This past week I endured phenomenal criticism from close colleagues who are amazed that I have vouched for my friend Samantha Power as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The emails and phone calls have been relentless, some of the attacks vicious. Shmuley, how could you? Power hates Israel. She attacked the Jewish state in a 2002 video and spoke of the possibility of Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians. She is a radical leftist. You have betrayed your pro-Israel credentials, etc, etc.
That’s kind of rich given that I find myself on every Jew-hating and Israel-hating website as one of the world’s most ferocious defenders of Israel, who ran for the United States Congress while having a daughter serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
But I know Samantha personally and all an individual has in this world is their good name and if it’s being unfairly sullied it deserves to be protected. Here are the facts.
Samantha Power is arguably the world’s foremost voice against genocide. As a member of a people who were exterminated at the rate of ten thousand per day just two generations ago, her 2002 Pulitzer-prize winning book A Problem from Hell moved me deeply. But beyond mere words, Samantha is credited with being the most influential voice in President Obama’s decision to bomb Muammar Kaddafi and stop him from slaughtering his people. Power is exactly what the United Nations – a weak and often immoral body that allowed genocides like Rwanda to take place without any kind of intervention – needs.
I am well aware of the criticisms from the pro-Israel camp against Samantha. She allowed me to address them with her directly in an on-the-record meeting at the White House. What I like about Samantha more than anything else is that she is a real person who speaks candidly and unguardedly. She is warm, accessible, genuine, and human.
The principal complaint leveled against her stems from an interview she granted in 2002 in Berkeley, California while she was on tour to promote her book which had unexpectedly become a best-seller. She was asked by a TV 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. Samantha answered that preventing such a genocide would entail America being prepared to alienate a powerful constituency – by which she meant the American-Jewish lobby – and sending in a protective force to prevent another situation like Rwanda. From these comments Samantha has been dubbed an implacable enemy of Israel.
But in our conversation Samantha rejected this notion utterly. She acknowledged that as an academic untested in media relations, she erred terribly in answering any kind of hypothetical ‘thought experiment.’ She said greatly regretted her response. She said that if she really believed that Israel could ever God forbid move toward atrocities against the Palestinians then she would have expressed that view not in some silly book promotion but within the book itself where she details the mass atrocities of the twentieth century. Yet, in all 664 pages she never even hints at Israel being possibly guilty of ever practicing of such atrocities. Her only focus on Israel, she said, was on an internal Israeli government investigation which faulted Ariel Sharon for not having foreseen the Arab-on-Arab slaughter of Sabra and Shatilla, forcing Sharon’s resignation as Minister of Defense.
She also mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz – arguably Israel’s most stalwart defender – called her after her book was published to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with atrocities, the way others had done. This week, at a dinner I hosted in Times Square honoring Elie Wiesel, Dr. Oz, and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, I asked Professor Dershowitz to present the Adelsons with their Champion of Jewish identity award and he wrote a column likewise strongly defending Samantha’s nomination to the UN. Later, Ambassador Michael Oren likewise publicly defended Samantha.
We Jews are the people who taught the world that every human being, created in the image of God, is of infinite value. Yet here, Samantha Power, one of the important writers in modern history to hold the Western democracies accountable for their inaction through repeated twentieth century 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, whatever her intention was in the unfortunate interview – and there is no question that she should have told the interviewer that his question was an absurdity – is not something she believes or has practiced. On the contrary, Power was largely responsible for the United States destroying the military capability of a genocidal Arab leader who was not only killing innocent Arabs but was, along with Iran, Israel’s most outspoken enemy.
In her capacity as senior adviser to the President on multi-lateral affairs, Power was also instrumental in the United States refusing to attend Durban II in 2009, which would have been, like Durban I in 2001, another UN sponsored Israel hate-fest.
In a column last week, I mentioned that I hosted Samantha at a meeting of forty Jewish leaders at the offices of Michael Steinhardt, founder of Birthright Israel, where she became extremely emotional to the point of being unable to continue her presentation as she responded to those who falsely accuse her of hating Israel.
I have spent a large part of my life fighting Israel’s enemies on TV and in public forums. But as important as it is to expose those who are our enemies, it is equally important to exonerate those who are not. Samantha Power has helped to honor and sanctify the memory of six million Jews murdered in history’s worst genocide and she has repudiated any earlier misunderstandings about Israel. Judaism teaches that a person is judged primarily by their action and Samantha has lectured all over the world about the holocaust and has used her influence to prevent a dictator from killing more of G-d’s children. These are heroic actions that ought to be applauded rather than criticized.
Shmuley Boteach is referred to by The Washington Post and Newsweek as ‘the most famous Rabbi in America’ and won the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary as well as the London Times Preacher of the Year competition. A renowned relationships expert, he hosted ‘The Shmuley Show’ on ‘The Oprah and Friends Radio Network’. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.