WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel apologized to an Arab-American group on Thursday for comments disparaging Arabs made by his father.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sent a letter to Emanuel calling on him to distance himself from remarks made by the elder Emanuel in an interview with an Israeli newspaper following his son’s appointment last week.
In the interview, Benjamin Emanuel was reported as saying: “Obviously, he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
While some political analysts have said Rahm Emanuel, a veteran Democratic congressman, should not be held responsible for the actions of his father, there was also a sense that an apology was unavoidable.
“Today, Rep. Emanuel called Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, apologized on behalf of his family and offered to meet with representatives of the Arab-American community at an appropriate time in the future,” a statement from his office said.
The committee, in a statement on its website, said Emanuel told Oakar it was unacceptable to make such remarks against any ethnic or religious group.
“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,” the group quoted him as saying.
Oakar welcomed the apology, saying: “We cannot allow Arabs and Muslims to be portrayed in these unacceptable terms.”
Some commentators in the Middle East have raised concern about the appointment of Emanuel, who has a pro-Israel record, suggesting he could use his position to influence Obama’s policies in the region.
But political analysts and Emanuel himself this week dismissed such suggestions. The congressman said Obama did not need his influence to “orientate his policy toward Israel.”
The chief of staff position serves as one of the closest advisers to the president and typically can decide who gains access to the president, while also developing administration policies.
Editing by Todd Eastham