U.S. Jews Laud Obama Pick of Rahm Emanuel for Chief of Staff

Top UJC official: Emanuel is a friend of Israel, comes from good stock, davens at an Orthodox synagogue.

America's Jewish community welcomed U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's pick of Rep. Rahm Emanuel for the post of Chief of Staff, saying that the choice demonstrates that Obama has learned from the mistakes of previous Democratic presidents.

On Thursday, Obama announced that Emanuel, a key official in the Clinton administration, had accepted his offer and will serve as the next White House Chief of Staff.

William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), an umbrella organization representing 155 Jewish Federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America, said Thursday "Rep. Emanuel is among the smartest political tacticians and policy-makers that is on the scene in Washington."

"He was singularly responsible for guiding many of the top legislative priorities of the Clinton administration when he was a senior White House aide. He crafted the House Democrats plan to regain the majority when he was their campaign committee chairman," Daroff went on to say.

"Choosing Rep. Emanuel is a sign that President-elect Obama is learning from the mistakes of the two most recent Democratic Presidents, who brought in Washington outsiders to run the White House, and did so at their own peril - often finding themselves in battles with the Washington Democratic establishment. Emanuel's selection will avoid such 'freshman mistakes'," The UJC official continued.

"Rep. Emanuel is also a good friend of Israel, coming from good Irgun stock, davening at an Orthodox synagogue, and sending his children to Jewish day schools," Daroff concluded.

Ira N. Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), echoed Daroff's approval, saying in a statement Thursday that "Obama made an outstanding selection. Emanuel has been a forceful and effective leader within the Democratic Party. His voting record and leadership in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship are outstanding."

"Emanuel has deep Jewish roots and strong ties to the Jewish community. Emanuel, the son of an Israeli immigrant, has a proven commitment to Israel's security and served as civilian volunteer on an Israeli military base during the Persian Gulf War of 1991," the statement continued.

"We congratulate Emanuel and look forward to continuing to work with Emanuel in his new role in the Obama administration." Forman added.

Emanuel, a hard-charging Chicagoan, accepted Obama's offer for the job after struggling over family and political considerations. By moving into a top White House job for a second time, Emanuel will have to put aside hopes of becoming speaker of the lower chamber.

The son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician who was a member of the pre-state Irgun, Emanuel was a key figure in the administration of former President Bill Clinton, where he was known for his blunt management style. His selection is a shift in tone for Obama, who chose more low-key leadership for his presidential campaign.

In the tense talks with the Palestinians at Wye Plantation in 1998, the Israeli team headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was especially wary of one of President Bill Clinton's aides - Rahm Emanuel. His fluent Hebrew, his instinctive grasp of the "Israeli" mind set and above all his complete loyalty to his boss made the Israelis afraid to talk near him.

Ten years later, Israel's next prime minister will meet Emanuel in a loftier post, as Obama's chief of staff.

"He has a kind of directness and coarseness that is very familiar to Israelis," a veteran Israeli diplomat told Haaretz yesterday. "But it doesn't necessarily bring him closer to us. One thing is certain - Israelis will not be able to pull the wool over his eyes."

Emanuel's quick rise to a party leadership position in the House underlines his political acumen, and his choice by Obama points to the president-elect's preparations to move quickly on getting his legislative agenda through Congress. Emanuel will play a major role in facilitating and selling Obama's plans.

In his previous positions Emanuel was in charge of political and domestic issues, but in Clinton's administration in 1993, as senior presidential adviser for domestic affairs, he also dealt with foreign policy, which was important to the president. For example, he produced the Oslo Accord's signing ceremony on the White House lawn.

Of all the Israelis he came into contact with during his career, the ones he became closest to were Rabin's close aides, including the Prime Minister's Office director Shimon Shevess. The two are still close friends.

Israeli officials are divided in their opinions about his involvement in foreign affairs in general and the Middle East peace process in particular. The chief of staff usually focuses on the president's political work.