I don’t think we’ve commented on President Obama’s decision to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who headed up the Durban Conference Against Racism that became an anti-Semitic hate-fest (the Unites States and Israel boycotted it, to Robinson’s dismay). Robinson’s history of consistent animosity towards Israel has caused Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, to criticize the selection. Foxman calls Robinson “a lead cheerleader for the Palestinian narrative” during her time as High Commissioner. He explains:
She issued distorted and detrimental reports on the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and blamed Israel for the outbreak of Palestinian violence – the Second Intifada. As the convener of the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, she allowed the process to be hijacked to promote the delegitimizing of Israel and pronouncements of hateful anti-Jewish canards, such as “Zionism is racism.” She failed miserably in her leadership role, opting to join the anti-Israel forces rather than temper them.
Ms. Robinson has been quoted as saying, “On the Palestinian side, they are the victims, etc. On the Israeli side, they feel they are the victims, in some measure (“Democracy Now,” Pacifica Radio, Feb. 25, 2009). Because she has not moved away from her anti-Israel bias, she is not an “agent of change” and is undeserving of America’s highest civilian honor.
Robinson’s anti-Israel bias has been further demonstrated by Jennifer Rubin and Melanie Phillips both of whom note how disgusted the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos became with Robinson’s conduct at Durban.
How did Obama come to give our nation’s highest civilian honor to an arch-enemy of Israel, a key American ally at least until quite recently? At one level the answer may seem straightforward — Obama’s perception of Israel is probably not much different than Robinson’s.
But how did Robinson get on Obama’s radar screen to begin with? Ed Lasky points out that it’s far from obvious that, as a Senator focusing on domestic affairs and (above all) on running for the presidency, Obama would be familiar with Robinson and her work.
Tevi Troy has speculated that Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod might be responsible for the selection of Robinson. But Lasky argues that Axelrod, even more than Obama, is a political animal who would be unlikely to know much, if anything, about Robiinson. And Emanuel would likely have understood that her selection would be a red flag to the Jewish community, as it has turned out to be.
Lasky has another candidate — Samatha (“Soft”) Power. His case is circumstantial, but strong. Robinson is Irish; Power was born in Ireland. Both put great faith in the U.N. Powee wrote a worshipful book about Sergio de Mello, a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson was his predecessor in that position. In writing her book, Power would have learned all about Robinson and probably come into contact with her
Finally, Power, like Robinson, is clearly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.
Power, you probably recall, is a friend of Obama’s and was his top foreign policy advisor during the campaign until she called Hillary Clinton a monster. Power’s conduct prevented her from landing a top job in the administration (currently she serves as the senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council), but there’s no reason to doubt that she still has Obama’s ear, especially on “soft,” symbolic stuff like this.
In short, there’s good reason to suspect that, as Lasky puts it, “the idea for nominating Robinson came from the woman who thinks very much like her and probably desires to emulate her: Samantha Power.”
CORRECTION: Tevi Troy writes to inform us that he does not believe Emanuel and Axelrod are responsible for the selection of Robinson, just that the selection could not have been made without them being made aware of it.