Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Samantha Power Clarifies Her Comments on Israel

April 11, 2011 10:25 pm 2 comments

Samantha Power. Photo: Eric Bridiers

In a column last week I shared my disappointment in discovering that one of the people whose thought and books have been a formative influence on my life had been associated with anti-Israel remarks. Samantha Power is arguably the world’s foremost voice against genocide. Her 2002 Pulitzer-prize winning book A Problem from Hell is one that I have quoted on countless occasions in print and in lectures. As a member of a people who just 60 years ago faced total annihilation in the holocaust, I consider Power’s plea – that ‘Never Again’ be a motto that civilized nations deliver on, using the diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military tools at their disposal to prevent genocide – to be one of the world’s most important. She currently serves as President Obama’s senior adviser on human rights and is widely acknowledged to have the President’s ear. She was also credited by many publications with being one of the most influential voices in President Obama’s decision to prevent Muammar Kaddafi from slaughtering his people (although in my meeting with her she adamantly denied this and said the decision was the President’s alone). In short, Power is and has been one of my heroes.

So it was with profound sadness that in praising her in recent lectures to the Jewish communities of Australia, South Africa, and New York that audience members approached me with alleged negative comments she had made against Israel. I responded with a column last week quoting the comments and calling on Ms. Power to clarify them lest she be seen as insensitive to a nation who has an army solely for self defense without which it would likely be subject to yet another genocide.

To her credit, Ms. Power got in touch with me and invited me to meet her in her White House office this past Thursday. The meeting was substantive and directly addressed the comments I quoted. She was personable, accessible, and exhibited a humility uncommon to those in positions of high authority and power. She seemed genuinely and deeply pained by the perception that she was not a friend of Israel.

The principal comments attributed to her come from an interview she granted in 2002 in Berkeley, California while she was on her book tour. She was asked by an interviewer to respond to a “thought experiment” as to what she would advise an American president if it seemed that either party in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were moving toward genocide. Any seasoned media professional would have known that rule number one – as Michael Dukakis famously discovered in 1988 after being asked by Bernard Shaw of CNN how he would respond if his wife Kitty were raped – is never to respond to a hypothetical. But Power, fresh on the national media scene, was baited by the question and answered that preventing such a genocide would entail America being prepared to alienate a powerful constituency – by which she meant the American-Jewish community – and sending in a protective force to prevent another situation like Rwanda. From these comments – putting Israel and the possibility of genocide against the Palestinians in a single sentence – Power has been lobbed together with other enemies of Israel.

In our conversation she rejected utterly the notion she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as ‘invade Israel’ talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints at Israel being guilty of any such atrocity. She explained that the only time she has written about Israel was in a later book on slain UN Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. There she described his time in UNIFIL and included a discussion of the Government of Israel’s own findings on Sabra and Shatila.

To bolster her argument she mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard Alan Dershowitz – whom I consider to be Israel’s most eloquent global champion – called her after A Problem from Hell was published to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with genocide, the way so many academic enemies had. I checked with my old friend Professor Dershowitz and he confirmed that he has warm feelings toward his former student and considers her a moderate on Israel.

Listening to Power face-to-face and hearing her clarification set amidst the visible hurt of being grouped together with Israel’s detractors, I found her argument convincing. Power, the world’s leading chronicler of genocide, is being dismissed as an enemy of the Jewish state based almost entirely on a fragment of a single interview lasting about two-and-a-half minutes. Most significantly, however we understand the meaning of her words in the unfortunate interview, they are utterly belied by her actions. She would later indeed become a senior adviser to a President of the United States and not only would she never even remotely identify Israel as a genocidal power that needed to be stopped but, to the contrary, she would utilize her influence to advocate for military action against a genocidal Arab dictator who is not only killing innocent Arab protestors but is, along with Iran, one of Israel’s most outspoken enemies.

In addition, some leading members of the American Jewish establishment shared with me that Power was instrumental in having America decline attendance at Durban II in April 2009, otherwise known as the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which promised to be, like Durban I in 2001, a UN-sponsored Israel hate-fest.

There have been other, more minor comments by Power that have been interpreted as hostile to Israel but the interpretations rely on the assumption, generated in 2002, that she is an Israel-hater. But based on Ms. Power’s clarification, and much more importantly her actions, I believe this perception to be without merit and justice demands that we now move on from her comments and judge her instead by her actions.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my personal stake in the rehabilitation of Samantha Power’s reputation in the Jewish community. Firstly, it seems incongruous that a woman that has done more in modern times to highlight the atrocity of genocide than anyone else should be ostracized from a community that has most experienced its tragic effects. Indeed, in our meeting Power told me that the Jewish community is by far the most vocal against genocide and that at the Save Darfur rally of 1 May, 2006 there was an endless sea of yarmulkes. Likewise, in A Problem from Hell she writes of the Jewish community’s role in mobilizing military intervention in Bosnia.

Second, Muammar Kaddafi owns the home right next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey. I have been sickened over the past two years to awaken every morning to the site of the Libyan flag flying fifty feet from my home. I have done everything in my power to fight and oppose this brutal dictator ever since he announced plans to personally occupy the home and pitch a tent next-door to me. I have lobbied mayors, Governors, Congressmen, and Senators. Amid my deep respect for President Bush and his efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, I was disappointed that his administration chose to normalize relations with Kaddafi. But one of the few American officials with a President’s ear who advocated punishing Kaddafi for his wickedness was Samantha Power.

Third – and for me most importantly – I have spent a large part of my life fighting Israel’s enemies in public forums. Whether it was the eleven years at the University of Oxford where I brought five Israeli Prime Ministers and endless cabinet ministers to respond to false accusations against the Jewish state or the past eleven years where I have been a defender of Israel on the American airwaves, championing the truth about Israel as a benevolent and liberal democracy has been one of my life’s highest callings. But as important as it is to expose those who are our enemies, it is equally important to exonerate those who are not. A person’s reputation is all they have and I know what it is like to feel unjustly maligned. Samantha Power has done the Jewish people a service by highlighting the crime of genocide and we welcome her repudiation of earlier comments on Israel. They were some time ago; she has expressed her regret for comments that lent themselves to misinterpretation and Judaism teaches that a person is judged primarily by their actions.

Power has lectured all over the world about the holocaust. She has used her influence to prevent a dictator from killing more of G-d’s children. She has highlighted the central role of world Jewry in preventing genocide. These are heroic actions that should be applauded rather than criticized.

Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ was the London Times Millennium Preacher of the Year and is the winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has been on Newsweek’s Ten Most Influential Rabbis in America list since its inception. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

2 Comments

  • With all due respect, I watched her interview and disagree with your conclusions. Her interview raises many disturbing questions about her true feelings for Israel. For starters, she insinuates that Israel is a “human rights abuser.” Here is her interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oFkmcZt4OQ

  • If Powers was “instrumental in the US declining participation in in having America decline attendance at Durban II in April 2009,” why did she then attend herself? Bush “normalized” relations with Khadafi because he was the only dictator to voluntarily abandon his WMD program without condition. In that regard, Obama’s (and Power’s) betrayal sent a chilling message to any enemy who might think about cooperating with us in the future. In fact, it’s pretty much assured that countries with WMD will work overtime to develop them because they know they can never “go back.” Powers is NOT a friend of Israel and you, like the Catholic Church, will find that this Administration and its far left fringe inhabitants make very unreliable allies. She is being announced as chair of the “Attrocities Prevention Committee” by Obama–I assure you, Israel will be high on her list to criticize and, unless things change in November, demonize. You know, Hitler had people who convinced Jewish leaders that their people were merely being relocated, too.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →