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Making Israel the Issue Again, over Samantha Power and Susan Rice

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Earlier this week, President Obama announced that Susan Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the UN, will be his new National Security Advisor. He also announced that he had picked Samantha Power, his longtime advisor, to replace Rice at the UN. For better or for worse, both appointments have an Israel angle.

Samantha Power

Samantha Power has been a lightening rod for outrage from the pro-Israel right-wing since President Obama's first election campaign. The primary hook for attacks against - then and now - was a 2002 interview in which she offered some candid, rational, but unacceptable-to-pro-Likudniks (and people to their right) on Israel-Palestine that. After the initial firestorm erupted, Power clarified and disavowed her comments in that interview.

Nonetheless, only a few short months after the outrageous and unseemly grandstanding around and interrogation of President Obama's nominee for the position of Secretary of Defense over his pro-Israel bona fides , pressure is already being placed on Senators to subject Power to what may someday become known as the "Hagel treatment." The Republican Jewish Coalition called on Senators to, "...question her closely about her past statements and writings. She must respond to the strong doubts about her views raised by that record..." Right-wing news outlet "the Washington Free Beacon" has published a piece entitled "Samantha Power's Five Worst Statements" - with the interview listed in the #2 position. Haaretz has published an article, "YouTube clip likely to dog Samantha Power's appointment as U.S. ambassador to UN." And the Times of Israel reported, "Anti-Israel statement from 2002 may haunt Power's UN envoy bid."

It remains to be seen whether Power's confirmation hearing will be as ugly as that of Hagel. In contrast to Hagel, Power has strong backing from many neocons. Likewise, she has a powerful (no pun intended) defense coming from what to many may seem like an unlikely source: former Republican Congressional candidate and celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Boteach engaged Power back in 2011 when the controversy over her comments first arose, and subsequently spoke out in her defense; he is doing so again now, in a June 6 op-ed in the Times of Israel entitled, "Defending Samantha Power on Israel." Likewise, Alan Dershowitz has emphatically and publicly given Power his seal of approval.

The conclusion from the foregoing is clear: assuming Power is confirmed by the Senate to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it seems certain that she will be under a particularly strong spotlight at Turtle Bay with respect to everything she may say or do that in any way relates to Israel.

Susan Rice

Susan Rice's road from a person treated with suspicion by the Jewish right, to someone considered a "friend" was chronicled by the Forward last November, following the UN General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. At that time, when speculation was growing that Rice would be nominated to replace Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, Rice delivered a notably hard-line speech with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, notwithstanding the fact that the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly was, in its substance, consistent with longstanding U.S. policy regarding a resolution of the conflict.

Nonetheless, many right-wing pundits have not tired of attacking Rice's pro-Israel credentials (for example, here, here and here). This may be simply because she is associated with President Obama, with Obama opponents eager to exploit any opportunity to undermine the president (as was the case with the attacks on Rice over Benghazi). Or, it may reflect the belief that by continually attacking Rice in this manner, Rice will feel compelled to adopt more right-wing positions on Israel. The latter possibility is of particular concern, as Rice ascends to a top position in the Obama Administration and at a time when Secretary Kerry's new peace push will be keeping Israel on her agenda. Regardless, it appears certain that Rice, as Obama's National Security Advisor, will remain squarely in the spotlight over Israel-related issues, and under constant pressure to demonstrate what her past (and current) detractors define as acceptable pro-Israel credentials.