Yalla Peace: Illinois and the peace process

Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict.

Rahm Emanuel is the most famous of US political candidates with direct ties to Israel. The former chief of staff to President Barack Obama left the job and declared his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. His father, Benjamin, was a member of the pre-state Irgun.
But he’s not the only one.
Scott Lee Cohen is Jewish, but few know his father was born in Palestine during the British Mandate and immigrated to the US to escape the growing conflict. His son was born two years before the 1967 war. Cohen broke onto the American political scene last March with a huge splash when he surprised everyone and won the Democratic Party nomination for Illinois lieutenant governor.
But Cohen was already accomplished in business in Chicagoland. He is a self-made millionaire.
The mainstream media ignored Cohen during the election, focusing instead on the leading establishment candidates after the governor, Rod Blagojevich, had been removed from office and accused of corruption.
Blagojevich beat all 23 major corruption charges, but the former governor’s ties to high-profile American Arab businessmen made him a marked man to the media.
Cohen ran on a reform platform that promised to focus on job creation. When he won the election, the media turned ugly and began doing the job they failed to do when he ran, digging up dirt including details of his divorce and the antics of a former girlfriend whom the media charged had been arrested previously for prostitution.
Cohen stood up to the oftenunfair media and political onslaught, which in turn, ignored him when he talked about doing something for citizens of the state, and then pilloried him when his election put him in line to become the state’s number-two government official.
Under pressure and threats, Cohen withdrew from the lieutenant governor’s race, but returned and declared himself a an independent candidate.
“I am very proud of my family’s heritage and my father’s life in Palestine, and I am proud to be a Jew,” Cohen told me after appearing on my morning radio show in Chicago. Cohen said he opposes violence, supports negotiations and the creation of two states as a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
If he is elected governor, Cohen could become a prominent force to help strengthen the moderate voices, and will be a contrast to Emanuel, who has been secretive about his own ties to Israel.
Service in Israel’s military is considered one of the highest honors and is respected among Israelis. It’s often used to help deflect some of the nasty vitriol that dominates the Middle East discussion. My journalism colleague, Bradley Burston, notes at the bottom of his columns in Haaretz that he served in the IDF to deflect attacks from those who question his patriotism.
But just as military service is important in Israel, it is also very important in the US. Like Burston, I often cite my active duty in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War to respond to those who question my patriotism.
It’s the main factor in the Illinois US Senate race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulis leading his Republican rival Mark Kirk, who has repeatedly exaggerated his own role as a “fighter pilot” in Iraq.
And it is important in the case of Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel served as a “volunteer” in Israel’s military, repairing trucks, but he has refused to discuss the facts surrounding that role, or explain why he didn’t serve in the US military.
THE MEDIA that beat up Cohen is touting Emanuel as the leading candidate to become Chicago mayor. He is one of the smartest minds in American politics, and was the architect of the Democratic takeover of the US House.
Emanuel’s role as chief adviser to Obama shows he cares about supporting genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
But it has caused him some problems with Chicago Jews, who feel Obama has been too supportive of Palestinians.
I think Emanuel would make a great mayor. His service in the Israeli military is not an issue to me. His role in the Obama administration, which is fair to Israelis and Palestinians, is more important.
I also think Cohen will make a great Illinois governor.
If they both win, Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict. It’s a state with just as many Arabs and Muslims as Jews, who all care about achieving peace.
The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com