Some Republicans may view the choice of Samantha Power for ambassador to the United Nations a chance to replay the divisive Chuck Hagel nomination process, in which they tried to drive a wedge between the White House and pro-Israel advocates.
It may not be that simple this time round, as Power has successfully defused some prickly questions about her position on Israel.
Power, an expert on genocide prevention who served as senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council during the first years of the Obama administration, has made statements in the past that have irked the pro-Israel community. In a 2002 interview, in the height of the second intifada, she spoke about the possibility of sending American troops to the West Bank if the situation would be seen as “moving toward genocide.”
The interview had since haunted Power and was referred to each time the Irish-born academic and journalist was mentioned for a top positions. But in her work in the Obama administration on issues relating to Israel, Power succeeded in turning the tide. She explained her positions on Israel in an interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who ran in the 2012 elections for Congress on a Republican ticket, and managed to convince him she has supports the Jewish state.
More importantly, Power impressed Israeli diplomats and pro-Israel activists with her work at the United Nations and other international organizations in support of Israel. As the White House official in charge of relations with international organizations she spent endless hours working to defeat the Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at the U.N. and convinced the administration to boycott the Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel bias. In doing so she also won over many in the Jewish community, including heads of major organizations and even the ever-critical Alan Dershowitz.
That hard work now seems to be paying off.
Power will be heading to the Senate confirmation hearing with public backing of major Jewish groups including the Anti Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and with public endorsements from Dershowitz and Boteach.
Critics of the nomination in the community are led by the Republican Jewish Committee that urged senators “to question her closely about her past statements and writings,” during the nomination hearing. “She must respond to the strong doubts about her views raised by that record,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks.
The Zionist Organization of America, while acknowledging Power’s positive role in defeating the Palestinian statehood bid and boycotting Durban II, said in a statement that “the overwhelming evidence of her entire record causes us great fear and concern as to her appropriateness for this post.”
Heading in to the nomination process, Power seems to be in a much stronger position than Hagel was on issues relating to Israel. While Hagel spent much of his time before being approved meeting with Jewish and pro-Israeli activists in attempt to explain his past statements and views, Powers already has most of the organized community behind her.
It does not necessarily mean smooth sailing through the Senate Foreign Relations committee, but it does promise that the nomination debate will not focus on Israel.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.