Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today welcomed President Obama’s decision to launch a high-level diplomatic effort to restore a United Nations gathering to its original purpose of fighting racism, rather than allowing it to descend into a diplomatic disaster echoing a similar U.N. gathering eight years ago.

This past weekend, the administration announced that it was sending a delegation to a preparatory meeting for the U.N.’s Durban Review Conference starting today in Geneva. The purpose of the conference is to review country commitments established by the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. Certain members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have added language to the conference’s Outcome Document that attacks and vilifies the State of Israel, thus undermining preparations for the Review Conference (also known as Durban II).

“The decision to engage in, rather than to withdraw from, the debate in Geneva is constructive,” Berman said. “It is critical that the United States regain its moral voice at the U.N. by jumping into the fray and stipulating clear redlines for re-focusing Durban II, including the removal of language in the Outcome Document attacking Israel or singling it out for criticism. We should continue challenging the status quo at the U.N. by re-engaging in and restructuring its human rights mechanisms in order to break the choke-hold that non-democratic states currently have on them.”

The achievements of the 2001 conference in Durban were overshadowed and diminished by an OIC effort to de-legitimize Israel and by an NGO Forum that featured unrestrained expressions of hate for Israel and for Jews. The United States delegation led a walkout of that conference as a result.

Berman was the author of a bipartisan resolution (H. Res. 1361) that passed the House without opposition in September 2008 urging the Bush Administration to undertake a high-level diplomatic effort to re-focus the Durban II conference on its mandated purpose, fighting racism.

“At this late date it is unclear whether any last-ditch U.S. effort can make a difference in Geneva,” he said. “It could well be that the United States again will be placed in the position of having to walk away. But by standing up to those who are trying to hijack the proceedings, and by telling them that we refuse to accept outright anti-Semitism or an attempt to single out Israel in the context of a racism conference, we are reasserting our moral leadership in world affairs.”