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The furor over the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff has, for many, cast a pall over the Obama Presidency before it has begun.

I argued in this blog several days ago that there are real concerns that Emanuel could be an Israeli agent. In that case, Obama has just appointed a foreign spy as his Chief of Staff; at the very least, it’s clear he’s appointed an utterly biased pro-Israeli partisan. Either way, Emanuel’s appointment as Obama’s Chief of Staff should be unacceptable to the great majority of Americans.

The appointment should be reversed, without delay.

This issue has provoked quite a lot of debate around the world – although you wouldn’t guess that, of course, from coverage by the mainstream western media. But this is 2008. It’s not 1992 or 2000. A LOT more people now are aware of the extent of Israeli influence on the American body politic (and on other the political process in other western countries, from Canada to Australia). More and more people are getting the word out and demanding real change on THIS specific front – not just a wink and a brush off.

I was disappointed, although not really surprised, to see James Zogby, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute, springing so quickly and uncritically to Emanuel’s defense.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Zogby’s apologia reads as though it was drafted by one of Emanuel’s staff. Would it be uncharitable to speculate whether Zogby is vying for a cleaning contract at the White House?

Dr James ZogbyMr Zogby is entitled to be impressed by Emanuel’s alleged skills, to say “so what?” to the proposition that Emanuel has an extreme pro-Zionist bias, to downplay Emanuel’s past involvement with Israel and excuse Emanuel Senior’s terrorist background and grotesque remarks.

But is such an apologist for Israeli interests an appropriate spokesperson for Arab interests in the USA?

Yes, I know. It’s easy to criticize from afar. Life for Arab Americans is not easy. The tragic terrorist slaying of Alex Odeh is testimony to that. Then came 9-11…

But unless interest groups most directly affected by arrogant Zionist power are at least willing to identify the problem and speak up for their own interests, their position will inevitably continue to deteriorate.

Remi Kanazi hit the nail on the head in the Electronic Intifada:

“Zogby chastises Arab Americans for … the notion that Emanuel is an Israeli spy, which should make them “wary of the slanderous attacks smacking of anti-Semitism.” It is legitimate to debunk falsehoods, and it is right to hold any community to a proper standard, but to infer that Arab Americans should tread lightly or risk being consumed by anti-Semitism is an irresponsible way for an Arab American leader to silence dissent. There are a great many educated Arab Americans who are concerned about Emanuel’s record, and the notion that if one believes Emanuel served in the Israeli army, one is an anti-Semite, is ridiculous. The falsehoods about Emanuel should be rejected, but they have absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism and to suggest otherwise is shameful.

Zogby then swerves in a bizarre direction by praising Emanuel’s involvement in the Oslo Accords in the mid-’90s. Emanuel coordinated the shaking of hands between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. The Oslo Accords (which Zogby endorsed) were a complete failure. During the Oslo years, illegal Israeli settlements doubled and the policy that emanated from the accords helped destroy the Palestinian economy. It is the equivalent of proclaiming that Emanuel was the ribbon cutter, unveiling the “bridge to nowhere.”

Compounding his carelessness, Zogby incorrectly equates right-wing allegations that “Barack Obama is a Muslim” with rumors that Emanuel served in the Israeli army. It is notable that in 2006, when MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell referred to Rahm Emanuel as someone who served in the Israeli army in an interview, Emanuel did not dispute the claim (if it was such a slanderous attack, one would think Emanuel, the “practitioner of hard-ball politics,” would have spoken up). Making his frustration crystal clear, Zogby asserts, “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.”

What Zogby fails to mention is the fact that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, yet there is something fundamentally wrong with the Israeli army illegally occupying 3.8 million Palestinian people, subjugating them to incessant collective punishment and cordoning the people of Gaza into an open-air prison.

Also in the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah writes

In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. “We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror,” Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense” (“Pelosi supports Israel’s attacks on Hamas group,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 2003).

I wonder what support would Zogby may care to offer Emanuel for the fact that the latter rounded up supporters in 2003 to issue a public statement condeming George W Bush for being insufficiently biased towards Israel!

This is ‘Change’?

Pass the mop!