New US envoy says she’ll defend Israel at the UN

Samantha Power criticizes ‘unacceptable bias’ against Jewish state, promises to back Jerusalem’s bid for a Security Council seat

President Barack Obama’s choice as UN ambassador says if she is confirmed by the Senate, she will work to eliminate what she calls the United Nations’ “unacceptable bias and attacks” on Israel. Samantha Power on Wednesday told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she will also work to make the UN more efficient and stand up for freedom.

Her confirmation appears likely. Several Republicans said Power would be a force in New York even as they pressed the former journalist, human rights campaigner and author to clarify several decade-old comments that the lawmakers suggested were critical of Israel or the United States.

The Irish-born Power, who has been criticized by some groups for past comments considered critical of Israel, said that the US has no “greater friend” than the Jewish state. She criticized the UN for its “disproportionate” focus on Israel and said she would fight to have Israel admitted as a member of the UN Security Council, a post that the Jewish state has been vying for.

“The Security Council seat is one that has eluded Israel, despite its many contributions across the years, and I commit to you wholeheartedly to go on offense, as well as playing defense on the legitimation of Israel, and we’ll make every effort to secure greater integration of Israeli public servants in the UN system,” she said in response to a question from Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

“The UN must be fair,” Power said. “Israel’s legitimacy should be beyond dispute, and its security must be beyond doubt. And just as I have done as President Obama’s UN adviser at the White House, I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it.”

Two conservative Jewish groups, the Zionist Organization of America and Emet, have urged the Senate to kill Power’s nomination, citing a 2002 video in which Power appears to advocate transferring US assistance from Israel to the Palestinians and deploying an intervention force to protect the Palestinians, among other statements.

“The overwhelming evidence of her entire record causes us great fear and concern,” the ZOA said in a statement in June. Meanwhile, an array of Jewish groups — including the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly — have endorsed Power unreservedly.

On Wednesday, Power said she has long dissociated herself from her call for an international protection force in the Mideast, calling it a “long, rambling and remarkably incoherent answer” to a hypothetical question she shouldn’t have answered. She said peace must come through a negotiated solution and that is why the administration is trying to get the Palestinians to drop their campaign for unilateral recognition as a state in multilateral organizations.

Power also said the Security Council’s failure to stop Syria’s civil war is a “disgrace that history will judge harshly.”

Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her examination of the US response to genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, has long advocated military and other forms of intervention to prevent mass atrocities. She helped make the case for Obama’s decision to deploy American air assets to oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power in 2011.

On Wednesday she expressed little confidence in the UN authorizing any similar intervention in Syria but said Washington could act on its own, if necessary.

“The failure of the UN Security Council to respond to the slaughter in Syria is a disgrace that history will judge harshly,” Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But pressed by Sen. John McCain, she acknowledged that any forceful action was unlikely from an organization that, because of the veto power of Russia and China, hasn’t penalized Syrian President Bashar Assad or even condemned his government’s role in a 2½-year civil war that has killed almost 100,000 people.

Moscow and Beijing have blocked US-backed resolutions against the Assad government three times and remain opposed to any effort by Western and Arab countries to force Assad into stepping down.

Russia, however, says it is working with the US to try to get Syria’s government and rebels into peace talks.

Overall, the hearing amounted to a surprising show of bilateral backing for Power, a 42-year-old mother of two. She was a senior foreign policy adviser during Obama’s first term and served as the first head of the Atrocities Prevention Board he established last year.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, declared himself “exceptionally excited” with Power heading to the United Nations, and Republican colleagues from Marco Rubio of Florida to McCain expressed their support.

JTA contributed to this report.

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