For Samantha Power, Support for Israel Is Deeply Personal & Proven

— by Jason Berger

On Saturday, The Jewish Daily Forward‘s Nathan Guttman published an article on Samantha Power, President Obama’s nominee for U.N. Ambassador, and her commitment to Israel. Guttman’s piece opened with a story from 2009 in which Power is meeting with Israeli officials. In the middle of their discussion, she pulled out a picture of her son and described how her husband Cass Sustein is a descendent of the, “Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, the 18th-century Jewish sage who is considered the greatest talmudic scholar of his time.”

Guttman concluded that while this might partially explain Power’s commitment to Israel, it is not the only reason. Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Dan Arbel explains that for as long as he has known Power, her strong sentiment towards Israel has always been second nature. He states, “Her starting point has always been, ‘How do we work together to overcome obstacles and to ensure that both the United States and Israel get out of these U.N. situations with the least damage?”

Guttman also discussed how Power dealt with almost every Israel-related issue at the U.N. during Ambassador Susan Rice’s tenure. According to an Administration official, “She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations. After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues.”

More after the jump.
Most impressively, though, are the Israelis who are praising the Power selection. Guttman noted:

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.

Obama and Israel

— by Steve Sheffey

Move a Chicagoan to San Diego and soon he’ll forget the wind, sleet and snow and start complaining when the temperature drops below 60 degrees. Relations between Israel and the United States are warmer under President Obama than under previous administrations, yet we hear that the President has a “Jewish problem.” The problem is not Obama, but us: In only three years, we’ve lost historic perspective. We’re criticizing Obama for what would have gone unnoticed in other administrations.

  • Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger threatened to “reassess” America’s relationship with Israel. Obama has declared that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak credited Obama for the strongest relationship between the two countries ever.
  • Ronald Reagan suspended arms shipments to Israel and supported a UN resolution criticizing Israel for bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Obama secretly sold Israel the bunker busting bombs it requested during the Bush administration and cast the only UN veto of his administration against the one-sided anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution on settlements.
  • George W. Bush pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections and made little progress in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. Obama has not negotiated with Hamas. He has mobilized the international community to impose the toughest sanctions ever against Iran and flat-out declared that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, saying no options are off the table.

Obama’s pro-Israel accomplishments compare favorably with any Republican president. Yet we keep complaining.

We say he has not visited Israel as president, forgetting that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents who visited Israel during their first terms in office. George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his seventh year as president. Ronald Reagan never visited in his entire life. Obama went to Israel as recently as 2006 and 2008.

We complain that the Obama administration criticizes Israel’s settlement policy, forgetting that every administration since 1967 has criticized Israel’s settlement policy. But unlike George H.W. Bush, Obama never threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Israel because of settlement activity; instead, Obama has taken U.S. financial assistance to Israel to record levels.

We complain about imagined slights to Prime Minister Netanyahu, forgetting that when the chips were down, Obama came through for Israel and Netanyahu. When Israel asked for help fighting the Carmel forest fires, President Obama’s response was “get Israel whatever it needs. Now.”

In September 2011, when the late-night call came from Israel to Obama asking for help in rescuing the Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy, Netanyahu himself called it a “decisive and fateful moment,” recalling that Obama “said ‘I will do everything I can.’ And he did.”

The list goes on and on. Obama opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, and successfully derailed Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN. He’s done more than any president to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Yet despite the facts, despite the historic perspective, it’s almost as if some of us want Obama to be anti-Israel because that would validate our worst fears. Attacking Obama on Israel is like attacking John Kerry on his personal military record. The Swift Boat campaign worked because Kerry and his supporters were too slow to take it seriously and fight fiction with facts. The result was four more years of George W. Bush.

Maybe it’s our nature to complain. But President Obama’s words and deeds prove that he is not only a strong friend of Israel, but that he is willing to stand up for Israel publicly and behind the scenes. That’s what matters, and that’s why most Jews will again vote for Obama in 2012.
Reprinted courtesy of the Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. Subscribe at http://visitor.constantcontact…

Durban III: Katrina Lantos Swett travels in her father’s footsteps.


— by Katrina Lantos Sweet, daughter of Rep. Tom Lantos (z”l)

As the start of Durban III quickly approaches, I have often thought back to the first Durban conference which degenerated into a global diplomatic pogrom aimed at demonizing the Jewish state of Israel.   My father, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, was proud to lead the walkout of the official US delegation from that shameful farce that he referred to as the Durban Debacle.  So while much of the world is optimistically celebrating the hoped for dawn of a new “Arab Spring”, this gathering in New York is yet another reminder of the challenges that we continue to face.  

Photo (right): Rep. Tom Lantos and his wife, Annette, left the press center at the racism conference in Durban, South Africa. Lantos said the conference was “hijacked by extremist elements.” Associated Press photo by Karel Prinsloo.

More after the jump.    

At the Lantos Foundation, we share the hope for a more democratic and progressive future for the Middle East, but the Durban meeting is another sign of concern.  We are alarmed at the naïve and dangerous willingness of too many in the West to ignore the appalling and disturbing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that is spewing forth from many of the new revolutionary leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere. And lest anyone be tempted to dismiss such displays as regrettable but harmless chatter, I would remind you of the violent assault on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo just a few days ago.

I will travel to New York this week armed with the determination to continue fighting against the scourge of anti-Israel sentiment that will surely be on display.  As a child of the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, I will focus on continuing my father’s legacy of standing up to the ever present danger of hatred and anti-Semitism.

Missing The Good Old Days?

— Rabbi Avi Shafran

Do you miss the good old days when we had a President who refused to allow the US to participate in the UN’s Durban Review Conference because he believed Israel would be unfairly criticized.

A President who rejected the Goldstone report, and refused to participate in joint military exercises with Turkey when Ankara insisted Israel be excluded.

A President who asked Congress to approve a $205 million package to help Israel build a new anti-missile defense system.

A President who spoke up on Israel’s behalf to help it gain acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A President who didn’t shy from authorizing the killing of an American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen.

A President who, in a speech delivered in the heart of the Arab world, told his listeners that they need to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

A President who, addressing the UN General Assembly, stated clearly and unequivocally that “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people” and went on to say that “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the US.”

A President who, on the domestic front, signed an executive order that preserved the faith-based social service funding initiative and pointedly did not forbid participating religious groups from discriminating in hiring in order to be faithful to their religious beliefs.

Well, take heart.  The good old days are more recent than you think.  You have that President.  His name is Barack Obama.

No, I didn’t vote for him in 2008.  I’m a lifelong Republican, an alumnus, in fact, of Young Americans for Freedom. (I was once young.)  

But it bothers me that Mr. Obama is negatively viewed by so many Orthodox Jews, ostensibly because he treats Israel badly and is hostile to religion.

I have no statistics, only anecdotal evidence and journalistic gleanings, for my feeling that he is so viewed by many intelligent and otherwise well-informed frum folks.  But if I’m right and he is, one has to wonder why.

Maybe it’s his fiscal strategy.  Economics is an esoteric, inscrutable science to me, something on the order of particle physics.  And so it may well be that the President deserves opprobrium by the heapful for his fiscal policies.  But those policies are not the major part of the criticism one hears about Mr. Obama “in the mikvah,” so to speak.  There he is indicted on charges of insensitivity (or worse) toward Israel or religious Jews.

Surely our community is not so uninformed as to consider Mr. Obama’s middle name, given him at birth, an indictment of his character; or so credulous as to doubt his citizenship; or so crass – one hopes – as to distrust him for a surplus of melanin.

There may well be reasons to feel negatively toward the current Administration (certainly many people, and they are hardly limited to our community, do).  History will have its say in time.  But if any readers were surprised a few paragraphs above to discover that the “good old days” of American support for Israel and concern for religious rights are the here-and-now, they must admit that they were not as well-informed about our President as they thought.

The real problem here, though, isn’t Mr. Obama or our feelings about him.  It’s something deeper.  

One of the most basic Torah imperatives is modesty.  Not only in dress and in speech but in attitude – in recognizing that there are things we don’t know, in some cases can’t know.

And yet so often we seem to feel a need to embrace absolute, take-no-prisoners political opinions; to reject any possibility of ambivalence, much less any admission of ignorance.

Certitude is proper, even vital, in some areas of life.  But in the realm of politics it can be, in fact usually is, an expression of overconfidence or worse.

Part of wisdom is knowing what one doesn’t know.  And part of modesty is acting accordingly.

© 2010 AMI MAGAZINE