra dealt a tremendous blow to the Israeli peace camp, from which it has not recovered to this day.
At the same time the settlements were being enlarged at a frantic pace, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the Clinton administration.
And no wonder: Under Clinton, all matters pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were in the hands of a group of Jewish Zionists. There was NOT a single Arab around.
There are those who reassure the Obama-fearers in Jerusalem. Even if he wants to change things, they say, he won't be able to.
The supporters of (official) Israel dominate the Democratic Party, which enjoys the support and the generous donations of the Jewish voters even in these elections. The supporters of (official) Israel will dominate the next Congress, as they did the last. As in the past, a politician who supports Israel by only 100 percent, instead of 110 percent, will be committing political hara-kiri.
This is all true, but still I dare to hope that Obama will be revealed as a friend of the Other Israel, the Israel that seeks peace.
He promises change. I believe that for him this is not an empty phrase, but something more profound that is rooted in his character.
As far as the national interests of the U.S. are concerned, the "larger Middle East" is not a secondary theater. It is one of the most important, and the new administration will have to deal with it right from the beginning. This is also the theater where the catastrophic failures of Bush are the most obvious.
When Obama and his people – and I hope that they will be new people, not the wrecks from the Clinton era – examine this subject, they will be compelled to arrive at a self-evident conclusion:
That the hatred for the U.S. that is boiling from Morocco to Pakistan is inextricably bound up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is what has poisoned all the wells.
This is the trump card in the hands of the Sunni Osama bin Laden and the Shi'ite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This conclusion was already made clear in the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report, which Bush has thrown into the wastebasket.
This conclusion leads to another one: that it is in the American interest to turn over a new page in our region and to really work for an Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, Israeli-all-Arab, and perhaps even Israeli-Iranian peace. This conclusion was apparent already on the morrow of 9/11. I wrote at the time that this was going to happen, any minute now, as the inevitable lesson from the disaster. I was wrong. Bush and the Bushites went in the opposite direction and made the situation 10 times worse. I hope that it will happen now.
In other words:
I hope with all my heart that Obama will continue to support Israel, but NOT the Israel of the bullies, the impostors, and the hypocrites, who pretend to be negotiating for peace while enlarging the settlements, tightening the oppression in the occupied territories, and blabbering about bombing Iran.
It is not this Israel that should be supported by the next president, but the Israel that is ready for peace, prepared to pay the price for peace, and crying out for an American administration that will give the decisive push to the initiative.