By Rannie Amiri
"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." – Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, father of Rahm Emanuel, predicting his son’s impact in an Obama administration (Ma’ariv, 6 Nov. 2008).
History will record the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign to have been one in which American Arabs and Muslims were politically marginalized, ostracized and disparaged like no time before. Contrary to initial expectations, those bruised sensibilities are unlikely to find in President-elect Barack Obama the salve so desperately needed.
The first hint of future disappointment came with the realization that although his background and upbringing inspired malicious rumors and innuendos, he did little if anything to rebuke their bigoted nature. After winning the presidency, the decision to employ the services of the Israel-firsters was a tell-tale sign the wounds will be left to fester.
The whispering campaign against Obama was first started by Sen. Hillary Clinton and continued thereafter by a consortium of Republican operatives, all directly or indirectly impugning Obama was a closet Muslim—shamelessly using the term in the pejorative—and ergo, dangerous. In September, a shadowy ‘nonprofit’ organization called The Clarion Fund (subsequently discovered to be synonymous with the fundamentalist Israeli group Aish HaTorah or “Fire of the Torah”) distributed the anti-Muslim DVD “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” to 28 million households. It was a transparent attempt to bolster Sen. John McCain’s chances in battleground states using fear-mongering tactics.
Remarkably, Obama reinforced the same Islamophobia. His staff prohibited two women wearing the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, from sitting behind him in full view of the cameras at a Detroit rally. He described the mischaracterization of him as a Muslim as a “smear.” He also forsook campaigning with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), America’s first Muslim congressmen (and certainly not because he is African-American).
To help repair the damage, Mazen Asbahi, a Chicago corporate lawyer, was appointed as Muslim outreach coordinator. He was quickly forced to resign on flimsy links to extremist groups promulgated by right-wing bloggers and picked up by the Wall Street Journal. Just recently, Obama disowned his friend Dr. Rashid Khalidi, renowned, distinguished professor and Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies at Columbia University, after vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin labeled him an “extremist” and John McCain called him a “neo-Nazi.”
Despite all this, American Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Obama. A poll of 600 Muslims in 10 states conducted by the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections revealed 95% of those polled voted—the highest percentage turnout ever recorded for a single group in a U.S. election. Of those, eight-nine percent voted for Obama, nearly matching the record 93% of African-Americans who did so.
As the punching bag throughout the campaign season, American Arabs and Muslims relegated to pre-election “necessity” all that had occurred. It was said that the vice presidential selection of Sen. Joseph Biden, who once famously proclaimed “I am a Zionist,” was made only to placate the Israeli lobby when Hillary Clinton failed to garner the nomination. Once he finally became president though, Obama would remember his roots, his friends, and take a principled stand on civil liberties while ushering in a new era of American foreign policy.
After Nov. 4, they were still found scratching their heads.
In his first executive appointment as president-elect, Obama chose Chicago congressmen Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. In case there was any question as to who claimed him as one of their own, the headline in the Israeli paper Haaretz (6 Nov. 2008) said it all:
Obama’s first pick: Israeli Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff.
The vulgar and boorish Rahm is son of Benjamin Emanuel, former arms smuggler to Irgun, a pre-Israel terrorist group which carried out numerous attacks on Palestinian civilians in addition to the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. His statement to Ma’ariv above remains consistent with Zionism’s historically racist overtones.
As many have since come to learn, Rahm Emanuel left the U.S. during the 1991 Gulf War for Israel. There he became a civilian volunteer responsible for servicing military vehicles near occupied southern Lebanon. As chronicled by Ali Abunimah in the Electronic Intifada, Emanuel has a track record on Israel well to the right of George Bush. This includes signing a 2003 letter justifying Israel’s policy of political assassinations and amazingly criticizing Bush for not supporting Israel enough. After throwing his weight behind a resolution backing the country’s vicious bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Rahm called on his own government to cancel a planned speech to Congress by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki because he had condemned Israel’s actions.
There are conflicting reports as to whether Emanuel is a dual American-Israeli citizen (Haaretz evidently thinks so). That, however, is far less important than Emanuel’s dual loyalty. As one of the most powerful positions in the executive branch of government, the chief of staff has the ability to control access to the Oval Office and play a key advisory role on policy matters. Emanuel has already demonstrated he places Israel’s interests on par or above that of the U.S., as he did in opposition to the proposed 2006 Dubai Ports deal, claiming it could harm Israel.
Emanuel will not be the only one in an Obama administration exhibiting dual loyalties.
Another is likely to be Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and negotiator under President Clinton. Since then, he has been a fellow at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy and chairman of the Jerusalem-based think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
It was Ross, acting as ostensible honest broker at the December 2000 Camp David Summit, who placed the blame for its failure on the Palestinians. He conveniently neglected to mention that Israel’s desired annexation of large swathes of the West Bank thereby slicing it into isolated cantons, and maintaining complete control over all of Jerusalem, including Muslim holy sites, were the deal breakers.
Ross was also one of the authors of Obama’s fawning June speech to AIPAC in which Jerusalem (unsurprisingly) was once again promised to Israel. Many suspect Ross aspires to take charge of the Iran portfolio at the State Department under President Obama.
Of less than stellar repute is Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general under President Clinton and current Obama legal advisor. His name is being floated as a candidate for attorney general. Holder was instrumental in orchestrating the pardon of Marc Rich in the waning hours of the Clinton presidency. Rich, indicated on charges of tax evasion and cutting oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis, was once on the U.S. 10 Most Wanted list. He was also financier of several projects in Israel, which caused then Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert to remark, “Israel owes him.” It remains to be seen whether Holder’s role in the payback will preclude him from becoming attorney general.
Hillary Clinton? Joe Lieberman?
Based on the latest reports, it appears that Hillary Clinton has been offered the position of secretary of state. It also seems that Sen. Joseph Lieberman, at Obama’s behest, will be allowed to remain within the Democratic caucus and maintain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. Their reputation as hawks on Middle Eastern affairs needs little elaboration.
Neither president nor country can be well served when those with dual loyalties are given positions of authority in the executive branch or cabinet. There were higher expectations for Obama, with many believing the new direction he pledged to take the nation and world would not be abandoned for political expediency.
Alas, Arabs and Muslims under Obama’s spell have finally come to their senses. After excusing his behavior for far too long, bringing Biden, “Rhambo” and Hillary on board has confirmed their worst fears about the president-elect: ‘change’ will not be coming their way and Middle East policy will remain decidedly unbalanced.
The audacity of hope, indeed.
-Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.