Emanuel Apologizes to Arab-Americans; Israel Blocks Food, Fuel for Gaza

Prospective White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called Rose Oakar, the executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, to apologize for remarks of his father, Benjamin Emanuel. The elder Emanuel had replied to Maariv when asked whether his son would influence Obama to be pro-Israel, ““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 wording, which implied that Arabs are unfit for anything but menial work, provoked protests from Arab-Americans and from the Middle East.

According to ADC, Rahm said, ‘ “From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.” During the phone call, Emanuel added, it is unacceptable to make remarks such as these against any ethnic or religious group.’

That was big of him and Emanuel is to be congratulated reaching out to calm troubled waters.

ADC’s Oakar had written Rahm Emanuel on November 11,

‘ Dear Congressman Emanuel:

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 Emanuel, 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 pr-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.

Hon. Mary Rose Oakar, ADC President
Kareem Shora, JD. LLM., National Executive Director

Cc: President-Elect Barack Obama ‘

Note that “Arab” is an ethnic and linguistic term,and that there are lots of Christian Arabs (indeed, before 1948 it was common to talk about “Arab Jews” in Middle Eastern countries such as Yemen and Morocco).

I urge everyone who cares about civil liberties in the United States to join or support the ADC. It is a way of denying the ugly racism that has beset the country for the past 7 years.

John Aloysius Farrell at US News is more worried about the influence than the slur, saying,

‘But it is one thing for you and me and Rahm’s dad to tilt for Ireland or Israel over the Brits or Saudis. And quite another thing for the White House chief of staff to do so.

Steering America’s relationship with the world’s billion Muslims will be one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the new administration. At the very least, that relationship is now more complicated.

Not a good start, at all. Let’s hope the senior Mr. Emanuel was wrong, on all counts.’

Good for Farrell!

Now that the Democrats are reconsidering their relationship with Joe Lieberman, it should be remembered that he led the charge against Howard Dean for calling for a more even-handed US approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Farrell and Dean have it right, Lieberman has it wrong.

More important than a racial slur is the dire situation in the Occupied Territories and headlines like this:

“Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed on Israel.”

Oops, you mean it is not a headline in the U.S.? How odd? Why is that?

The Israeli military has the right to defend their country from attacks originating in Gaza. It does not have the right to half-starve civilians in a territory that is still under its occupation authority. And, people who are not being half-starved and brutalized might be a little less likely to fire rockets.

Things did not get better on Saturday, as Gazans were turned away from UN food distribution centers, because the Israelis won’t let the food in to be distributed.

That is sick.

When a government bars journalists from a territory it occupies, it is probably because there is something going on there they don’t want the world to know about.

Then you have this sort of situation in the West Bank.

It will take more than an apology to convince the Muslim world that Washington has changed and does not support war crimes such as this one pursued by Israel.

Update: Phil Weiss interviews Harvard Political Scientist Stephen Walt by email, who says, “It comes down to a simple question: do Obama, Emanuel, and whoever else they appoint realize that being “pro-Israel” today means openly opposing the occupation and using American influence (and leverage) to reverse (not just halt) the settlement project and bring about a viable Palestinian state? “

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