January 25, 2009

Rahm Emmanuel: More Interesting Than You Think

This was supposed to be a post on healthcare reform. Boy, did I get side tracked when I started researching an expert whose opinions I planned to discuss. The expert is Ezekiel Emmanuel, the brother of the new White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

There is plenty of interest here. First of all, the Emmanuel brothers--there are three of them--are each interesting in their own right:
  • Rahm, the middle son and Obama's Chief of Staff, was once a ballet prodigy who was offered a scholarship with the Joffrey ballet. Political activism led to his early career as a political fundraiser whiz kid. His later position in the Clinton White House inspired the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing. (1)

  • The youngest, Ariel, a former professional racquetball player, is the founder of Hollywood's Endeavor Agency and represents prominent personalities, such as Martin Scorsese, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Moore, Jude Law, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg.
The brothers are very close, usually in daily contact. And all three have strong personalities. They are not shy about confrontation and controversy. Rahm, for example, spoke with Tony Blair in the Oval Office just prior to a joint appearance with Pres. Clinton: "This is important," Emanuel said, "Don't f--- it up." (1)


But this is where it gets really interesting. Close followers of the recent Presidential campaign will remember that Obama struggled to win Jewish voters. Many suspected--and some vehemently claimed--that he would not support Israel. But Obama's new Chief of Staff is Jewish--and not just any old liberal Jewish guy. Like Obama, he is the son of an immigrant. His father, Dr. Benjamin M. Emanuel, was born in Israel.

Dr. Emanuel was, according to Wikipedia, militantly active in a Zionist paramilitary organization. (2) A Google search quickly produces pages that refer to Dr. Emanuel as a "terrorist" and a "racist." But the subject of Israel has become more heated and polarizing than an abortion rights debate, and sometimes it's hard to sort out the facts.

This much is clear: the Emanuel family will be a pro-Israel influence on the White House. According to ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper in his blog, Political Punch:

Israeli newspapers are already rejoicing about President-elect Obama's selection of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., to be his White House chief of staff.
Tapper quotes the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:
Emanuel "is the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician who was a member of the Irgun (Etzel or IZL), a militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1948." (3)
There's plenty of controversy, and I find it a bit curious that the mainstream media hasn't picked up on this.
"There could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy," said Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifadah on Democracy Now. (3)


I can't wrap my mind around the socio-political implications of Barack Obama's election and his subsequent appointments. What strikes me most is how stunningly wrong his opponents have been about him. Both he and his Chief of Staff are complex and deeply interesting personalities. President Obama, certainly, is not easily pigeon holed. The first few days of Obama's administration have been exhilirating, and it's going to be fascinating to watch events unfold in the weeks and months to come. Some will question whether Obama's supporters have also been wrong about him. Some probably have been.

  1. Washington Post, Fighting for The Spoils, October 2006.
  2. Wikipedia, Ari Emanuel.
  3. Political Punch, Will the Arab World Take Issue with Rahm's Israeli Roots . . . ., November 2008.
  4. New York Times, The Brothers Emanuel, January 25, 2009.

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