Monday, November 17, 2008

Is Rahm Emmanuel really a dual American and Israeli citizen?

Text of an email received from James Zogby,founder and president,of The Arab American Institute.

Date: Mon, 17 Nov 2008 16:21:42 -0500
To: Bronwin Peel"
From: "James Zogby"
Subject: Washington Watch: Lessons That Should Be Learned
Washington Watch

November 17, 2008

Lessons That Should Be Learned

by Dr. James J. Zogby (c)

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.

Washington Watch is a weekly column written by AAI President James Zogby. The views expressed within this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Arab American Institute. We invite you to share your views on the topics addressed within Dr. Zogby's weekly Washington Watch by emailing

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dear Readers:
Three months ago I had major surgery, a total knee replacement, and have just now returned to my BLOG. My apologies for my absence. I'm feeling much better though have not fully regained my stamina.

What an exciting week we've just lived through. I thought you might enjoy the following communiation I've had with a friend of mine from England regarding Obama's election.


I wrote my friend that this week because of this presidential election I have felt prouder of being an American than I can ever remember feeling. Following is her reply:

> Dearest Bronwin,
> And you should feel proud - it is absolutely
> fantastic and brought tears to
> my eyes all day yesterday.
> I was working at home so had the TV on in the
> background - everyone in the
> UK is absolutely thrilled.
> One of the things that touched me most was seeing
> people queuing up to vote
> with pictures of their dead relatives (Mothers,
> Fathers), in order to take
> them to vote on this historic day.
> America has not had good press in the last few
> years, but it must be a truly
> great country to have achieved this. I read somewhere
> that in a generation
> its changed - in Virginia when Obama was little it
> was illegal for his parents
> of mixed race to marry - to being the President of
> the USA. That is
> something. You should rightly be proud.
> I was up and up all day yesterday and footage on the
> telly showed that
> everyone was so happy in the States and almost a
> wave of euphoria. We stayed up
> till about 11.45 pm on Tuesday night, but results
> not really in here till
> early Wednesday morning.
> What's the reaction in your neighbourhood?
> Anyway, will stay in touch
> All my love
> Kathy xx

I'm isolated on a fifty acre horse farm so don't know
my neighbors. At the Senior Center I have made friends
with a couple from Ramallah. They are thrilled. My
housemate voted for Obama, but the only emotion he
ever shows is anger, so I don't know how he feels. I
belong to the Arab American Institute and worked with
them to encourage people to vote. I was invited to a
big victory party held at a local Hilton hotel but I
still lack stamina because of the knee surgery so I
didn't go. It was held late.

My first cousin back in Alabama told me months ago
that she didn't trust Obama. I know it is because of
the color of his skin. She has two biracial great
grandchildren and she told her granddaughter, the
mother, that she must never return to that town with
"those children".

I loved my father but he was a rabid racist,
absolutely hated blacks for no cause. One of his
grandmothers grew up on a 3,000 acre plantation in
Alabama where the family owned many slaves. I never knew that
until about five years ago.

I can remember as a child in Alabama walking on a
sidewalk toward a black man. When he saw me he
immediately stepped off the sidewalk and bowed his
head until I had passed. Behavior like that was
typical then. To save their hides blacks always
groveled before whites. Even as a child it made me
very uncomfortable. Once when a car of blacks passed
us on the road the black children and I waved at each
other. My father became livid and told me if he ever
saw me wave at a black again he would beat me until I
couldn't sit for a week. Actually he used the "N" word.

When Sami and I married my father flew home from
California where he lived to hire an attorney to annul
the marriage. The law in Alabama at that time forbade
whites from marrying Asians as well as blacks. The
attorney talked him out of it.

What has occurred encourages me about the Israeli
Palestinian issue. There are now more Arabs in the US
than Jews. The young ones are organizing. If the
blacks achieved this, the Palestinians can turn things
around also.

Stay in touch.


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