Barack Obama sent a reassuring signal to Jews who doubted his commitment to Israel by choosing Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Rahm’s father is an Israeli who fought for the Irgun under the late Menachem Begin. Rahm himself went to Israel to volunteer on an army base during the Gulf War of 1991, making sure the weaponry was in a functional state.
To the Palestinians, hearing that a Jew was the first pick can’t be encouraging. To hear he’s an Israeli must be galling. But to hear he comes from an Irgun family will enrage them to a fever pitch.
The Arabs, even the most simpatico among them, are not fans of the Zionists who liberated Israel from British rule. The fact that Ben-Gurion, Weitzmann and their Haganah force were political leftists endears them but little. Still, through gritted teeth they learn to tolerate. But try and mention Begin’s Irgun or Yitzhak Shamir’s Lehi to any non-Jewish Middle Easterner and watch smoke coming out of their ears. The Irgun and Lehi were the right-wing, and a much tougher crew. The story of Anwar Sadat is rendered far more amazing by his willingness to make peace not only with Israel, but an Israel led by archenemy Begin.
The Irgun (full name Irgun Zvai Leumi, i.e. National Military Organization) was a group that used guerrilla tactics very effectively to undermine British confidence. They even successfully stormed a British prison in Acre to free some of their arrested comrades. Once the British left, the Arabs took up the fight, including Muslims from countries as far away as Yugoslavia.
The bloodiest battle in the Jerusalem area took place in a village called Deir Yassin. There are many competing versions of what happened there between April 9 and 11 of 1948, but over one hundred Arab villagers were killed. This became a major public-relations coup for the Palestinian combatants, who claimed it was a massacre of women and children. The clearest fact to emerge from that troubled event is this: Palestinians hate anyone associated with the Irgun.
For them to see Emanuel as the first pick out of the box is certainly not helping their digestion any.
At the same time, Republicans are not very thrilled, because his political style is strictly of the Chicago-junkyard-dog variety. He attends a modern Orthodox synagogue named Anshei Sholom, which means ” people of peace,” but his path to global tranquility is through the Republican jugular. Like many peace activists the world over, he views straight-laced conservative types as the dogs of war in drag. Don’t ask me to explain it, that’s just an odd fact of life; maybe a stern teacher once rapped his knuckles too hard.
Still, the symbolic message to the people who thought their boy Hussein was going to put out the prayer mats and the welcome mats for the imam-mullah-ayatollah brigade is ringing loudly in their ears. Emanuel was also the only Chicago Democrat in Congress to vote for the Iraq war in 2003. Jews on the right who believe the Oslo Accords were misconceived may have cause to grumble; Emanuel was in on that deal, in the selling if not in the shaping. But they have to like that Obama’s first thumb went into someone else’s eye.
The best guess at this point would be that Israel will limp along in its usual way, taking a pot shot here, making a peace overture there, and continuing to thrive as a Western country in the Eastern world. Presidents of the United States will come and go, each hailing the newest version of the old plan, and the newest negotiations with the old troublemakers, and the newest proposals from the old playbook. Eventually one of two things will happen: the Messiah will come or everyone will just decide to embrace a perpetual state of war.
Then again, perhaps the better plan would be for Obama to hire Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari, the high-powered Hollywood agent. Send him to the Middle East with a deal: everyone signs on the dotted line, George Clooney will play Abbas, Russell Crowe will play Olmert, Johnny Depp will play Ahmadinejad, and everyone gets royalties. Peace on earth, no more massacres, and everyone lives happily ever after, with the possible exception of John McCain.