Jerusalem Post, Internet Edition, July 1st, 1997:
The view from the top
By Hillel Kuttler
(July 1) - President Clinton's senior adviser was especially moved by the Israeli-Palestinian signing ceremony he helped arrange. After all, Rahm Emanuel comes from an Israeli household.
Rahm Emanuel, US President Bill Clinton's senior adviser and one of the most powerful people in the administration, is fretting as we begin our conversation.
Not over another story on his Israeli origins. Rather, he is concerned with perceptions that he is getting more media attention than his colleagues.
"Nothing good can come of it," he complains, as we settle in his White House office for an interview that took five months to get. We go back and forth until he finally says, "Let's go, we're wasting time."
Was Emanuel looking to build empathy and with it a softer story? Or does this guy genuinely want to avoid making waves?
It's hard to imagine the latter. This is someone who at age 20 already "was one of the most hard-charging people I've met in my life," according to former Democratic National Committee chairman David Wilhelm.
"Someone would contribute $500. He'd call back and say, 'Thank you very much - we need $1,000,'" Wilhelm recalls, of his colleague on David Robinson's unsuccessful 1980 congressional campaign against incumbent Paul Findlay in Springfield, Illinois. "Some people can do it, some can't. But he did it with such energy, passion, fervor, commitment, he probably got it nine times out of 10."
Emanuel's legendary fund-raising chutzpah later proved important to Richard Daley's two victorious Chicago mayoral races and to the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. He is renowned for unashamedly hitting up donors for sums far exceeding the $500-$1,000 range.
Fund-raising now seems ancient history. For Emanuel, 37, it is good riddance. He excelled at it, but used it as a stepping-stone to bigger things.
Emanuel says his attitude was, "'I don't want to do fund-raising; nobody else will do it; I'll do it.' What has always interested me is politics. See, I love politics. I don't think it's a bad word, I don't think it's a dirty word. I think it's an honorable profession. The political arena is a place where you can do good things - simple like that....
"I didn't have this job in mind, but something like this job - working in the White House, working for a Democrat - has always been a professional aspiration."
Emanuel's father Benjamin, a doctor, emigrated from Israel to the US with his American-born wife Marsha in the late 1950s, and Emanuel grew up in a Chicago suburb. Emanuel is not loath to discuss his connection to Israel; he warmly recalls his visits and has positive things to say about his Israeli roots.
But he draws the line at going beyond the personal to discussing the peace process and the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Emanuel says he is encouraged by US envoy Dennis Ross's efforts, but offers little else.
"You're not going to get me to comment on current events. ...We're committed to the process that was set up, which is to see through the Oslo agreements and further develop the peace process."
EMANUEL IS jumpy. During the 20-minute interview, he shifts around in his chair; steps over to a pile of magazines and flips through Rolling Stone and Roll Call; stands beside his desk and fiddles with his beeper; glides over to chit-chat with his secretary; hugs a female visitor; keeps one eye on the small television carrying a CNN report of a chemical factory explosion in Clinton's native Arkansas; takes a few phone calls, and tells an assistant to check up on the juvenile crime bill coming up for a House vote.
"You can see I feel like I'm going to the dentist while I'm sitting here talking," he says.
And this is with the president away in Latin America for the week.
Emanuel stays behind because he thinks he can get more work done - not that those in the Clinton delegation aren't being productive, he quickly adds. And he hates to travel. Emanuel has accompanied Clinton on just five trips in more than four years. Two were to Israel: for the Arava signing of the peace treaty with Jordan and for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral.
The Middle East, and foreign affairs generally, do not consume a large chunk of his time. But when Emanuel has had an effect on matters relating to the region, it's been a big one. He helped orchestrate the September 13, 1993, signing of the Declaration of Principles and arranged the presidential delegation to Rabin's funeral.
"Without a doubt," says Emanuel, when asked whether the South Lawn ceremony held personal meaning to him because of his family's roots. Emanuel, who plotted out everything from the schedule to the choreography to the speeches on that September day, ranks it among the highlights of his tenure with the administration.
During arrangements for both the signing and the funeral, Emanuel worked closely with then-ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich. Rabinovich often looked to Emanuel and other White House officials for insight into matters like the budget and welfare policies that are seemingly unrelated to the Middle East. The two became friends, occasionally dining and going to movies together.
There is "not always a distinction between domestic and foreign affairs," Rabinovich says, explaining that he relied on Emanuel's perspective to understand the "political considerations that foreign policy decisions would have," such as the Jordanian debt-relief episode that dragged on from 1994 into 1995, after Republicans took over Congress.
What has perhaps gained Emanuel the greatest admiration in Jerusalem was his coming to the country during the Gulf War to volunteer at a supply base near Kiryat Shmona. He did menial work at the base, separating tank brakes from jeep brakes from truck brakes.
He downplays the trip, saying it was not a sacrifice, merely "something I wanted to do."
Wilhelm and Peter Giangreco, another former colleague, saw it otherwise. Along with Emanuel, they were heavily involved in Daley's 1991 mayoral run.When Emanuel left for Israel in the midst of the campaign, they fully understood his motivation.
"Rahmi doesn't just, in the old cliche, talk the talk," says Giangreco. "Here's a guy who, during a very, very, very important campaign to him and the city, said there's something bigger here. He takes loyalty and duty, and his beliefs, very seriously."
THE EMANUEL home in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette was a place that one could imagine would produce a political junkie and policymaker. Marsha Emanuel was involved in the civil rights movement, as well as in local politics, working for the House campaigns of Abner Mikva and Sidney Yates.
"The kids all knew that. They went to meetings with me," she says of Rahm and her other sons, Ariel, a co-owner of a Los Angeles talent agency, and Ezekiel, an oncologist. "You work for people you believe in. You get involved in issues you believe in. That was the message the children got: You fulfill your ideals."
"At my house, you had to be ready for dinner conversations, in the sense of having read the paper, being up on the news, etc. - current events," Rahm says. "I've always said the [CNN] show Crossfire was based on our dinner table." Israel was often a topic of discussion, especially when the Middle East was in the news.
The young Rahm also vacationed regularly in Israel with his family. And his savta, Benjamin's mother, lived with the Emanuels for seven years.
Then there was Benjamin's brother Manuel - "Uncle Manny" - about whom Rahm knows "very little." He was killed in Israel in 1938, and in his memory Rahm's grandfather changed the family name from Auerbach to Emanuel.
"Obviously, all that intensity could have [had] a negative impact," Rahm Emanuel says of the trips and the discussions and the history. "It had a positive one."
EMANUEL INHERITED the key adviser's position when George Stephanopolous left at the end of the first Clinton administration. It was a promotion that by all accounts he deserved, but it also illustrated how far he had rebounded after being booted out as political director soon after Clinton assumed office in 1993.
At the time, he was made special projects coordinator - a post created especially for him, and in which he made his mark. Emanuel was the key administration official involved in pushing through such Clinton policy goals as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the assault weapons ban, the Brady handgun bill, the crime bill, and immigration and welfare reform.
Those who have dealt with him in various work settings say that while Emanuel is tough and sometimes insufferably brash, few are more driven.
"I've seen a change in the last three years in Rahm. No doubt he doesn't shy from letting his opinions be known and at times has been a little rough in the way he treats people," says Secretary of Commerce William Daley, who worked with Emanuel on his brother Richard Daley's mayoral races as well as on the NAFTA campaign.
"He's more confident in his White House position. There's a little more listening. Rahm is a hard-working person and thinks everyone else should be. Sometimes people take it the wrong way."
Emanuel is devoted to Clinton. He says he dove into Clinton's initiatives because of his firm identification with the president's course of action.
"Listen, I would not work in another person's administration," he says. "You don't work these many hours just to come to work. You work because you, I, believe that what President Clinton's trying to do is significant. I have to have that kind of emotional energy to get me through every day.
"I put in pretty extensive hours, and you're not gonna do it just for the win-loss record. You're gonna do it because you believe in what you're doing. President Clinton - he calls the shots. But in the broad architecture of his policy, I have a fundamental commitment to his vision. And unless you have that, I can't imagine doing what you do here. You need that psychic energy to get through day after day, seven days a week, 12-hour days, six years of it. And I think he's making a tremendous difference in this country."
Wilhelm tells of having Emanuel come up to Harvard University as a guest lecturer for a course he taught last year. Emanuel provoked a debate when he said he doesn't believe in moral victories, only in victory victories.
"It captures who he is," says Wilhelm. "You want to have Rahm in the foxhole next to you, and not against you."
Giangreco recalls Richard Phelan's 1990 campaign for Cook County (Illinois) board president. Phelan was running out of money and the strategists had to weigh cutting back on spending for television advertisements versus continuing the promotions and expending the budget too soon.
"Rahm said the right answer was to stay on the air but to borrow money, because it would be stupid to not keep running ads. In other words, Choice C," says Giangreco.
"Clearly, Rahm's decision to put it all on the line speaks as to who Rahm is - very aggressive. He understands that when you have an advantage, you never stop working; when you're down, you never let up."
Emanuel and his wife Amy Rule belong to a Conservative congregation in Virginia and have a two-month-old son. Despite his intense responsibilities, Emanuel finds time to take ballet lessons twice a week. He is a serious dancer who once considered performing professionally.
"He has a passion for public policy and politics. "He's very passionate about everything he does [including] ballet," says Giangreco. "He does nothing half-speed."
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