“It seems to me at this stage, and this is true of actual genocides as well and not just major human rights abuses which we’re seeing there, you have to go in as if you’re serious, you have to put something on the line,” she said. That meant taking the billions of dollars “serving Israel’s military” and investing it instead in the state of Palestine and a “mammoth protection force.”
Power also noted that taking such a step “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import.”
The comments aroused widespread concern in the pro-Israel community when they surfaced during the 2008 presidential campaign, including among some who are now championing her nomination.
Power and her defenders have played down the significance of those comments, emphasizing that Kreisler had asked the question purely hypothetically. Kreisler’s query also could be construed to have been referring to threats against both Israelis and Palestinians, but Power chose to address only what the United States should do to protect the Palestinians.
“The cardinal sin when you’re on video: don’t answer hypotheticals,” said a former Obama administration official who worked closely with Power and who asked not to be named. “She answered an academic question.”
The Power nomination is hardly the first time a controversial nominee has divided he pro-Israel community. But in the past — including, most recently, the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary — the community’s positions have generally ranged from outright opposition on the right to silence or discomfited acquiescence in the center.
Josh Block, who directs the Israel Project and who was sharply critical of the Hagel pick and other administration policies, praised Power, and described her views as evolving since the video.
“Over the past few years Samantha has made a commendable effort to build ties with the pro-Israel community and develop deeper appreciation of the issues vital to our interests in the region, Israel’s security, and the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Block said in an email. “Some may not be aware that in her role at the NSC, she also helped lead the administration’s efforts opposing the Palestinian bid to circumvent peace negotiations with Israel with unilateralism at the U.N.”
Boteach, in his Huffington Post column, said he convened a meeting in 2011 between Power and Jewish leaders to clear the air after the 2002 video led to accusations that Power was anti-Israel.
“In the presence of the leaders of our community, she suddenly became deeply emotional and struggled to complete her presentation as she expressed how deeply such accusations had affected her,” Boteach said.
The B’nai B’rith’s executive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, attended the meeting and said she delivered an “important” statement. However, he said his group was withholding approval of the nomination until Power addressed her earlier remarks under oath and publicly, in the Senate confirmation hearings.
“Israel has few real friends at the United Nations and at the top of the list is the United States, and it is really incumbent on the representative to be prepared, willing and able to rebuff and repel that kind of language,” he said.
Jarrod Bernstein, the White House’s former Jewish liaison, noted Power’s key role in working with Susan Rice to head off anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations. Power would succeed Rice in the U.N. ambassador post after Obama named her this week to be his new national security adviser.
“Someone once told me in the White House, ‘We are in the pay for performance business,’” Bernstein said. “And Samantha Power performs vis-a-vis the pro-Israel community.”