For Samantha Power, Support for Israel Is Deeply Personal — and Proven

U.N. Envoy Wins Over Jewish Community With Track Record

Power Play: Samantha Power, shown here with President Obama, leaves little to chance, especially when it comes to shoring up support around Israel.
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Power Play: Samantha Power, shown here with President Obama, leaves little to chance, especially when it comes to shoring up support around Israel.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 15, 2013, issue of June 21, 2013.
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But many in the pro-Israel community encountered Power’s thinking about the region when they came across an earlier, now-famous interview she gave in 2002, before coming to government, to Harry Kreisler, executive director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In it, Power was asked a hypothetical question about the possibility of a genocidal situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and replied that in that case, the United States should consider putting “a meaningful military presence” on the ground in the West Bank.

“Putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import,” she added, in apparent reference to the pro-Israel lobby. “It may more crucially mean (investing) billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine.”

Less hypothetically, Power also assessed Ariel Sharon, who at that time was prime minister of Israel, and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, as leaders ”who are fundamentally politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people…. I do think in that sense, both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible.”

The interview has since been raised time and again, mainly by critics of the administration, as evidence of Power’s extreme views on Israel. This suspicion intensified when Power joined the administration.

“She seemed to have a keen awareness that there had been some unease in the community she needed to address,” a Jewish communal official said, referring to Power’s initial position at Obama’s White House.

Power not only addressed the controversy, but also delved into the nitty-gritty details of Israel’s battles in the U.N., the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council. “She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations,” said an administration official who worked closely with Power. “After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues.”

Israeli officials noted Power’s leadership role in getting the administration to pull out of the 2009 Durban II anti-racism conference because of its anti-Israel bias. They also applauded her work in defeating the P.A.’s 2011 drive to achieve recognition for Palestine as an independent state through the United Nations Security Council. Power’s strong profile on these two issues, said Jarrod Bernstein, who served until recently as liaison to the Jewish community at the White House, shows “two instances in which she distinguished herself as being on the right side of the community.”

Power also participated in discussions that sought to dissipate the difficulties that Israel faced as a result of the 2009 Goldstone Report, which alleged that Israel had committed war crimes during its military campaign in Gaza the previous year.

Power was instrumental, too, in protecting Israel following the widespread condemnation it faced in 2010 for its attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that sought to deliver a shipment of humanitarian goods to Gaza in violation of the blockade that Israel had imposed on the territory. Before leaving her NSC post, Power, according to an official involved in those talks, worked on strategies for preventing Israel’s adversaries in this episode from pursuing their case at the International Criminal Court in Hague.


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