November 18, 2008
How Can We Ensure that Obama’s Presidency is Good for Israel?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Last week, President-elect Obama named Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel his Chief of Staff. This week, we're waiting to see whether Hilary Clinton emerges as his Secretary of State. What do these choices tell us about Obama . . . and specifically what do they portend for U.S. relations with Israel?
Because Obama's legislative record is so thin---just four years as a Senator, two of which he has spent running for President---the American right has had plenty of latitude for whipping up hysteria leading up to Election Day. Some predicted Obama would appoint predominately black politicians and "cronies” to his cabinet and staff. Others warned that he lacked the judgment necessary to handle the outsized political and economic challenges the U.S. is facing. Still others predicted he would capitulate to Islamic terrorists and force Israel into dangerous compromises with the Palestinians.
While Obama's abilities will indeed be tested in the coming months and years, and while we can't predict with much certainty how his promise of "change we can believe in” will translate on the ground, his choice of Rahm Emanuel (and possibly Hilary Clinton) should give some cause for relief.
One thing we do know about Obama is that he likes to surround himself with extremely bright people---and not just those who agree with him. The mere possibility of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State bears this out. While Jews in the U.S. voted overwhelmingly for Obama, Israelis overwhelmingly supported McCain. But before Obama emerged as the Democratic nominee, Israelis strongly supported Hilary---largely because of Bill Clinton's legacy and the couple's high favorable ratings in Israel. While we can count on Obama to be a strong leader, we could also count on Hilary Clinton to be an assertive, influential Secretary of State---one most Israelis would welcome and respect.
Likewise Rahm Emanuel. Ami Isseroff's blog post below gently chides those on the right who have rushed to judgment about Obama's foreign policy, using the Emanuel appointment as support. Isseroff, an Israeli web author and director of MidEast Web (http://www.mideastweb.org), outlines Emanuel's long and strong ties to Israel and his often hard-line positions on Israel's security concerns. Emanuel was also a member of Bill Clinton's staff during the Oslo Accords between Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, so he has intimate familiarity with the issues and personalities involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama clearly leans left and has a minimal track record in Middle East
affairs, it's simply too early to judge him. Remember, it's the official
policy of both the U.S. and Israeli governments to seek peace between
Israel and the Palestinians. Maybe Obama can do it---on terms acceptable
to both sides---even though that seems highly doubtful. (After all,
who would have predicted Nixon would establish rapprochement with China?)
As Zionists, it's our job to make sure the American (and world) public
gets a steady stream of facts about the existential threats to Israel
by militant Islam---and that our elected officials clearly understand
the many reasons to support Israel. Isseroff's analysis provides some
hope that our perspective will be represented in the new White House.
calm down: Obama's first appointment looks promising for Israel
Silly optimist that I am, I thought that with the end of the USA election campaign, the flood of silly season emails would dry up. It has not dried up. It has in fact, gotten sillier if anything.
Mr. Obama is not yet president. He has done nothing at all about the Middle East. There is no real evidence on which to base any opinion of his Middle East policies, and yet these "Zionists" are going full speed ahead, pillorying Obama and his administration as allies of the Hamas.
Over the past few days I am sorry to say that the level of accusations made against Barack Obama has deteriorated. I have gotten mail claiming that Obama uses hypnosis to convince people, and there is a "story" out there in "Zionist" publications claiming that Obama is the son of Malcolm X.
Barack Obama has announced one appointment. It was not Louis Farakhan or Robert Malley or Rashid Khalidi or Jesse Jackson. It was a Palestinian though, just as the doomsayers have been predicting. A Jewish Palestinian, though. He appointed Rahm Emanuel to be the White House Chief of Staff. This is not a policy position, but as the presidential gatekeeper Emanuel will have a certain amount of power. In some administrations, this post is more important than others. Emanuel's family has an interesting history. Their uncle, Emanuel Auerbach, was killed by Arabs in Jerusalem in 1933, and the family took the name "Emanuel" in his honor. Emanuel's father was a messenger for the [militant pro-Zionist Israeli] Irgun.
As can be expected, this was not pleasing to Electronic Intifada editor and supposed Obama friend Ali Abunimah. [FLAME editor's note: In last week's Hotline, we published a press release from the Zionist Organization of America, in which Obama's association with Ali Abunimah was held out as a concern.) Abunimah wrote:
That should be a satisfactory reference for Emanuel's credentials as a card-carrying member of the international Zionist conspiracy. It is not enough to satisfy some, as a scandalous report has been circulating with the crucially damning evidence that Rahm's brother Ari is an associate of [left-leaning filmmaker] Michael Moore. No doubt it will also be discovered that his third cousin twice removed had dinner with Cindy Sheehan in 1995, and that a relative in Israel got a draft deferment from the IDF. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Emanuel volunteered for the IDF during the Gulf War.
Barack Obama gave one other sign of which way the wind is going to blow, for what it is worth. During a press conference on Friday, he spoke mostly of domestic matters and the economy as might be expected, but when asked a question about Iran, he said:
"Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable and we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening,"
He also said Iran's support of terrorist organizations was "something that has to cease." These remarks were greeted with consternation in Iran, as we might expect. What a bummer for all the Ahmadinejad groupies!
These are favorable omens. Of course, those who have the best interests of Israel and the United States at heart should always be ready to provide constructive and credible policy input. They should also be prompt to protest policies that they consider to be unfair or unwise, but that criticism should be based on evidence, not frivolous gossip about Ari Emanuel's (brother of Rahm) clients.
The stream of anti-Obama invective is not based on any real evidence, and it is not about defending Israel or Zionism or Jews. It is a continuation of partisan election propaganda that is aimed at trying to falsely identifying Zionism with Republicanism and conservative extremism. That seems to me to be a big mistake.