* Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel is seen as consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Palestinian circles can only have been disappointed by the first appointment made by President-elect Barack Obama, because his hand-picked chief of staff, Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel, who once served in the Israeli army, is a strong supporter of Israel, right or wrong.
His father, Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician, helped smuggle weapons to Irgun, the Zionist militia of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, in the 1940s. Irgun carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians including the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in 1946. The son continued his father’s tradition of active support for Israel. During the 1991 Gulf War, he volunteered to help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon border when southern Lebanon was still occupied by Israeli forces. As White House political director in the first Clinton administration, Emanuel orchestrated the 1993 signing ceremony of the “Declaration of Principles” between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Emanuel was elected to Congress representing a north Chicago district in 2002.
Pro-Israel hardliner: According to one observer, Emanuel accompanied Obama to a meeting of American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)’s executive board just after the Illinois senator had addressed the pro-Israel lobby’s conference last June.
In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes even more than President Bush.
In June 2003, he signed a letter criticising Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel.
In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who called for the cancellation of a speech to Congress by visiting Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki because al-Maliki had criticised Israel’s bombing of Lebanon.
Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments “totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies” in a 19 July 2006 speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel’s bombing of both countries that caused thousands of civilian victims.
According to analyst Ali Abunimah, Emanuel has sometimes posed as a defender of Palestinian lives, though never from the constant Israeli violence that is responsible for the vast majority of deaths and injuries. Emanuel has never said anything in support of millions of Palestinian children whose education has been disrupted by Israeli occupation, closures and blockades. He has also used his position to explicitly push Israel’s interests in normalising relations with Arab states and isolating Hamas.
In 2006 he initiated a letter to President Bush opposing United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World’s attempt to buy the management business of six US seaports.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Fox News that picking Emanuel is “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 US-Israel relationship ... that was never true.” Over the course of the campaign, Obama publicly distanced himself from friends and advisers suspected or accused of having “pro-Palestinian” sympathies.
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