So it’s goodbye to Rahm Emanuel as he leaves the White House and heads for Chicago. In Israel there has been a healthy mix of contradictory emotions towards Rahm, and I think it’s fair to say that we just don’t get him. His father fought in the Etzel (fairly extreme freedom fighters in the pre-State period) and that’s gotta mean something doesn’t it? Yet Rahm has been at the President’s shoulder throughout one of the roughest rides in the US-Israel friendship. Has he been the provocateur stirring the proverbial chulent pot? Yet he brought the family to Israel for his son’s Bar Mitzvah, he wore Bermuda shorts in Eilat and looked uncomfortable next to Bibi in a hotel in Jerusalem. You’ve got to love Israel if you do that, don’t you?
He’s a committed Jew, with his youngest child attending a local Jewish day school, he plays hardball and swears like a trooper – all facts which endear him to the average Israeli. But we just don’t get him, either you’re with us or your against us. It’s just that simple, right?
We have come across this conundrum in the past with an even more prominent American Jewish statesman, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger boasted to a group of leading American Jews in a closed meeting in 1974 that he had personally made the decision which helped Israel win the Yom Kippur War (despite much evidence to the contrary); but then in a meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Minister in 1975, Kissinger offered him a “small, friendly Israel” cut back to her earlier size. Israeli politicians from Rabin to Sharon always made a point to get Kissinger’s blessing, yet Kissinger hobnobbed with the Syrians and Egyptians just as congenially. We couldn’t work out Kissinger’s loyalties, and the Israeli nationalist protests against him have only been matched by those against the Obama administration, and Rahm Emanuel.
But both Rahm and Kissinger have been clear about their allegiance. They have acted and lobbied for policies which they believed were in the best interest for their country, America. They have connections with their Jewish identity, Rahm much more so than Kissinger, but their ultimate national loyalty lies, as befits the positions they held, with their nation. Rahm Emanuel acted how a million Liberal Jews in his position would have done, faced with a new President at his side and a strong right-leaning Israeli coalition government opposite him. I also cannot blame Rahm for some of the controversial policy decisions and poor political plays coming out of Israel during his time in office –even an AIPAC mole in the White House would have slapped his forehead in despair.
Yet Rahm still leaves me scratching my head concerning divided loyalties. I feel that the old chestnut youth-movement question: ‘What are you more – American or Jewish?’ needs to be updated. American Jews have proved that both loyalties can coexist, even complement each other, but what happens when we throw Israel into the mix? If a core tenet of Jewish Identity is a connection with the State of Israel, can a Jewish American ever be truly impartial? If they can are they any less of a Jew? And if they can’t are they any less of an American?
The bottom line is whether political ideologies, American identity and relationship to Israel can honestly align. I get the impression that many American Jews are compartmentalizing and in the long-run that can’t be healthy. I wonder what the alternatives might be.
First appeared in www.shalomdc.org