Japan should reject Rahm Emanuel appointment as US Ambassador
The appointment of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan is a slap in the face of Arab and Muslim Americans by the administration of President Joe Biden. Japan should reject Emanuel’s appointment if they care about human and civil rights, but at least be aware of Emanuel’s racist, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim history
By Ray Hanania
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was one of the most racist, discriminatory mayor’s Chicago ever had, although his successor Mayor Lori Lightfoot is ironically very close behind.
President Joe Biden nominated Emanuel as US. Ambassador to Japan this week. It was approved in a contentious vote in the middle of the night by the U.S. Senate. Emanuel previously served as a top aide to President Bill Clinton, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama and as a member of the U.S. Congress.
I covered seven mayors during my 18-year assignment to the Chicago City Hall beat. Despite political differences, tensions and even the occasional browbeating, all of the mayors respected diversity and individual ethnic and religious rights.
Mayor Harold Washington created the Human Relations Commission that included an Arab Advisory Commission to review acts of racism against Arabs and Muslims.
His successor, Mayor Richard M. Daley empowered the commission and recognized the rights of Arabs. In 1991, Daley designated November as “Arab American Heritage month” — in 2020 it aligned with national commemorations to be held in April. Daley authorized the city’s first ever Arabesque Festival for Arab culture in 2008.
In contrast, Emanuel ostracized Chicago’s Arabs, the Christian and the Muslims, excluding them from city activities, city jobs and undermined all of their programs.
Emanuel’s father Benjamin was a member of the Irgun terrorist organization during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1940s. The father caused trouble when he made derogatory comments about Arabs when asked if he thought his son would make an impact in the Obama administration’s policies. The senior Emanuel responded, “Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
To his credit, Mayor Emanuel was quick to apologize for his father’s comments, stating, “From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.”
But clearly, the apology was to protect his political career and not intended for Arab Americans who were vilified. Worse is that most of Chicagoland’s news media refused to report the story, or to cover Emanuel’s anti-Arab and anti-Muslim actions while serving as Chicago’s mayor.
Immediately after being elected mayor in 2011, Emanuel reorganized the Human Relations Commission and closed the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, the only organization in Chicago that addressed anti-Arab discrimination. The new commission eliminated an Arab Affairs arm.
Emanuel terminated the annual Arabesque Festival that had been held only four years under Mayor Daley, responding to demands from pro-Israel groups angered that Palestinians were displaying Palestinian flags and images of Palestine before it was occupied by Israel.
During his first year in office, Emanuel ended Chicago’s recognition of November as Arab American Heritage Month but continued the recognition of most other ethnic groups celebrations including Hispanics, Blacks and Asians.
Do you think Arabs could take a hint?
Emanuel was clever enough to counter the criticism by hosting an annual Iftar, the Islamic breaking of the fast for Ramadan. Since most Americans have no understanding of Arabs or Muslims, they didn’t realize that 78 percent of Muslims in America are non-Arab. The largest majority are African American, which played into Emanuel’s selfish political agenda.
Emanuel reached out to non-Arab Muslims, but not to Arab Muslims. Very few were invited to his Iftars. He never recognized Christian Arabs as a community.
In 2016, I attended an Iftar Emanuel hosted at the urging of Muslim activists who said maybe attending could help the Arab community could open the door to improved relations. But Emanuel would have none of that.
I spoke with the mayor at the Iftar and I suggested that his administration do a “reset” to improve relations with the Arab American community. He was polite in front of Muslim attendees and shook my hand. But he rejected five requests I made to interview him and never responded to requests to meet Arab American leaders.
Emanuel never restored any of the events for Arab Americans, and never appointed any Arab Americans to any significant positions in his City Government.
When he finally departed after serving two terms, he was succeeded by a former prosecutor, Lori Lightfoot, who held promise as a woman, African American and the city’s first Gay mayor.
But very quickly, Lightfoot, too, turned against Arab Americans refusing requests to host Arab Heritage Month, restore the Arab Advisory Commission or host the popular annual Arabesque Festival.
Last summer, Lightfoot ordered more than 125 Arab and Muslim owned gas stations and grocery stores closed falsely on the misguided belief it might undermine street gang activity because the stores were open 24 hours a day.
Like Emanuel, Lightfoot did reach out to non-Arab Muslims for support, but never took the Arab community seriously.
The tragedy is that politicians like U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who has been cordial and supportive of Arab American aspirations, never acknowledged the discrimination Arabs experienced as a community under Emanuel or Lightfoot. Durbin was forgiven by the Arab community for slandering and unseating the most pro-Arab member of Congress ever, Paul Findley, during Durbin’s first run for Congress in 1982. He hired several Arab Americans on his staff. Durbin personally ushered Emanuel’s nomination through the U.S. Senate process.
Three of Durbin’s Senate colleagues, however, liberal Democrats, voted against Emanuel’s nomination. as they US Ambassador to Japan. They include Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Liberal Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not to vote.
Of 50 nominations for ambassadorships around the world that were approved unanimously, Emanuel’s nomination was the only one that went to a vote. He was approved 48 to 21.
Biden’s appointment of Emanuel is probably a favor to Obama. But it only raises concerns about Biden’s commitment to Arab Americans that he made to them in his “Plan for Partnership.”
Japanese should carefully scrutinize everything that Emanuel says and does because when it comes to the Middle East, and especially Palestinians, his animosity is aggressive.
( Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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