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Mayor denies being conduit between Israel and Obama White House

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Chicago's City Hall Sept. 20 2012 
(phocourtesy City Chicago/Brooke Collins

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Chicago's City Hall, Sept. 20, 2012 
(photo courtesy City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

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Updated: October 27, 2012 6:14AM

If Israeli government officials have a message for President Barack Obama, they can deliver it directly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday, downplaying his private meeting last week with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet and the Israeli press have reported that Barak used Emanuel to deliver a message to Obama that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election to benefit Mitt Romney.

Romney and Netanyahu are old friends from their days together as Boston business consultants.

On Tuesday, Emanuel was asked for the first time to comment on his private lunch with the Israeli defense minister, which took place last Thursday at City Hall.

The mayor tried to play down the importance of the meeting, even as he dodged the all-important question about whether or not he had been used as a diplomatic conduit to Obama.

“There’s no need to think that Rahm Emanuel [should be the messenger]. If the government of Israel has something to say, they know how to reach the White House and they know how to reach officials there. I’m not” the go-between, the mayor said.

He added, “The defense minister and I have known each other since the day he was the prime minister. … He had a meeting with me scheduled for six months ago. It got cancelled. He was in the states for the United Nations and he asked for a meeting. It was an official visit. We had a good meeting. That is about all that really happened.”

The mayor was asked about Israeli press reports that Barak had delivered a message that Netanyahu had no intention of playing presidential politics. Instead of confirming or denying those reports, Emanuel segued to his own political message as one of Obama’s chief fundraisers.

“Well, I’ll say one thing: This guy is jumping into the election. I’m gonna do everything I can to help President Obama get re-elected — everything I can in the next 42 days to assure that people know of, what I think is not only a great record of helping to take the worst recession, stop it and begin the slow building of the economy, but also that he has a vision that includes the middle class in the future of this country,” the mayor said.

“So, when it comes to a message that they’re not gonna get involved in the election, it fell on deaf ears because I’m gonna get involved in the election because I want to see President Obama [re-]elected.”

Emanuel is the son of an Israeli immigrant and he spent summers during his childhood in Israel.

As a former White House chief of staff for Obama who also served in the Clinton White House, Emanuel is a familiar figure to the Israeli government and a logical conduit for any messages that needed to be delivered.

Relations between Israel and the U.S. have been strained by Netanyahu’s decision to publicly question Obama’s commitment to preventing an Iranian nuclear strike, a theme picked up by Romney.

Tensions escalated when the Netanyahu camp complained that Obama would not meet with the prime minister while he was in the U.S. for this week’s U.N. meeting. The White House has insisted that Obama and Netanyahu will not be in New York at the same time.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu was seen as pressuring Obama when he said in Jerusalem that, “as Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs. The world tells Israel to wait, there’s still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when?”

He added, “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

A pro-Romney SuperPAC, Secure America, used a clip from that Netanyahu appearance in an ad running in South Florida — a section of a battleground state with a large number of Jewish voters.

In a scorching letter to Netanyahu, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she was “stunned” by the prime minister’s remarks.

“Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?” Boxer wrote.

“As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time — Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons. I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

Obama won more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.

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