If Rahm Emanuel becomes Mayor of Chicago, he has a lot to worry about

Fact: United States Chief of Staff and dedicated pro-Israel hardliner Rahm Emanuel is expected to resign from his White House duties this Friday in a bid to become the next Mayor of Chicago.

Myth: Chicago-based activists have now met their match.

I remember the first time I heard speculation that Emanuel would run for Mayor. Even though it was just another White House rumor, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy that there might soon be a time when the city’s political sphere is openly penetrated with anti-Palestinian propaganda. I wouldn’t say the current administration aligned with the Palestinian cause (because it definitely didn’t), but at least current Mayor Richard Daley managed to maintain a neutral public image and prevent America’s unbreakable tie to Israel from corrupting his administration any more than it already was.

But with a controversial figure like Emanuel now gaining momentum in Chicago’s mayoral scene, this might all soon change.

Rahm Emanuel has a history – one that was shaped by his father, Benjamin, who fought with the Irgun in the 1940s. During Benjamin’s tour of duty, the Irgun was responsible for planting land mines in densely packed Palestinian markets, bombing buses and buildings, and killing Arab civilians and British officers in the name of Zionism. Coincidentally, the Irgun was declared a terrorist organization by Israel in 1948.

Carrying on his father’s legacy of armed conquest for the sake of Israeli colonialism, Rahm volunteered with the Israeli Defense Forces during the first Gulf War in 1991. He then went on to orchestrate the Oslo Accords and various other initiatives that have only given Israel more freedom to practice its anti-Arab policies without regret. And unsurprisingly, he condemns Palestinian violence but turns a blind eye to Israeli incursions into Gaza and the West Bank. Re: Emanuel’s speech at a pro-Israel rally in Chicago, 2003. Re: Emanuel’s praise of Israel’s attack against Lebanon, 2006. Re: Emanuel’s anti-UAE letter, 2006. Re: Emanuel’s letter to Condoleezza Rice, 2007. [Source]

Still, he’s no match for Chicago’s strong community of activists. He may be more influential on a city-based level than on a national level, but that shouldn’t scare activists into laying low. If anything, his presence in Chicago will only make the grassroots movement for Palestine stronger. Physically having him in Chicago gives activists the opportunity to directly show him just how powerful the social justice movement in Chicago is. After all, it’s been done before:

When Ehud Olmert visited the University of Chicago in late 2009, hundreds of students and community members gathered for an emergency protest, effectively disrupting his speech and making the campus aware of the types of crimes for which he’s under investigation.

Students and community members protest Olmert at the University of Chicago in 2009

When Mayor Daley paired Chicago with Israel’s Petach Tikva for the Sister Cities program in 1994, supporters of freedom and justice launched a campaign to publicize the truth about Petach Tikva and the Palestinian graves it rests upon.

When the AIPAC National Summit came to Chicago in 2008, activists picketed outside for three full days.

Activists protest during AIPAC’s National Summit in 2008

In dozens of other instances, it’s taken less than 24 hours to find thousands of individuals flooding Michigan Avenue with chants and flags or facing the Israeli Consulate with the peace sign in one hand and V for victory in the other.

In essence, Chicago is home to a dedicated community of activists who are always prepared to out-voice and overcome injustice. Emanuel can bring his anti-Palestinian opinions to Chicago but they will definitely not be tolerated. He can prepare eloquent speeches in defense of Israel’s latest military raid but they will not be heard. He can host joint press conferences with Israeli PM Netanyahu via Skype all day long but his words will be taken with nothing more than a grain of salt.

If Emanuel does eventually become the next Mayor of Chicago, activists have nothing to worry about. As long as the movement for a free Palestine maintains its core values and principles, I trust that Emanuel will be the worried one.

Sami Kishawi


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