Obama's picks || Jewish groups will approve of Rice nomination, but Power faces uphill battle
Both appointments strengthen the hand of 'liberal interventionists' in U.S. policy, but also the consensus that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to entire Middle East.
The most recent tweet on Susan Rice’s Twitter account during the announcement on Wednesday of her appointment as National Security Adviser was “On my way to @AIPAC's dinner in NYC. Looking forward to speaking about U.S. commitment to #Israel, spanning generations and political parties.”
Small wonder, then, that Rice’s appointment was almost instantly welcomed by the major American Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, who called her “a determined fighter for fair treatment of the Jewish state” and the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris, who described Obama’s pick to replace the retiring Tom Donilon “an inspired choice.”
What may come as a surprise, though, is that Foxman, at least, was also quick to welcome the appointment of Samantha Power to replace Rice. Foxman described the former journalist and Pulitzer-prize winning author as “a true champion of human rights” who “engaged in an all-hands-on-deck U.S. campaign against Palestinian unilateral efforts in the UN to circumvent peace negotiations.”
But while Rice has largely succeeded in assuaging the initial Jewish and Israeli apprehension that accompanied her appointment to the UN in 2009, Power, by the very nature of her job, has been more discreet in reaching out to the Jewish community and trying to undo the damage wrought by some of her previous statements - including one, unfortunately for her, caught on YouTube, in which she appeared to support an imposed solution, buttressed by armed intervention, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Other than right-wing groups firmly ensconced in Republican and conservative narratives, no mainstream Jewish organizations are expected to oppose or criticize Rice’s appointment. Most Jewish groups have failed to buy into the almost irrational Republican attempt to demonize Rice in the wake of her post-Benghazi interview, in which she promoted the Administration’s view at the time that the attack on the US Consulate was spurred by an anti-Muslim video on YouTube.
Although she may express reservations from time to time about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his policies in private conversations, Rice has proven herself to be a “tough and smart defender of Israel” as one observer described it, during her four years at the UN.
She has endeared herself to Jewish groups and leaders as well as to Israeli diplomats by her Sisyphean efforts to combat the “automatic majority” and the “anti-Israel crap”, as she once described it, at the UN, as well as her efforts to tighten sanctions on Iran. She has become a frequent speaker at Jewish conferences, and has been honored in the past two years by most of the major Jewish organizations.
Power, however, faces a more difficult uphill battle, not least of which because her appointment requires Senate confirmation and Rice’s does not. Those Republicans who are incensed at Obama’s decision to appoint Rice to the White House are more than likely to channel their anger to Power’s expected confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which may very well turn into Chuck Hagel II, a rematch of the dramatic and venomous proceedings that preceded the appointment of the Secretary of Defense.
Power also poses a more difficult challenge for Jewish groups. While those on the far right will be more than happy to rekindle the war-against-Obama-by-proxy at Power’s expense, mainstream Jewish groups are likely to steer clear of a Hagel showdown redux, not least of which because of Obama’s improved image among both Israelis and Jews in the wake of his March visit to Israel. And as Rice as well as Hagel have proven, Obama’s appointees tend to conduct themselves in accordance with his policies in the present rather than their own statements in the past.
Nonetheless, Power is certain to be grilled on some of her previous statements, including the 2002 interview with Harry Kreisler of Berkeley University in which she refers to the pro-Israel lobby as “a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial support”, seems to be indicating a hostility towards US aid to Israel, sounds as if she supports an US-imposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would be backed by a “meaningful military presence” and describes both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat as “terribly irresponsible”.
Power has since repudiated her statements, and has enjoyed the support of such well-known Israel supporters as Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, former New Republic editor Martin Peretz and “Kosher Sex” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
The appointment of Rice and Power – certain to please liberals, Democrats and women – strengthens the hand of “liberal interventionists” in the top echelons of U.S. foreign policy. Whatever their pro-Israel bona fides, the values championed by Rice, and even more so by Power, are shunned not only by most Republicans but by most Israelis as well: multilateralism, emphasis on human rights, humanitarian military intervention and support for many Third World causes.
The by now complete second-term Obama team is also united behind the views outlined by Secretary of State John Kerry in his address to the American Jewish Committee this week on the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only to the sides themselves but for America’s standing in the Muslim world, and as means of fighting extremism.
In this, as well, the American national security team’s view of the world is almost diametrically opposed to the one held by the leaders of Israel’s ruling coalition, as well as the Israelis who voted for them.