(October 9, 2015 / JNS) By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org
After he personally consulted with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, whom President Barack Obama pulled away from attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent address to the U.N. General Assembly, prominent Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein shed light on the controversy in an interview with the Nachum Segal Network radio station on Friday.
Hoenlein—executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body for 53 Jewish groups—said, “I’ve looked into it, I’ve spoken to Power about it, and the fact is that the U.S. ambassador did not attend any [U.N. General Assembly] speeches and did plan to attend the [Israeli] prime minister’s speech. But there was an emergency National Security Council meeting, it was because of a particular development, and Power was called away for it. There was no walkout.”
“The problem was with the optics,” Hoenlein added, Jewish Insider reported. “It was the question of how did the other countries read it. When they saw the absence, did they look for Samantha Power? The optics that it created, the impression that resulted of it is of concern.”
A State Department official had initially told Breitbart News regarding the Oct. 1 U.N. address, “Ambassador Power and Secretary [John] Kerry were unable to attend Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the General Assembly because they were called into a meeting with President Obama, which they participated in via video teleconference.” The official did not provide the reason for the video conference.
Elliott Abrams—a former national security official in the George W. Bush administration—wrote Oct. 2 on his “Pressure Points” blog for the Council on Foreign Relations that while Obama calling Kerry away from the speech for an emergency meeting might be considered “plausible,” a report that Power was deliberately instructed to stay away from Netanyahu’s speech marks “a low point for seven years of Obama diplomacy.”
“Think of how petty that instruction, which can only have come from the White House, really is,” Abrams wrote. “To sit in the seat and listen to Netanyahu isn’t endorsing his remarks, it is the politeness we owe an ally. Deliberate absence recalls the years in which dozens of delegations, Arab and ‘Third World,’ would leave the chamber when any Israeli rose to speak. This administration is still griping about diplomatic errors Netanyahu has made, but a refusal to have the U.S. ambassador listen to his speech is petty and damaging, hinting to anti-Israel delegations that the United States may be willing to let all sorts of anti-Israel measures go without opposition or criticism.”
On Oct. 7, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) also weighed in on the controversy.
“It is appalling and unprecedented for an American president to pull senior United States representatives from the U.N. General Assembly hall ahead of the leader of any American ally’s address to the United Nations,” ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said in a statement. “President Obama cannot possibly have been unaware of the signal this sends to friend and foe alike regarding the U.S.-Israeli relationship which, despite publicized disagreements, he has professed to value and uphold.”
Klein added, “The question must be asked—why would President Obama to do this? The answer appears to be that President Obama is telling Iran, Arab nations, and the rest of the world that he means to maintain a frosty and fraught relationship with Israel, despite talk of moving forward with cooperative efforts with Israel to combat the many manifest and emergent dangers in the Middle East—many of them stimulated by the terrible and utterly defective nuclear deal with Iran upon which he insisted.”