Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama appointments raise concern

Senator Barack Obama greets Representative Rahm Emanuel at the Illinois Delegation party at a restaurant in Boston on the eve of the Democratic National Convention 2004. (Tom Williams)

TWO key appointments announced by President-elect Barack Obama ahead of taking office are arousing concern among sections of the people who are looking forward to seeing the back of George W.Bush and have put their hopes on Obama's call for "change".

Obama's choice for White House Chief of Staff, has first appointment after winning office, has delighted some people in Israel, but worried Arab-Americans and Palestinians as much as his pre-election speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), recognising Jerusalem as "the historic capital of Israel". AIPAC, the most vociferous Zionist lobby organisation, is famous for its enthusiastic support of Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, and regarded as well to the right of most American Jewish opinion. But evidently Obama considered it necessary, or was advised, to woo AIPAC. And then, after victory and before the cheers of his supporters had faded, came the chief of staff announcement.

Palestinian-American commentator Ali Abunimah observed wryly:"During the United States election campaign, racists and pro-Israel hardliners tried to make an issue out of President-elect Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein. Such people might take comfort in another middle name, that of Obama's pick for White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Israel Emanuel".

It's not the name that worries people but the background. Rahm Emanuel has been a prominent Democrat and party fundraiser in Obama's home state, Illinois. Born in Chicago, in 1959, he is the son of Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician who helped smuggle weapons to the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Zionist underground organisation which believed in unrestrained terror against Palestinians, and was chiefly responsible for the massacre of villagers at Dir Yassin in April, 1948. Israeli Foreign Minister and would-be premier Tzippi Livneh is the daughter of the Irgun commander who organised the King David Hotel bombing two years earlier.

People are not responsible for their parents' affiliations, and besides there have been good campaigners for a just peace and Palestinian rights who acknowledge that in their youth they were members of the Zionist terror groups. (Uri Avnery in Irgun, the late Maxim Ghilan in the even more extreme Lehi, or Stern gang as the Britishy called it). However, as Ali Abunimah tells us, "Emanuel continued his father's tradition of active support for Israel; during the 1991 Gulf War he volunteered to help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon border when southern Lebanon was still occupied by Israeli forces..

"As White House political director in the first Clinton administration, Emanuel orchestrated the famous 1993 signing ceremony of the 'Declaration of Principles' between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Emanuel was elected to Congress representing a north Chicago district in 2002 and he is credited with a key role in delivering a Democratic majority in the 2006 mid-term elections. He has been a prominent supporter of neo-liberal economic policies on free trade and welfare reform.

"One of the most influential politicians and fundraisers in his party, Emanuel accompanied Obama to a meeting of AIPAC's executive board just after the Illinois senator had addressed the pro-Israel lobby's conference last June.

"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).

"In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who called for the cancellation of a speech to Congress by visiting Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki because al-Maliki had criticized Israel's bombing of Lebanon. Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments 'totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies' in a 19 July 2006 speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel's bombing of both countries that caused thousands of civilian victims".

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Fox News that picking Emanuel is "just another indication that despite the attempts to imply that Obama would somehow appoint the wrong person or listen to the wrong people when it comes to the US-Israel relationship ... that was never true."

Ali Abunimeh wonders whether Obama will disappoint those who had hoped for a more balanced approach than that of the Bush administration.

In the Daily Times , published in Lahore, Pakistan, Khalid Hasan reports on yet another controversial Obama appoitment:

WASHINGTON: Another of President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments has been greeted with disbelief by Pakistani-Americans and liberal members of the Indian community because Sonal Shah, the adviser picked up by Obama for his transition team, is known for her links to communal Hindu organisations.

Vishwa Hari Parishad (VHP) and its student wing Bajrang Dal are believed to have been involved in the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat and for the last three months have been carrying out a sustained campaign against Indian Christians in Orissa.

Sonal Shah has been the national coordinator for VHP-America and her father has been associated with the Overseas Friends of the BJP. Further, her organisation IndiCorps works with a VHP-sponsored initiative called the Ekal Vidyalayas – or single-teacher schools with a curriculum steeped in instilling hatred against non-Hindu religious minorities. Ekal Vidyalayas have played a key role in anti-minority violence in the states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. IndiCorps founders also have a close relationship with controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

According to Vijay Prashad, Chairman of South Asian history and director of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, Sonal Shah’s Houston-based parents were “not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj, but also in the far more cruel organisations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Overseas Friends of the BJP and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the US branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organisation should ‘inculcate a fear psychosis among (India’s) Muslim community.’ This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.” In 2004, the hard Right government in Gujarat honoured Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award.”


Electronic Intifada 5 November 2008
Obama picks pro-Israel hardliner for top post
Ali Abunimah

Yet another controversial Obama appointment
Following Rahm Emmanuel....

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