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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rahm Emanuel's departure could smooth Obama's relations with Israel

In the middle of a lengthy piece that worries about whether Jews will lose access to the Obama administration due to the departure of Rahm Emanuel and the imminent departure of David Axelrod (who will leave early next year to run President Obama's re-election campaign), Ron Kampeas comes up with this.
Privately, Jewish officials said Emanuel’s departure potentially could smooth relations between Obama and the Jewish community for two reasons: Emanuel had earned a reputation in Israel as anti-Israel, and his overall style had alienated core constituencies, among them the Jews.

One Jewish organizational official said Emanuel’s brusque “just listen to me” style had severely hampered Obama’s agenda, leading not only to tensions with the pro-Israel community but with gays, liberals and groups seeking health care reform.

“Part of the reason he got into the trouble he got into were relationship issues,” the official said.

Additionally, Emanuel’s departure means that on Israel policy, Obama no longer will be able to say, as he did in an infamous meeting with Jewish leadership in the summer of 2009, that he has Emanuel to check his policies and does not need to consult with the wider community.

It was a blinkered “If Rahm and Axe are Jewish and they think this is OK, it’s OK” policy, is how the Jewish organizational official put it.

The problem with that view, some Jewish observers said, is that White House staffers -- even at that senior level -- are likely to defer to the boss, whereas Jewish leaders would be blunter in their assessments. But with two Jewish staffers, Obama mistakenly thought he didn’t need to consult with the Jews, these observers said. They blamed that insularity in part for tensions over West Bank settlement building that dogged the first year of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship.

Kampeas goes on to minimize Emanuel's role in formulating policy on Israel. That's not the way it was seen here.

We saw Emanuel as being Obama's sounding board to decide whether Israeli demands were 'reasonable' or not, and we saw Emanuel sitting at the table when he didn't belong there, to make sure the Israelis couldn't speak Hebrew so that Obama would not understand them. Kampeas mentions Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro as Jews with a greater role to play in foreign policy than Emanuel. I guarantee you that neither of them speaks Hebrew as well as Rahm does (Emanuel's Hebrew is likely on a par with mine, which is pretty close to native level fluent). And Rahm could at least make the pretense of thinking like an Israeli and making value judgments as to whether we were being reasonable. Neither Ross nor Shapiro has that level of familiarity with how Israelis think.

Good riddance!


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