Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Rahm’s history of anti-Arab bigotry

By Ray Hanania

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was one of the most racist, discriminatory mayors Chicago ever had, although Mayor Lori Lightfoot is very close behind, ironically.

President Joe Biden named Emanuel as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan this week, and it was approved by a contentious vote in the middle of the night by the U.S. Senate. Emanuel had 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.

RayHanania

Ray Hanania

I covered seven mayors during my assignment to the Chicago City Hall beat; and 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 Commissioner. Mayor Richard M. Daley empowered the commissions and recognized the rights of Arabs by authorizing the city’s first ever Arabesque Festival for Arab culture. In 1991, Daley recognized November as Arab American Heritage Month (that was later aligned with national commemorations to April 2020).

But Rahm Emanuel ostracized Chicago’s Arabs–Christians and Muslim–embracing a deep-seated hatred.

Emanuel’s father, Benjamin, was a member of the Irgun terrorist organization during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1940s.

He 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, 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, he apologized not to the Arab community but for politics to protect his political career.

Emanuel’s first act after election in 2011 was to reorganize the Human Relations Council, closing the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, the only organization in Chicago that addressed anti-Arab discrimination. The new commission eliminated the Arab Affairs group, a demand that had been made by extremist Jewish American groups.

There’s no doubt the Commission would have cited Emanuel for violating human rights.

Then Emanuel ended the annual Arabesque Festival that had been held only for four years under Mayor Daley.

During his first year in office, he ended Chicago’s recognition of November as Arab American Heritage Month, continuing the recognition of all other ethnic groups.

Do you think we could take a hint?

Emanuel was clever enough to counter the criticism by hosting the 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 loved Muslims, but not Arab Muslims, and very few were invited to his Iftars.

In 2016, I went to one of the iftars at the urging of Muslim activists, saying maybe the Arab community could open the door. I spoke with the mayor and suggested that his administration do a “reset” and re-establish relations with the Arab American community. He was polite in public and shook my hand, but he rejected five requests I made to interview him.

He never restored any of the events for Arab Americans, and never appointed Arab Americans to significant positions in city government.

When he finally left, unable to stop the rising street gang violence, he was succeeded by 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.

Like Emanuel, she did reach out to Muslims, the non-Arab ones, to pander to a broad non-Arab voting base.

The tragedy is that politicians like Senator Dick Durbin, who has been cordial and supportive of Arab Americans, never acknowledged the discrimination we experienced as a community under Emanuel or Lightfoot, and personally ushered Emanuel’s nomination through the U.S. Senate.

Three liberal Senate Democrats voted against Emanuel’s nomination: Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not 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.

Check out Ray Hanania’s columns and political podcasts at hanania.com.

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