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The Rahm Factor

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen at Z Word

The various attempts, as the Presidential campaign heated up, to depict Barack Obama as hostile to Israel had minimal impact on American Jews, 78 per cent of whom voted for him. Among young Jewish voters, as this informal AJC poll indicates, the percentage was even higher. Indeed, as we reported yesterday, wariness about an Obama administration is more pointed in the Arab and wider Islamic world. One reason why, today, all eyes are on Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has been appointed as Obama’s Chief-of-Staff.

Emanuel is Jewish. His Jerusalem-born father, as pointed out by Ha’aretz and a number of other outlets, served in the Irgun. Among the descriptions and anecdotes about Emanuel churning through the news cycle ("tough," "bad boy," "Washington insider," "master strategist," "inspiration for the Josh Lyman character in the ‘West Wing’"), what Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds calls his "strong links to Israel" would seem, at this moment in time, to be defining him.

Well, Israel is his middle name. For Martin Sieff, writing an informative profile on the Daily Beast, the selection of Rahm (named, apparently, for an Irgun comrade of his father’s called Rahamim) Israel Emanuel, "gives the lie to an endless wild myths that political enemies have tirelessly spread during the campaign that he was supposed to be a closest America-hater and no doubt anti-Semite because of his Kenyan background and boyhood in Indonesia."

Serious observers of the Middle East know that there are enduring aspects to the US-Israel relationship which tell us more about what lies ahead than any nasty political gossip about the ethnic origins of Administration appointees can hope to do. For Ali Abunimah, though, the Emanuel selection is cast-iron proof that Obama will not break with break with "the George W. Bush Administration’s pro-Israel policies."

Perspectives like these echo the basic thesis of Mearsheimer and Walt’s flawed book "The Israel Lobby" – that the disproportionate representation of pro-Israel individuals and groups in the upper echelons of US government determines why the US does what it does. And that, perhaps, is a more comforting explanation than the more obvious conclusion, namely that the basic values and strategic goals of the US and Israel spectacularly coincide.

In the more sinister corners of the internet, the fingers of the hardcore conspiracy theorists are already typing furiously. A new arrival to the blogosphere, as the New York Times observes today, is former Malaysian Prime Minister and dedicated antisemite, Mahathir Mohamed. Mahathir continues to fulminate against the Jewish conspiracy – in this post here, for example, he insists that "money has been funnelled to certain individuals and parties to ensure that a well-known candidate with extensive connection to the US Jewish lobby would somehow become the Prime Minister of Malaysia."

In his latest post, in which he congratulates Obama and then predicts his failure, he leaves the antisemitic ranting to his dedicated commenters. Among the pearls they offer are these: "we know that US is indirectly controlled by the jews (sic) and hence israel;" "resistance will come from his home grounds the rich and powerful jews who will try to dictate behind close doors;" "this man (meaning Obama) says to the Jewish American that Jerusalem is an undivided Israeli capital!" And so on, ad nauseam.

Doubtless, these fellows will have a field day with Rahm Emanuel. Doubtless, some of the columnists in the Arab press will join in. That much, we can predict.

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