WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama announced Samantha Power and Susan Rice as his delegation to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard suggested conference-goers boycott their speeches to snub Obama for denying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a meeting during his visit to the U.S.
The audience of nearly 16,000 pro-Israel advocates largely ignored Kristol’s advice, giving Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a standing ovation after her remarks on Monday. While much of the conference thus far has focused on Iran’s nuclear program, Power shifted course and blasted the United Nations for what she sees as unfairly singling out Israel for criticism. The ambassador vowed to continue defending Israel’s legitimacy in the international community.
Noting similar principles in Israel’s founding document and the United Nations charter, Power said, “It is bitterly unjust that the United Nations, as an institution founded upon the idea that all nations should be treated equally, is so often used cynically by member states to treat Israel unequally.” She continued, “These attacks on Israel’s legitimacy are biased, they are ugly, and the United State of America will not rest until they stop.”
“Before the United States joined the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009, more than half of the country-specific resolutions adopted there were focused on Israel,” she said as an example of the organization’s bias against Israel. “Today we’ve helped lower that proportion to less than a third,” she told a cheering crowd. Still, she said, there are more resolutions cast against Israel than against North Korea.
Power also touted the fact that the U.S. was the only nation to vote against the resolution to create a commission to investigate alleged human rights abuses committed by Israel during last summer’s Gaza War. She described the resolution as “profoundly flawed” for focusing on alleged Israeli misconduct without mentioning the threat posed by Hamas.
While the U.S. could not stop the human rights investigation, it did successfully block a U.N. Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood last December, as Power reminded the crowd. She added, however, that a two-state solution is vital and that Israeli settlements pose an obstacle to peace.
Power’s affirmation that Israel will continue to have the protection of the U.S. in the United Nations comes at a critical juncture for Israel and the international community. After the latest collapse of peace talks between Israel and the Palestine Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to seek statehood through international recognition rather than by negotiating with Israel. Against the urging of the U.S., Abbas moved to join the International Criminal Court at the end of last year, which could potentially lead to Israeli officials being prosecuted for war crimes.
While the Israeli government’s official position is that the Palestinian Authority is not a state, and is therefore not eligible for ICC membership, there is widespread concern within the country about the political and logistical challenges posed by the Palestinian Authority’s move. Because Israel is not party to the ICC, it would not be obliged to surrender its officials to the ICC if the court finds it responsible for war crimes -- but if an Israeli official then traveled to an ICC-member state, he or she could be subject to extradition.
On Sunday, AIPAC held two break-out sessions discussing the problems Israel faces in international courts. While both sessions were off the record, those who attended them overwhelmingly agreed the United Nations and affiliated organizations are predisposed to find fault with Israel without considering the terrorist threat posed by Hamas and regional neighbors.
Power attributes her commitment to protecting Israel to her early experiences as a war correspondent during the Balkans conflict of the 1990s. “I didn’t understand how the world could say we learned the lessons of the Holocaust, and ‘never again,’ only to witness Sarajevo, Srebrenica, the Rwandan genocide and so much more.”
According to Power, those questions prompted her to visit Israel for the first time over 20 years ago. Today, she said, the relationship between Israel and the United States “cannot and will not be tarnished or broken.” She dispelled the notion that the two countries were divided on Iran policy, reiterating Obama’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Friendship with Israel is not a partisan matter, it is a national commitment,” she affirmed.