How do Arabs view Barack Obama’s choice for chief of staff
Written by www.daily.pk Friday, 07 November 2008 18:30
"There could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy..."
A day after his historic election to become the first Black U.S. President, Barack Obama appointed Jewish congressman Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, a move that raised concerns in the Arab world but strongly lauded in Israel.
Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who has already accepted Obamas’ offer, headed Bill Clinton's finance committee during the Arkansas governor's first presidential run, but he left to be a civilian volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Gulf War.
According to an article, Obama's appointment of Emanuel could be an early signal to the Middle East and the world that he intends to follow through on his promises to uphold the U.S.-Israeli alliance in his administration.
"It's just another indication that despite the attempts to imply that Obama would somehow appoint the wrong person or listen to the wrong people when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship ... that was never true," said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Forman added that Emanuel’s appointment also helps build confidence that the United States will be vigilant in responding to any possible threats to Israel.
"Rahm has certainly never been accused of being too naive or not decisive in his analysis of these types of issues," Forman said.
Leading Israeli newspapers also lauded Emanuel’s appointment, with one daily calling him "our man in the White House."
Some commentators argue that Emanuel’s appointment could combat the allegations that surfaced during Obama’s campaign that the future president is being conciliatory toward Iran and toward Palestinians.
Emanuel has always indicated consistent support for Israel. While he has expressed empathy for Palestinians, the Democrat of Israeli descent has explicitly condemned their leaders.
The Web site for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was filled with articles on what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel. The top story, on Emanuel, noted his deep Jewish roots.
Emanuel "is the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician who was a member of the Irgun (Etzel or IZL), a militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1948,” Haaretz said.
It’s worth mentioning that Irgun carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians, including the bombing of the King David Hotel. Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, told Ha’aretz that his son was named after a fallen combatant named Rahamim.
In the Israel newspaper Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father asaid: "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."
- “Provocative appointment”
Even though the Arab world rejoiced at Obama’s victory, it seems that Emanuel’s appointment reinforces perceptions in the Arab world that Obama’s presidency wouldn’t change the U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East.
Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifadah seems upset at Obama's selection of a "pro-Israel hardliner."
"There could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy," Abunimah said on Democracy Now.
Abunimah pointed out that Emanuel's middle name is "Israel," and described Emanuel's father as "a gun runner for the Irgun… Of course, Rahm Emanuel himself is not responsible for any of that, but his record is sometimes far to the right of President Bush when it comes to supporting Israel."
Many Arab commentators have already mentioned the influence of Israel’s supporters in Washington and the possibility that they will restrict Obama’s freedom of movement in Middle East policy.
Only in Israel did politicians see continuity between the policies of the Bush administration and those of Obama. “We have no doubt that the special relationship between Israel and the United States will continue and will be strengthened during the Obama administration,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S. pro-Israel policy would change or not. What’s clear is that Obama is facing the challenge of repairing relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds without losing the U.S.’s strongest ally.