"There should not be a shred of doubt right now," Obama said to the opening session of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "When the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
But the responsibility for making an even more full-throated case for the administration's pro-Israel bona fides fell to Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
Rice delivered a speech Monday afternoon at a luncheon for AIPAC's synagogue delegation, to a room full of mostly black-kippahed Jews, where she asserted that the Obama administration has been a tireless advocate for Israel's concerns at the U.N.
"Not a day goes by -- not one -- when my colleagues and I do not work hard to defend Israel's security and legitimacy at the United Nations," Rice said.
It is becoming a familiar role -- and line -- for the ambassador, who has devoted much of her time over the past several months to lobbying other nations at the U.N. on Israel's behalf, and the rest of it seemingly talking about those efforts.
"We spend an enormous amount of time defending Israel’s right to defend itself and defending Israel’s legitimacy throughout the United Nations system," Rice said in January, during an appearance before the American Jewish Committee National Board of Governors. "It’s an issue of utmost and daily concern for the United States."
Rice's role as courter-in-chief of pro-Israel voters comes with a touch of irony, not least because the U.N. may be the one international institution Israelis, and pro-Israeli Americans, tend to view with the most suspicion and derision. It is at the U.N. that some of the most contentious initiatives have originated, from the Durban conference on racism, which the U.S. boycotted over its proposed references to Israel, to the Goldstone Report, which found violations of international law by Israelis during the 2009 war on Gaza.
But State Department officials say that as a result of this, the U.N. has also become the central location for the U.S.'s most aggressive defense of Israel. As a result, Rice's spokesman Mark Kornblau told HuffPost, Rice has become "a natural spokeswoman on the issue."
The turning point may have come last September, when the Palestinian Authority attempted to seek international approval for statehood, over the aggressive objections of Israel and the United States.
At the time, President Obama had been taking hits from early GOP presidential contenders for throwing Israel "under the bus," -- in the words of Mitt Romney -- and in a largely Orthodox Jewish, and historically Democratic, New York district, a Catholic Republican defeated a Jewish Democrat in a special congressional election.
Enter Rice, who, by her own account, devoted nearly every waking hour to lobbying against the statehood vote.
"If you were to see my schedule, you'd wonder why I am here," Rice joked to a gathering of reporters in New York, back in September, adding, "The United States, and I, and others, have been working very energetically to talk to member states about the real-world consequences of this kind of approach."
Rice herself received an award from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
At her speech on Monday, Rice, flaunted her comfort level in speaking to Jewish organizations, opening with a few lines of Hebrew -- "Being here calls to mind one of my favorite psalms: Hinei ma'tov uma-nayim, shevet achim gam yachad," she said -- and joking freely with the audience. She didn't only deliver a mash-note to Israeli concerns about the U.N. She also defended the U.N. as an institution, saying that its faults against Israel shouldn't obscure its many good deeds, from administering peacekeeping operations in Africa to imposing tough sanctions on Iran and Syria.
But she concluded with a personal message about where the U.S. stands on matters that concern Israel.
"What Israel faces is something very different. It's relentless, it's obsessive, it's ugly, it's bad for the United Nations, it's bad for peace -- and it has got to stop," Rice said.
"I know you're profoundly frustrated by the treatment Israel all too often endures at the UN," she added. "I know I am too."
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