This past week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power decamped to Israel, where she met with political leaders, visited Yad Vashem, and even played basketball with young Israelis and Palestinians in a coexistence program. For the most part, it was a typical official visit–scripted and unsurprising. That is, until Power decided to level some unusually blunt criticism at her own place of work.
An Obama confidante, Power is known for being more pointed in her public statements than other ambassadors, as when she openly rebuked European countries for skipping a major conference on anti-Semitism in 2014. Her address on Monday at the American International School in Even Yehuda proved to be no exception.
In the speech, delivered to Israeli and Palestinian Model U.N. students, Power defended the necessity of the U.N., but also offered a rare unflinching look at its manifold failures, particularly with regard to the world’s only Jewish state.
“The UN,” she said, “can seem at best ineffective, or at worst part of the problem. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, occupies part of neighboring Ukraine. The government of Syria, a UN member state, blocks humanitarian assistance to people in besieged areas and starves them to death. UN peacekeepers deployed to war-torn countries like the Central African Republic end up sexually abusing the people who look to them for protection.”
Then Power turned to Israel:
Consider an example that hits closer to home. As you all know, the UN Charter guarantees ‘the equal rights of nations large and small,’ and yet we have seen member states seek to use the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and even the most arcane UN committees in ways that cross the line from legitimate criticisms of Israel’s policies to attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel itself. The only country in the world with a standing agenda item at the Human Rights Council is not North Korea, a totalitarian state that is currently holding an estimated 100,000 people in gulags; not Syria, which has gassed its people – lots of them. It is Israel.
“Bias,” Power went on, “has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea – it even extends to Israeli organizations.” She cited the example of ZAKA, an Israeli humanitarian group that responds to natural and man-made disasters worldwide, from the 2010 Haiti earthquake to New York after 9/11. Despite its lauded global relief work, Power related, the organization was denied accreditation by the U.N.’s NGO committee for years, until a massive U.S. lobbying effort finally forced the issue.
Later, in the Q&A after her address, Power went into even more detail about the United Nations’ singular obsession with Israel. In response to a student’s question as to whether America could be an honest broker in the Middle East while seeming to take Israel’s side, Power said:
I think at the United Nations it’s just important for everyone to bear in mind that, as I indicated in my remarks, Israel is just not treated like other countries. So in the General Assembly, every autumn there are resolutions that are brought on human rights situations and other challenges around the world, and every year there is one resolution brought, directed at President Assad and his regime and some of the horrible crimes he has committed against his people. Against Israel, again, and there are legitimate criticisms that one can make and you hear us make criticisms of settlements and other aspects of Israeli policies. On Israel, around the same time there is one on Syria, there’s 18 on Israel.
And so part of our posture in New York is dedicated to trying to ensure that the criticisms of Israel are about policies and not of the existence of the state itself, which is what it still feels as though a lot of that criticism is motivated by. And remember there are many countries that still either whisper or even say outright that they wish Israel did not exist and so we will always defend Israel from those kinds of attacks and we will always stand up again for its security.
In other words, because the U.N. is often so extraordinarily biased against the Jewish state–something even its employees have admitted–America must put its thumb on the scale to ensure a level playing field. Being an honest broker means keeping the U.N. honest.
Watch Power’s full remarks about the U.N. and Israel below:
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