Why No One Cares About Rahm’s ‘Extremist Associations’

Ali Abunimah is correct to say — in reference to the racist remarks by Benjamin Emanuel, Rahm’s father — that “sons are not responsible for the racism of their fathers.” But Abunimah is also correct to expect Emanuel to distance himself from those remarks, as he has been asked to do by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

As Abunimah notes, Benjamin Emanuel was a member of Irgun, “the pre-state Jewish militia that carried out terrorist attacks on Palestinians and the British in the 1940s.” You may have noticed that National Review and Commentary have not been digging into the extremist past of the Emanuel family the way that they obsessively scrutinized every bit of information about Barack Obama’s other “extremist associations.” This is because these conservative organs don’t really consider political violence on behalf of causes of which they approve to be terrorism.

I do not suggest that Rahm Emanuel deserves to be judged on anything other than his own words and accomplishments, but I don’t think many would disagree that, were he the son of a former Arab Palestinian extremist, rather than a former Jewish Israeli extremist, he simply wouldn’t have been considered for the position of White House chief of staff, or probably have been able to make much of a political career at all.

This is because of the double standard that applies to the discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the U.S. Americans identify much more closely with Israel than they do with the Palestinians, and thus tend to treat negative information about the former as exceptional, and negative information about the latter as the rule. Leaving aside why this is the case, the fact is that it places certain strictures on U.S. policy options, and create serious consequences both for the U.S.’s reputation and for the situation on the ground for Palestinians.


For example, responding to reports of increasing Israeli settler violence and intimidation, a few weeks ago Steve Clemons asked why the U.S. and Israel “don’t work to classify factions of settler extremists — organizing to propogate violence — as terror organizations or terror-supporting individuals.”

Such classification of these groups and/or individuals would allow the freezing of their financial assets in the United States and would create penalties for those who aided and abetted in their violence. Some very wealthy Americans are financing some of the expansionist settler activity in occupied Palestinian territories — and creating penalties for this assistance could be one way of squelching the violent dimensions of settler activity.

Such classification of violent settler extremists in Israel as terrorists would give both the Israeli and U.S. governments tools that will help protect Israel’s political leadership from tactics of intimidation and violence and would help to generate a new equilibrium in the region that satisfies both Israel’s legitimate security needs and the imperative of a viable Palestinian state.

A year ago, I published a story on a New York fundraiser for the illegal Hebron settlement, where between 500 and 600 settlers live — guarded by 4,000 Israeli troops — among nearly 200,000 Palestinians. Adalah-NY reports that another fundraiser is taking place on November 17 at the Marriot Marquis in Manhattan.

Clemons’ proposal is a good and reasonable one. It’s disgraceful that organizations such as the Hebron Fund can openly raise funds to support violence without any fear of public censure, let alone prosecution. And make no mistake, these funds support violence, which in turn fuels Palestinian hatred and terrorism.


If we really wanted to help lessen violence in the West Bank, shutting off the flow of American money to settler groups is one way, and there’s no intellectually consistent argument against doing it. The real argument against doing it on the U.S. end is that it’s too politically costly. Most Americans simply aren’t used to recognizing Israeli extremist violence for what it is, or its consequences for what they are, and our leaders really have no incentive to help us do so. The few who try can always expect to be viciously attacked, their associations rigorously explored and their friends impugned on television by half-wits, and eventually face a surprisingly well-funded challenger on election day. There’s very little upside.


Rahm apologized for his father’s remark:

“Today, Rep. Emanuel called Mary Rose Oakar, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, apologized on behalf of his family and offered to meet with representatives of the Arab-American community at an appropriate time in the future,” said an Emanuel spokesman, Nick Papas.