Obama names aide Ben Rhodes to Holocaust Memorial Council
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Obama names aide Ben Rhodes to Holocaust Memorial Council

White House messaging guru on Iran deal and abstention in UN anti-settlements resolution to help lead nation in Shoah remembrance

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the White House Complex in Washington, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, during a the White House Forum to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the White House Complex in Washington, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, during a the White House Forum to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — With three days left in his presidency, Barack Obama made his final appointments to administration positions, including adding 10 members to the Holocaust Memorial Council.

Most notable on that list is Ben Rhodes, a long-time Obama aide and speechwriter who managed the White House messaging on selling the Iran deal and explaining the US decision to abstain on a United Nations Security Council resolution last month that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal.

Rhodes, whose official title is deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was a source of controversy after a New York Times Magazine profile portrayed him as bragging about misrepresenting the nuclear accord to shape American public opinion.

In the article, Rhodes spoke of creating an “echo chamber” of nongovernmental organizations, nuclear proliferation experts and journalists to gain support for the deal, as well as portraying a false impression of Iran’s regime.

A former graduate student enrolled in New York University’s creative writing program, Rhodes decided to enter the realm of public policy after witnessing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

After spending some time in the Washington think-tank world, he became a foreign policy speechwriter for candidate Obama in 2007 and remained a staffer in his White House for the entirety of his tenure.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, right, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office on September 10, 2014. (White House/Pete Souza)
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, right, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office on September 10, 2014. (White House/Pete Souza)

Obama also deployed the 39-year-old spokesman as a media envoy to explain his administration’s decision to allow a resolution that called for an end to all settlement construction in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Beyond a number of interviews with US broadcast media, Rhodes conducted a conference call with reporters moments after the motion passed, explaining that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately created the outcome of the vote with the policies he instituted.

“Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today,” said Rhodes, who has a Jewish mother and Episcopalian father.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to CNN, December 26, 2016. (Screenshot)
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to CNN, December 26, 2016. (Screenshot)

After the Israeli premier and other high-level officials said they had “ironclad” evidence the United States drafted and lobbied on behalf of the measure, Rhodes took to the interview circuit to deny the charges.

In a particularly personal dig, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and former GOP activist, Ron Dermer, told multiple news outlets that Rhodes was an “expert in fiction,” presumably alluding to his unsuccessful aspirations to be a novelist.

Congress created the Holocaust Memorial Council in 1980 in order to fundraise for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The 68-member council meets twice a year and consists of 55 members appointed by the president. They serve five-year terms.

Obama also appointed First Lady Michelle Obama’s long-time speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz, to the council.

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