Why Rahm Emanuel is a lightning rod in Israel
In Israel, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama next week. While the move is seen as a bid to smooth relations, Emanuel is a controversial figure in Israel.
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But those links only enhance the dismay of some Israelis that Emanuel is the right-hand man of a president they consider more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to Israel, says Akiva Eldar, a former Washington correspondent for the liberal Haaretz newspaper.Skip to next paragraph
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"People in the US don't understand that to Israelis, his name sounds like a kibbutznik or a war hero. So the expectations are high. And if you are not completely pro-Israeli, you’re a traitor," he says.
"His image is that he's very liberal, and that he doesn't have a problem criticizing Israel…. Regardless of his Jewish identity, he's an Obama guy. So he starts from a problematic point."
Tensions date to Clinton administration
But the bad blood may go beyond Obama to Emanuel's involvement in the administration of former President Bill Clinton, who had rocky ties with Netanyahu during his first stint as prime minister. At times of tension, Israeli newspapers have cited unnamed officials close to Prime Minister Netanyahu as singling out Emanuel as responsible, Mr. Eldar says.
Despite the tension, there has been a healthy press coverage of the Emanuel family visit, from what Emanuel ordered at a restaurant in the resort city of Eilat to his trip to an Israeli air force base.
The Obama administration and the Netanyahu government have disagreed over the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, prompting the worst open dispute in two decades.
Arik Ziv, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party who publishes an online newspaper reflecting the ideological right wing, insists that Emanuel, like many Israeli peaceniks, has an innate distaste for the prime minister.
"It’s on a personal level," he says. "Even if tomorrow [Netanyahu] makes an agreement with the Palestinians, they wouldn't like him. Rahm Emmanuel and Peace Now [an Israeli left-wing opponent of settlements] are the same thing."
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