U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power promised attendees at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual meeting on Thursday that she would “oppose every example of anti-Israeli bias in the UN system.”
Appointed to the position by U.S. President Barack Obama in June, she took office three months ago.
“I have made it a priority – in the spirit of the remarkable lineage that I am now part of, the spirit of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the spirit of Richard Holbrooke and the spirit of my recent predecessor Susan Rice, among others — to oppose every example of anti-Israeli bias in the UN system,” Power said.
Her pledge came after some Jewish groups opposed her nomination because of comments she made about Israel, but Jewish allies, including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and ADL National Director Abe Foxman, with whom she has a close relationship, rigorously defended her.
“I am personally deeply committed and have personally engaged our European colleagues about expanding regional and thematic groupings to end the continuing discrimination against Israel in the UN system; that discrimination is not right and it must end,” Power told the ADL audience.
“As President Obama has affirmed in every General Assembly appearance, the United States will combat any effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a full and equal member of the community of nations.”
“On my watch, we will push ceaselessly for the further inclusion of Israel in regional groups. We will demand objectivity in resolutions affecting Middle East peace. After all, it is not the UN’s job to pre-judge issues that can only be addressed through direct negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. And there is no basis to exclude Israel from full participation in the United Nations system.”
“In a forum such as the UN’s Human Rights Council, that means insisting that we fight to prevent Israel from being singled out and that we push the Human Rights Council to start doubling down on the globe’s truly egregious violators of human dignity. It also means working with our Israeli colleagues to facilitate and make known the Jewish state’s many contributions to global progress in such areas as agricultural technology, science, the empowerment of women, and the fight against dirty diamonds,” she said.
Power applied her experiences in covering war crimes in Bosnia and genocide in Rwanda to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust, then to ADL’s mission of fighting hate crime.
“Remembrance is part of our agenda, too, which is why I am pleased to announce that the UN has agreed to make available to us a full copy of its War Crimes Commission Archives for transfer to Washington and the Holocaust Museum. This transfer will be of considerable benefit to scholars at a time when Holocaust denial is embraced by many who prefer diversionary fantasies to inconvenient facts. That general tendency – to ignore the hard lessons of the past – remains all too present in the world today. Even in the United States, according to the Justice Department, one hate crime is committed every hour,” Power said.
As the leader of the U.S. delegation at the UN, Power is the American lead on how the international body grapples with Syria and Iran, two of the region’s countries that pose a military threat to Israel.
Rather than flatly deny a military option for Syria, Power said that by threatening to use force, the Obama administration is now close to achieving its objective.
“[W]e must recognize that there are times when just and humane goals can only be achieved by means that are not, in themselves, strictly humanitarian. The only reason we were able to get Syria to consent to the destruction of its chemical weapons was because President Obama made clear he was prepared to take military action – a decision that was strongly supported by the ADL. After two years of paralysis, the Security Council Resolution mandating the complete and rapid destruction of those weapons marked the first meaningful step the Council had taken to address the bloodletting, some of the worst bloodletting we have ever seen.”
“The urgency of finding a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis cannot be exaggerated. Public health experts believe that — even a century from now — this war will be remembered for shredding the doctrine of medical neutrality; a principle conceived 150 years ago this week at the Geneva Conference of 1863. Forces loyal to Assad have been destroying hospitals, making it impossible for doctors and nurses to do their jobs. They’ve been dragging patients from their sickbeds because — according to the perverse logic of the regime — anyone wounded by a government bomb or bullet must therefore be an enemy and deserving of death.”
“Being a doctor now in Syria means that the life you save today may cost you your own life tomorrow. Perhaps that is why, of the 5,000 doctors who worked in Aleppo before the war, only 36 remain.”
Power was equally firm on Iran, but held the Obama administration’s line on preventing the country from acquiring “nuclear weapons” rather than broadening that to include “nuclear capability,” as Israel has pushed for because of the small leap from having nuclear capacity to having a nuclear bomb.
“Let me turn now to the subject of Iran. And let me be absolutely clear: President Obama is determined to ensure that the Islamic Republic does not acquire a nuclear weapon. Let me repeat: the United States cannot and will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
“That is why the president assembled an international network of support for sanctions that are not just bilateral, but multilateral and tough enough to cause Iran’s government to shift tactics abruptly.”
“Although our government welcomes the more constructive tone in Iran’s recent official statements, the level of mistrust inherited from the past, as you well know, is deep. We understand why some of you are skeptical about engaging Iran. But please remember that we are not engaging Iran for the sake of engaging Iran. By engaging, by probing, by negotiating, we are striving to secure an unambiguous and verifiable guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program is a peaceful one and that its government will not build or acquire a nuclear weapon.”
“We must get this done and, if we do, the world will be safer and prospects for stability throughout the region will improve. But as President Obama has reiterated, no deal is better than a bad deal. We will not accept a bad deal.”
Bringing her remarks back to her experience with Rwanda, her bridge to the Holocaust, and connecting that to the Jewish struggle in a historical sweep of this past century, Power said, “I accompanied the Security Council to the Great Lakes region of Central Africa where the waves of terror created by the 1994 Rwanda genocide continue to disrupt and claim lives. While there, we visited the Rwandan equivalent of Yad Vashem, their memorial.”
“Beneath the green lawns and colorful gardens, there lie the bodies of 250,000 people buried in that single mass grave under the memorial. The memorial is designed to educate but also to warn – an alarm that is not being heeded well enough around the world today.”
“Sixty-eight years ago, representatives from around the world gathered in San Francisco to launch the United Nations. Like members of the ADL, these men and women were not naïve. On the contrary, they were witnesses to the Holocaust and the survivors of global war. Addressing the delegates was the powerful leader of a coalition that had only recently rescued Europe from the most malignant ideology humanity has ever known.”
“‘Fascism,’ President Truman told the delegates, ‘did not die with Mussolini. Hitler is finished – but the seeds spread by his disordered mind have firm root in too many fanatical brains. It is easier to remove tyrants and destroy concentration camps than it is to kill the ideas that gave them birth. Victory on the battlefield was essential, but it was not enough. For a good and lasting peace,’ Truman continued, ‘the decent peoples of the earth must remain determined to strike down the evil spirit which has hung over the world.’”
At the close of the speech, ADL’s Foxman called Power “the voice of conscious of the United States,” and a “voice against genocide.”
“Genocide is the word most people want to avoid, to run away from, aren’t willing to confront,” Foxman said. “You have forced this country to face that ugliness, that brutality, because unless we face it, understand it, we will continue to witness it, repeat it.”
He presented her with a book that “would help [her] deliver the message.” Covered in a book jacket that looked like an old tallis, the volume had the word Jew written in it six million times, 4,400 times on each page, and “each word Jew represents a victim of genocide,” Foxman said.
“It is so difficult to communicate the concept of six million and in a very humble and haunting way, this book delivers,’ Foxman told Power. “And I know that on your desk, when you deal with that issue, it will make it that much more of a reality.”