It’s Time for President Elect Obama to Speak on Behalf of American Arabs and Muslims

Sheila Musaji

Posted Nov 11, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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It’s Time for President Elect Obama to Speak on Behalf of American Arabs and Muslims

by Sheila Musaji

When President Elect Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff, there was some concern in the American Arab and Muslim communities.  The concern was due to the fact that Emmanuel was seen as so hard line pro-Israel that he would not even consider the Palestinian position.  His family biography, particularly his father’s affiliation with the Irgun, and the fact that Rahm Emmanuel himself served in the Israeli Army and holds dual citizenship simply added to the doubts about his neutrality.  This appointment was also of concern to Muslims and Arabs in other countries.

According to Scott MacLeod in Time:  “Benjamin Emanuel, now an Illinois resident, is reported to have been a member of a Jewish nationalist “terrorist” organization, Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL). According to a 1997 NY Times profile of Rahm and two equally successful brothers, the Emanuel family name was originally Auerbach, but it was changed in a tribute to an uncle Emanuel Auerbach who was killed in a “skirmish with Arabs” in Jerusalem around 1933. The Times article said only that Benjamin “passed secret codes” for the Irgun. Benjamin told Ha’aretz that his son was named after “Rahamim,” who the paper identified as a slain combatant belonging to Lohamei Herut Israel (LHI). Also known as the Stern Gang, LHI was an Irgun splinter group that carried out political assassinations in the name of Jewish nationalism, including those of the Swedish U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte and British diplomat Lord Moyne.” 

It was not only Muslims and Arabs who were concerned about Rahm Emanuel’s appointment.  Rabbi Michael Lerner said that he was shocked and disappointed by the appointment.  Rabbi Lerner further said:

“Rahm Emanuel has a long history of militarist ideology behind him. His father was a member of the ultra-right-wing terrorist organization Etzel that killed British civilians as part of their anti-British struggle in Palestine in the 1940s. Emanuel, himself a citizen of Israel as well as the United States, has been one of several Congressional leaders enforcing the “Israel Lobby” concensus on the Democrats, in the process shutting out the peace voices that believe Israel’s security would be better served by the U.S. putting pressure on Israel to end the Occupation, move the Wall to inside the pre-67 boundaries, and remove the settlers from the West Bank or tell them to live there as Palestinian citizens.

It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left-so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.

When these issues were avoided by Obama during the campaign, most of us spiritual progressives told ourselves, “He’s just being political, but once elected he’ll reveal himself committed to the values that he whispered into our ears privately over the course of the past many years.” The Rahm Emanuel selection is an early warning that the peace and justice agenda dropped by Obama after he won the Democratic nomination may be permanently on hold, and the progressives themselves may have to settle for “access” and flowery words at an inauguration address rather than the substance of change. For many of us, just the fact of having a brilliant young black man in the White House will be such a healing experience that we won’t care about this newly emerging reality: unless Obama creates some other path to access and to public input into his policies by those of us who helped build his electoral success, or unless we organize to do so outside the framework of his campaign organization, we may be in for lots of disappointments. “

Claude Salhani of the Middle East Times, in an article about the appointment of Rahm Emanuel by President Elect Obama, asked Arabs and Muslims to “take a deep breath and give the next American president and his team the benefit of the doubt.”  And this attitude of giving Obama the benefit of the doubt and hoping that this appointment only showed that Obama would appoint a team with widely differing political opinions in order to initiate change was the general opinion.

And then it was reported that Benjamin Emanuel, father of Rahm Emanuel had told the Israeli Ma’ariv daily: “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.”

This is a serious matter, and it is time for President Elect Obama to speak out against Muslim and Arab bashing.  If this statement goes without being repudiated by President Elect Obama as well as by Rahm Emanuel, then it will become very difficult to believe that anything has really changed for Arabs and Muslims. 

If this goes unanswered does that mean that General Abizaid, Senator Sununu, Rep. Ellison, Rep. Issa, Rep. Carson, Senator Mitchell, or Ralph Nader are going to be cleaning the floors of the White House?

The American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Committee (ADC) wrote a letter to Congressman Emanuel and President-Elect Barack Obama asking the congressman to publicly repudiate the derogatory comments his father made.

Dear Congressman Emmanuel:

I am writing to you on behalf of the largest American‐Arab Civil Rights group in the United States, with members in every State of the Union, founded in 1980. We work in coalition with all civil rights organizations.

This has been an historic election, one which energized our Country and gave many people the reason to vote for change. I know the Arab‐American community was very involved in this presidential election, and voter turnout in the community was exceptionally high. We wish to congratulate you on being named, by President‐Elect Obama, White House Chief of Staff. We were, however, deeply disappointed by comments made by your father, Mr. Benjamin Emmanuel, on the momentous occasion of your announcement as Chief of Staff. According to numerous news stories in the U.S. and in Israel, he made the following comments in an interview with Ma’ariv, “Obviously he’ll influence the President to be pro‐Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House.”

The American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Committee (ADC) views this characterization of an Arab as an unacceptable smear. One can readily imagine the justifiable outcry if someone made a similar remark about African‐Americans, Jews, or Hispanics, concerning cleaning the floors of the White House. Do the normal standards of decency and civility not apply when talking about Arabs? ADC asks you to disavow and repudiate these remarks publicly. We sincerely hope you will distance yourself from any demeaning characterization of any ethnic, religious, or racial group. President‐Elect Obama pledged a respect for the diversity of this Nation, and Arab Americans certainly add, in a positive way, to our Country’s diversity.

Signed by Hon. Mary Rose Oaker and Kareem Shora JD. LLM.

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urges you to take immediate action by using the contact info below to express your disappointment to President-Elect Obama and Congressman Rahm Emanuel for the detestable anti-Arab remarks Emmanuel’s father made this past week.

There should be no place for such demeaning rhetoric and these comments are contrary to the very type change the President-Elect promised he would bring to America. 

Contact President-Elect Obama by fax at 202.228.5417 or through this online contact form at .

Contact Congressman Emanuel by fax at 202.225.5603 or via E-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)