The lone Jewish Republican in Congress is taking the Obama administration to task over its latest spat with the Israeli government.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor phoned White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on March 15 — asking him to convey to his bosses the message that it is time to ease pressure on Israel.
“The administration needs to reduce the level of its rhetoric,” Cantor said in an interview with the Forward, “I don’t think that the notion of us telling Israel what is best for its security is a good one.”
Cantor and several other Republican lawmakers have criticized the administration’s tough stance on Israel in light of the dispute over the Jewish state’s approval of another 1,600 homes in contested East Jerusalem. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, have also said that the Obama administration was wrong in pressuring Israel.
Filling in for the President of the United States is a tough job for anyone, especially when the audience is made up of 3,000 Jewish activists eagerly anticipating the first address of the President Obama to a Jewish communal organization.
But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel managed to keep the crowd satisfied in his Tuesday speech at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. He gave a detailed policy speech, and took on claims against his boss from members of the Jewish community. He also succeeded in making participants laugh, living up to his reputation as one of the sharpest politicians in town.
So here are some of the Emanuel highlights:
• After making a joke at the expense of his Washington, D.C.-based rabbi, Jack Moline, Emanuel shared with the crowd his concern that at next year’s High Holy Day services, he would be moved to the back row. That, according to Emanuel, would actually be better because it would allow him to leave before the service is over.
• On being sent to stand in for President Obama, Emanuel said that he understood that he was not the first choice, but reassured his Jewish listeners that he was not offended. Being a middle child, Emanuel said, prepared him for that.
• Emanuel gave his father credit for instilling in him the value of persistence: “Some of my political opponents would say he instilled this quality a little too successful.”
• But the line that got the most applause was when Emanuel spoke of his plans to travel with his brother Ari to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their respective sons in Israel this year. “That’s cheap, the applause,” Emanuel told the cheering Jewish delegates.“I’ll take an $18 check on behalf of him.”
For more highlights of Emanuel speech, regarding Israel, the Palestinians and Iran, click here.
When Rahm Emanuel was first tapped by President-elect Obama to be his chief of staff, Jews kvelled. Amid uncertainty and anxiety in some quarters over Obama’s views toward Israel, the selection of the son of an Israeli veteran of the pre-state Irgun militia as the White House chief of staff offered some reassurance.
Since then, of course, Rahm has become a special point of contention in the increasingly contentious Israeli-American “special relationship.” Indeed, it was recently reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu had called Rahm and fellow senior White House staffer David Axelrod “self-hating Jews” — a report that a Netanyahu spokesman eventually denied, but not before the alleged remark in question was cited on The New York Times Op-Ed page.
Now, Rahm Emanuel’s dad has been dragged into the fray. The last time Benjamin Emanuel spoke to the press, his son ended up having to issue an apology to Arab Americans. Now, in remarks to a Haaretz reporter, the elder Emanuel expresses exasperation over attacks on his son, and insists that he himself is a Netanyahu backer. He tells Haaretz:
I’m simply surprised that in Israel they jump down his throat. I love the country, my children are Zionists, they came to Israel every year, and I don’t know why they’re attacking Rahm. I support Netanyahu, I was a member of the Etzel [Irgun].
As to his son’s views, he said:
We don’t talk about his work. I don’t have anything to say about it. And I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t talk to journalists. My son told me not to talk to any journalist, not an American, not a Frenchman. I spoke once and they turned everything upside down.
Read the rest of Haaretz’s lengthy profile of Rahm here.
And if that’s not enough to sate your Rahm appetite, check out this hilarious spoof video that the irascible Emanuel made touting his qualifications to be vice president.
Aipac’s big show of the morning was, of course, Israeli president Shimon Peres. The president found himself praising his long rival Benjamin Netanyahu, and vouching for Bibi’s intention to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinian.
But some of the more interesting comments were heard behind closed doors, in the sessions that organizers decided to close to the press. Such was one of the main dinner events Sunday night that featured White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and former Israeli foreign minister, now leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni.
Emanuel went straight to what used to be considered the third rail in U.S.–Israel relations: He linked the peace process with the Iranian nuclear threat. According to press reports, Emanuel said that effective American efforts to deal with Iran hinge on Israel moving forward with the Palestinians.
At the same event, Tzipi Livni gave Aipac activists a different perspective on Israeli policy and, contrary to Netanyahu’s approach, said there is an immediate need to take on Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking.
Politico examines the ambitions of Democratic powerbroker Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who is considered a possible Senate successor to Barack Obama in the event that the Illinois Democrat is elected president in November.
But Emanuel insists that he’s not interested in Obama’s Senate seat , which, Politico notes, begs the question, “What does Rahm really want, and what is his timetable for getting there?”
Politico reports that “before he was even elected to his first term as the congressman from the North Side of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel was telling friends that he had one goal in life: to become the first Jewish speaker of the House.”
Insiders apparently think that Emanuel’s dream is a real possibility. Politico’s John Bresnahan writes: