Will Samantha Power Be the First American UN Ambassador to Abandon Israel?
Last week, mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Birthright Israel, which has brought 500,000 young Jews to Israel, joined with our organization The World Values Network, in a full-page New York Times ad about Ambassador Samantha Power. In the ad Mr. Steinhardt reminded the Ambassador of her commitment at her Senate confirmation hearings, “I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it” at the United Nations.
At the AIPAC Annual Policy Conference in Washington, DC, in March, Samantha avowed, “It is a false choice to tell Israel that it has to choose between peace on the one hand, and security on the other. The United Nations would not ask any other country to make that choice, and it should not ask it of Israel.”
Ambassador Power, of course, was correct – security is the foundation of any sustainable peace framework in the Middle East. To its credit, the United States has long stood for justice and served as an essential check against overreach, anti-Semitism, and double standards by Arab and European nations at the UN.
Yet statements in April by Ambassador Power refusing to rule out supporting UN resolutions that target Israel, added to recent claims by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, have raised serious questions about the specter of betrayal by the United States and Ambassador Power during the UN General Assembly in September. Reports have emerged that France plans to put forth a resolution before the UN Security Council that will call for an immediate resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a hard-cap of 18 months for a final deal. Under the French proposal, if no deal is reached in 18 months, the UN would recognize the Palestinian state, effectively granting legitimacy to an organization that has consistently proven incompetent, corrupt, hostile to democratic values, and openly supportive of terrorism. While the global Jewish community has come to expect little from France, Hamdallah said that France and the U.S. are “coordinating” together on the diplomatic catastrophe. There also exists the possibility that should Israel refuse to accept a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing a timetable for the unilateral creation of a Palestinian State, economic sanctions could be levied against the Jewish State.
For starters, the very notion of this process – which rewards the Palestinian Authority for failure – is patently absurd. In practice, if Israel doesn’t entirely capitulate to every demand of the Palestinian negotiators, the Palestinians are granted statehood. There is zero incentive for Palestinians to even pretend to negotiate in good faith. The mortifying results of the American discussions with Iran on nuclear weapons lowered the world’s estimation of the State Department’s ability to negotiate, but this framework would be a historic nadir.
It’s also worth questioning whether this proposal is even in the best interests of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority’s leadership has repeatedly proven itself incapable of adhering to basic democratic principles, transparency, and rule of law. The PA’s history of graft, support of terrorism, and lack of accountability is staggering.
But at a personal level, it’s not simply the concept of this proposal that is mortifying – it’s the person who would be central to the decision for the United States to betray its closest ally if this proposal moved forward: Ambassador Samantha Power.
As many know, long before Samantha Power became Ambassador Power, she was a well-regarded academic studying human rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School. It was there she wrote the Pulitzer-winning book that launched her career into orbit, A Problem from Hell, the stirring and essential indictment of the inability of the United States to act against genocide over the past 100 years.
But as her star rose in the Obama Administration, many began paying attention to other early statements and writing, including specific ones that raised great concern about her feelings towards Israel and understanding of the conflict. These might have gone unnoticed for any ordinary academic speaking loosely early in her career, but Samantha Power was no ordinary academic.
Due to those earlier statements, Ambassador Power wasn’t implicitly trusted by members of the Jewish community when she took her role in the National Security Council. After writing an op-ed where I encouraged her to clarify her statements, she did just that.
We met in the White House, and spoke candidly – and even quite emotionally – about Israel, the challenges in the region, and the real concerns of anti-Semitism that some had about her earlier statements. Her passion and emphatic support of Israel was self-evident and convincing. From that moment on, I became intent on transforming the Jewish community’s opinion of her, working side-by-side to persuade others that she was someone whose judgment and understanding of the conflict could be trusted when it came to issues related to Israel. Ultimately, when the time came for her nomination to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Jewish American community registered strong, widespread support.
Yet in recent months, the Ambassador Power currently representing America before the United Nations has been a far cry from the Samantha I knew. It has pained me to see her embrace the disastrous Iran deal, even as its leadership repeatedly and unapologetically threatened Israel with genocide. Even unrelated to issues involving Israel, she failed to recognize the Armenian Genocide by its proper name – “genocide” – on its 100th anniversary in April, joining the ranks of that “problem from hell.” The latter was particularly breathtaking given her impassioned plea to the Armenian-American community in 2008 to support President Obama entirely predicated on his commitment to recognize the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as “genocide.”
Still, I concede Iran and the Armenian Genocide are issues somewhat tangential to her role. This French proposal, however, is not. It is squarely and unambiguously her responsibility, and will be remembered as a turning point for Samantha Power’s legacy. She will be confronted with a stark choice between doing what’s right or giving in to the misguided rhetoric of the United Nations. For the sake of justice as well as her legacy, she must stand firm and act on the commitment to Israel she impressed on so many when her nomination was considered.
The path forward is clear: the United States – and specifically, Ambassador Power – must stand in the way of any attempt to move this resolution through the UN Security Council. Moreover, if President Obama compels her to support this resolution, she must consider her position and her ability to continue as Ambassador. This resolution proposed by the French and the pledges she made to the Jewish community to stand by Israel’s side are completely incompatible, especially in light of the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Hamas whose genocidal charter against Israel remains in full force.
In recent years, the United Nations has shown shocking hostility to Israel that would be comical if it were not so serious. From the modern-day blood libel of the Goldstone Report to the laughable double-standards applied by any number of UN General Assembly resolutions. As anti-Israel and anti-Semitic fervor has captured the imagination of the United Nations, the United States has stood by the Negroponte doctrine and proudly asserted its support for the only true democracy and ally of the United States in the region time and time again.
I am supremely confident the Samantha Power I knew would hold up this tradition. Her legacy and the security of the State of Israel depend on it.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.