There’s been a lot of speculation about the foreign-policy implications of Rep. Rahm Emanuel serving as Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, much of which, of course, is …speculation. Below are two of the less fevered and somewhat more reassuring analyses of Emanuel and his views on the Middle East — one by Jim Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the other by Lara Friedman, the policy and government relations director of Americans for Peace Now (APN). Both groups, of course, worked with the Clinton administration on the Oslo process and are strongly committed to a two-state solution, etc. (
(And, of course, both groups want to gain and maintain good access to the Obama White House.) I personally have little doubt that, in his gate-keeping function as chief of staff, Emanuel will, at least indirectly, exert some influence on Obama’s foreign-policy decisions, and I don’t believe he will be shy about expressing his own views to the president, particularly with respect to Israel and its security about which he clearly feels very strongly. But, as the APN file in particular suggests, those views may be considerably more nuanced than what has been suggested in the blogosphere.
In terms of indications of where Obama will take U.S. Middle East policy, I also believe that other appointments, notably in the National Security Council and at the State Department, will be much more revealing. If Richard Holbrooke or Dennis Ross gets a senior appointment — a notion strongly endorsed today by The New Republic’s Martin Peretz — prospects for major progress on the Israel-Palestinian front — or virtually anywhere else in the region, especially Iran — will be seriously diminished.
In any case, here are the two analyses:
AAI’s Zogby – “Lessons That Should Be Learned”
On November 5th, my office sent an email to tens of thousands of our members and contacts congratulating President-elect Barack Obama. In our message, we noted the historic transformation his victory represented and commended the thousands of Arab Americans who participated in this winning campaign.
The initial and near universal response was heartwarming, with many sharing moving anecdotes of their campaign experiences, their reactions to the victory, and their hopes for change.
One day and one announcement later, the tide turned.
With the naming of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, the euphoria of some, not all, turned to despair. The emails and calls to my office were both troubled and troubling because much of the reaction was based on misinformation and because of what the entire episode revealed about the larger political dynamics involved.
First, the facts.
Rahm Emanuel is a brilliant strategist and a practitioner of hard-ball politics who in campaigns, his time in the Clinton White House, and more recently in Congress has demonstrated that he knows how to get a job done. Because there will be critical legislation the President-elect will need to move through Congress, from an economic recovery package and health care reform to a comprehensive approach to alternative energy, Obama has tapped Emanuel for his proven political skills. It is that simple.
This, of course, was neither the content nor the concerns raised by the emails I received. Some charged that Emanuel was an Israeli citizen or a dual U.S.-Israeli national (he is neither, he was born in Chicago in 1959); or, they alleged that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and lost his finger confronting a Syrian tank during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (he did not serve in the IDF, and lost his finger in a freak accident while working as a teenager in an Arby’s restaurant). A few accused Emanuel of skipping U.S. military service to join the IDF in 1991 (also not true – in the midst of the 1991 Gulf War, while U.S. forces were manning Patriot missile batteries in Israel and the Arab Gulf, Emanuel volunteered for a few weeks, as a civilian, doing maintenance on Israeli vehicles). The most recent story alleges that Rahm Emanuel was fired from the White House in 1998 after being implicated by the FBI, together with Monica Lewinsky, in a Mossad plot to spy on then-President Clinton (a total fabrication, compliments of a shady character who claims to have been a U.S. intelligence official and is a purveyor of many bizarre tales).
That stories such as these have been circulating, and have taken hold, is as reprehensible as the “Barack Obama is a secret Muslim/Manchurian candidate” tale, or the anti-Arab anti-Muslim canards to which I and many of my colleagues have been subjected over the years.
Putting aside the fiction or, more accurately, the slanderous myths, the truth is that Emanuel is an effective leader in Congress. He is a strong supporter of Israel. But then, how many members of Congress are not?
Emanuel is Jewish and his father is an Israeli. Arab Americans should be especially sensitive to attacks on anyone based on religion or ethnicity. He has worked closely with and is liked by the Arab American Members of Congress from both parties, and he was the architect of the 1993 White House lawn signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords that brought Arab Americans and American Jews together. When, in 1994, Rahm accepted my invitation to a luncheon with Arab American community leaders, those who met him were impressed by his openness and honesty.
Beyond these facts, however, there are two concerns that must be addressed.
It is deeply troubling how quickly, for some, the excitement of Barack Obama’s victory was eclipsed by cynicism and suspicion, and how receptive some were to wild tales. This could only occur, on one level, because the victory itself was not understood. If it had been, the excitement would have been tempered by an appreciation of political realities.
Obama’s victory, no doubt, demonstrated that change is possible – but incremental change. Pressures remain, from the right and the left as well as the interest groups of all sorts that continue to have influence, limiting political options. The economy is in free-fall and, after eight years of Bush neglect and recklessness, dangers abound in the world. An Obama victory doesn’t alter those realities. And so our excitement was justified, but our euphoria should never have taken us so high as to lose our grounding and understanding of the limits of what is possible.
My concern is that, for some, the need for change became so great as to make them susceptible to wild swings – from unrealistic expectations to unwarranted despair and, therefore, to become prone to believe the worst.
But the fault here should be shared. I am concerned by the slowness of the Obama camp to respond more quickly or effectively to address the situation. Modern political operations have learned the need to confront false stories, to manage perception, and to anticipate problems — and, here, the Obama team had been especially masterful.
During the campaign, for example, they repeatedly demonstrated how tuned-in they were to public perception – and in particular to matters that might have created discomfort in the Jewish community. They knew that these stories needed to be shot down quickly. (American Muslims understood much of this, despite feeling slighted, at times.) But in this most recent instance, the Obama camp displayed both inattentiveness and tone-deafness to Arab misperceptions about who Rahm Emanuel is, and what role he will play. (Aside from the flap over the comments made by Rahm’s father, for which Rahm, himself, has now profoundly apologized.) As a result, the situation festered.
The campaign is now over, and the President-elect is playing on a world stage with more than one audience at stake. And in the Middle East, especially, sensitivities are as great and (perceived) sleights are felt as acutely as they are among any people in the world. With feelings having been rubbed raw by decades of U.S. policy miscues, with U.S. favorability ratings at all-time lows, and with extremists preying off resentment and fear – perceptions matter.
If we are to succeed in making changes in U.S.-Arab relations – and I believe that an Obama Administration can – greater attentiveness and sensitivity is in order.
Bottom line – there are lessons to learn and work to be done. Arabs and Arab Americans need to ground their expectations in political realities and be wary of slanderous attacks smacking of anti-Semitism, and U.S. political leadership must learn to be as attentive to Arab sensitivities as they are to the concerns of others.
APN’s Friedman — “Spotlight on Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL)”
In recent days, there has been a great deal of discussion in the Middle East policy and activist communities over the appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as President-elect Obama’s White House Chief of Staff. As many savvy observers have argued, this appointment has nothing to do with the foreign policy views of Congressman Emanuel, and everything to do with President-elect Obama’s apparent determination to move his agenda through Congress. Notwithstanding this observation, Emanuel’s appointment has generated controversy, fueled by those — on both the right and left — who are concerned about Emanuel’s views on Israel.
Apparently simply arguing that Emanuel’s views on Israel are irrelevant — that President-elect Obama would not appoint someone as his Chief of Staff unless he believed that person could be trusted to faithfully serve him and promote the President’s agenda, including in the foreign policy arena, and that the Chief of Staff does not in any case have a role in making foreign policy — will not put this controversy to rest. Likewise, it seems that there is no use in pointing out the absurdity of concluding from this one appointment that, after refusing to pander to pro-Likud forces during the election campaign (and paying a price for this refusal), President-elect Obama has decided only now that it is time to begin pandering.
With so many people determined to view Emanuel’s views on Israel as important, it seems to make sense to actually review Emanuel’s track record in Congress when it comes to Israel and Israel-related issues. This seemed like an especially useful exercise given that both those attacking Emanuel and those defending him apparently haven’t bothered to examine this record, preferring to restrict their arguments and counter-arguments to discussions of his lineage, speculations about his personal feelings, analysis of comments made by his relatives, and impressions of him related by friends and acquaintances. Any or all of which may be interesting. But given that Congressman Emanuel has been in elected office for 5 years, his record in Congress seems like a more serious place to look for real insight about his views.
So, for the benefit of anyone who is determined to take a position for or against the Emanuel appointment based on his views on Israel and the Middle East, what follows here is a quick summary of his record on these issues since he first came to Congress in January 2003. This record paints a consistent picture of a man who is clearly committed to Israel’s security and stability — as we, at Americans for Peace Now are — and who recognizes, as APN does, that peace — and U.S. engagement and leadership to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace — are vital to the national interests of both Israel and the United States.
Point 1: He has stayed off the really bad stuff
Members of Congress are constantly asked to sign letters and sponsor or cosponsor legislation related to Israel and the Middle East. Many of these initiatives are dubious in the extreme, representing efforts to get Members of Congress on the record support extreme positions that undermine any present or future peace efforts.
During his 5 years in Congress, Emanuel has not sponsored or co-sponsored any of the truly gratuitous, marginal, anti-peace legislation that is constantly popping up. In addition, a search of his statements in the Record, including during floor debates, shows that he has consistently taken a pragmatic, constructive line on Israeli-related issues. This includes some tough, and serious, statements with respect to Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Palestinian terrorism. This also includes consistent support for Israel and for Israel’s security — positions that APN and other pro-peace groups would generally share. While Emanuel has joined with the majority of his colleagues in signing on or voting for most of the major AIPAC-supported initiatives opposed by APN and other pro-peace groups (including, for example, the House version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act), he has not spoken out prominently in support of such measures or engaged in grandstanding during floor debate over them. This includes with respect to Jerusalem.
Point 2: He has supported a number of pro-peace initiatives
During his time in Congress, Emanuel has signed on to a number of pro-peace initiatives, including some where he was one of the only Jewish members to do so.
The Roadmap letter (May 2003)
In May 2003, Emanuel was one of 4 Jewish members of Congress to sign a Dear Colleague to President Bush in support of the President’s Road Map for Middle East peace. This letter was strongly supported by Americans for Peace Now and other pro-peace organizations. The bi-partisan letter was co-sponsored by Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), David Price (D-NC) and Amo Houghton (R-NY). It was signed by a total of 44 members of the House of Representatives. The other Jewish signers were Barney Frank (D-MA), Bob Filner (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The letter was especially significant because it came as a counterpoint to a letter (strongly supported by AIPAC, which Emanuel and many of the 44 also signed) circulated immediately after the publication of the Roadmap, which implied that Congress did not support the Roadmap.
Excerpt from the Capps-Issa-Price-Houghton letter:
“We applaud your recent release of the ‘Roadmap to Peace’ as well as your statements underscoring your personal commitment to ending the violence between the Palestinian and Israeli people. We join you in noting with satisfaction the appointment of a new Palestinian Prime Minister with real authority. We hope that this change in the Palestinian governance structure will enhance the ability of a new Palestinian leadership to deliver lasting reforms…Along with changes on the Palestinian side, we share your belief that the Roadmap must also be implemented by Israel, with the end goal, as you have stated many times, ‘two states living side-by-side’ in peace and security….”
Letter Supporting direct funding for the PA (July 2003)
In July 2003, Emanuel signed a letter to President Bush supporting the Road Map and the decision to provide $20 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The letter was co-sponsored by Lois Capps (D-CA), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and Howard Berman (D-CA), and strongly supported by APN and other pro-peace groups. It ultimately obtained 74 signers. The other Jewish members who signed on were: Ackerman (D-NY), Berman (D-CA), Waxman (D-CA), Harman (D-CA), Schiff (D-CA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Filner (D-CA), Davis (D-CA), and Sanders (I-VT).
Excerpt from the Capps-Ackerman-Berman letter:
“We write to express our support for the $20 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority proposed by the Administration. We believe this assistance will strengthen Prime Minister Abbas and, we hope, enhance his ability to both achieve an end to terror while providing the Palestinian people with tangible benefits that will demonstrate the value of embracing reform and unambiguously rejecting extremism. Hopefully, with this support, the Palestinian leadership will begin the important process of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, as called for in this stage of the roadmap. This assistance will also help the Palestinian people confront their pressing humanitarian needs…American assistance has long demonstrated its importance as a tool to advance our efforts to secure Middle East peace, combat terrorism, and promote U.S. interests in the region. Clearly, the Middle East peace process is now at an important crossroads. The decision to provide this direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority is an important signal of our continued national commitment to achieving peace with security. We stand ready to work with you to achieve our nation’s longstanding goal of finally bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Hyde-Capps Letter (December 2005)
In December 2005, Emanuel signed a letter to Secretary Rice supporting efforts to improve the situation on the ground in Gaza. The letter was co-sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Lois Capps (D-CA). This letter was strongly supported by APN and other pro-peace groups. It was eventually signed by 106 members, including 8 other Jewish members: Lantos (D-CA), Frank (D-MA), Schiff (D-CA), Harman (D-CA), Davis (D-CA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Israel (D-NY), and Filner (D-CA).
Excerpt from Hyde-Capps letter:
“We are writing to commend you for achieving an historic agreement between Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, and the Quartet on the Gaza border crossing. The successful opening of the Gaza crossing on November 25th is a vital step on the path toward Israeli security, economic stability and growth for the Palestinians, political stability in Gaza, and the achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace…Your role in the achievement of this accord, and the subsequent successful opening of the Gaza crossing point, clearly demonstrate the value of robust, hands-on U.S. diplomatic engagement with Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, more than three decades of Middle East peace efforts have shown that breakthroughs come only when the U.S. President or Secretary of State is personally involved. Your leadership helps reassure Israel and her people of the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s welfare and security, even as Israel takes risks for the sake of peace. At the same time, it helps deliver tangible improvements in the quality of life of the Palestinians — improvements that are fundamental to the efforts of President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to win the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people and counter the appeal of extremists. We thus hope that you will continue to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians a personal priority, including seeing through the implementation of this historic agreement.”
Geneva Resolution (November 2003)
In November 2003 Emanuel signed on as a cosponsor to H. Res. 462, “Supporting the vision of Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace, and for other purposes.” This resolution, introduced in support of the Geneva Initiative and other track II efforts to make progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, was supported strongly by APN and other pro-peace groups. Emanuel was one of only two Jewish members to cosponsor it; the other was Rep. Filner (D-CA).
H Res. 462:
Whereas ending the violence and terror that have devastated Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza since September 2000, is in the vital interest of Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States;
Whereas ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict strengthens extremists and opponents of peace throughout the region, including those who seek to undermine efforts by the United States to stabilize Iraq and those who wish to see conflict spread to other nations in the region;
Whereas more than 3 years of violence, terror, and escalating military conflict have demonstrated that military means alone will not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
Whereas obligations under the peace plan known as the `road map’ have not been met by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and no viable political alternatives have emerged;
Whereas despite mutual mistrust, anger, and pain, courageous and credible Israelis and Palestinians have come together in a private capacity to develop serious model peace initiatives, like the People’s Voice Initiative and the Geneva Initiative;
Whereas those initiatives and other similar private efforts are founded on the determination of Israelis and Palestinians to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict and to live in peaceful coexistence, mutual dignity, and security, based on a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace;
Whereas those initiatives demonstrate that both Israelis and Palestinians want to end the current vicious stalemate, and that both peoples are prepared to make compromises in order to achieve peace;
Whereas the Geneva Initiative offers a detailed framework that addresses the fundamental requirements of both peoples, including preservation of the Jewish, democratic nature of Israel with secure and defensible borders, and the creation of a viable Palestinian state; and
Whereas such peace initiatives present precious opportunities to end the violence and restart fruitful peace negotiations:
Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives– (1) applauds the courage and vision of Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace; (2) calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunities offered by these peace initiatives; and (3) urges the President to embrace and encourage all serious efforts to move away from violent military stalemate toward achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Point 3: He has been explicit about his support for the two-state solution, and his view that the U.S. should play a leadership role
Jerusalem Resolution (June 2007)
On June 5, 2007, Emanuel spoke on the House floor in the context of consideration of H. Con. Res. 152, a resolution marking the 40th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem. Rather than speaking in worn-out platitudes that implicitly or explicitly reject any Israeli negotiations over Jerusalem, he offered a very personal account of his connection to Israel and his own feelings about the 1967 war, including a discussion of how that war opened the door for land-for-peace, and the importance of U.S. leadership in seeking and making peace in the Middle East.
Excerpt from Emanuel floor statement, June 05, 2007:
“…In fact, one has to look at the 1967 war, that it created possibilities, as did the 1973 war, for peace to occur, and every nation that has decided to make peace with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, has had peace. The war in 1967, because of the changes to the boundaries to the south, to the immediate east and to the north, redefined Israel’s security. Once those nations came to terms with Israel’s status, which is what the 1967 war accomplished, they accomplished and received peace, and land-for-peace has been at the premise of America’s foreign policy, Israel’s foreign policy, and was possible because of the outcome and the results strategically on the ground and in the environment because of 1967. People remember the military accomplishment which was unique and stands out in the 20th century, but it also created an environment that allowed peace to happen, at least with the two countries that have chosen the road of peace with Israel. …The next 40 years needs to be a period of time where America, and this may be a little bit of a criticism here, we were always and always will be the indispensable leader in that region. The moment we walk away from that role the parties lose interest in discussing among themselves. I would hope that immediately the President would again…nominate somebody to be a Middle East envoy, to again create a dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, to find what the Jordanians and Egyptians have found with the Israelis, peace, based on the premise of land for peace… Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment our two leaders today, the chairman and the leader on the Republican side, for this resolution, for recognizing an historic moment that in fact without which we would not see the peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt…”
Rabin Resolution 12/8/05
On December 8, 2005, Emanuel made a powerful statement on the House floor in the context of House consideration of a resolution honoring the life, legacy, and example of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, on the 10th anniversary of his death. Emanuel also co-sponsored the resolution (which was strongly supported by APN and other pro-peace organizations). In his statement Emanuel noted with pride his involvement in the Olso Accords. Emanuel was one of 44 members who cosponsored this resolution.
Excerpt from his 12/8/05 floor statement:
“I rise today in strong support of H. Res. 535, a resolution honoring the memory of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the tenth anniversary of his assassination. Prime Minister Rabin served the people of Israel for two terms as Prime Minister, as well as previous roles as Ambassador to the United States, Minister of Defense and Member of the Knesset. Among his many accomplishments, it is his role as a visionary peacemaker which has ensured him a place of honor in history…During his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr. Rabin made remarkable progress in the Middle East peace movement. Teaming with former rival Shimon Peres, Mr. Rabin entered peace negotiations with then-Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in 1993 in Oslo, Norway. Prime Minister Rabin, Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat all received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. As a member of the Clinton Administration, I had the pleasure of witnessing the signing of these historical accords on the White House lawn. Meeting Prime Minister Rabin was an honor I will never forget, and his example continues to inspire me to this day. Prime Minister Rabin was revered by the Israeli citizens for his unwavering commitment to the peace process. Tragically, the life of this man of peace was cut short by an extremist gunman on November 4, 1995. I would like to express my condolences to the family of Prime Minister Rabin on the tenth anniversary of his death…”