The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman has touted the Obama administration’s policy of engaging the United Nations. In a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of congress, Rep. Berman says the Obama administration “reaped important dividends, both for the United States and Israel” through its decision to join the Human Rights Council and by fighting anti-Israel resolutions at UNESCO. 

This is a significant statement coming from Chairman Berman, who is considered one of the more staunchly pro-Israel members of congress.  It also serves as a counter-point to arguments made by other members of congress who suggest that the Obama administration should isolate these UN bodies because of their supposed anti-Israel bias.  Berman, though, makes the pro-Israel case for U.S. engagement at these institutions.

The lesson from these critical victories is clear: U.S. engagement works. Without a strong presence at international organizations, we risk leaving our ally Israel to battle alone against countries seeking to de-legitimize the Jewish state. It’s important to remember that maintaining a strong U.S. voice in international organizations isn’t important just for our own interests, but for Israel’s as well.

This is an argument I’ve been making for quite some time.  Here’s the full letter:

 

Dear Colleague,

Many Members have been highly skeptical of the Obama Administration’s determination to seek membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Bush Administration’s decision to rejoin the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel. By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.

Iran’s determination to seek election to the UNHRC represented a mockery of our commitment to protect and promote human rights around the globe. Although the likelihood of Iran securing a seat on the Council seemed all but certain, the efforts of the U.S. and other likeminded nations convinced UN member states that Iran’s election would deliver a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility — ultimately turning the tide against Iran’s membership bid. Had it not been for the unswerving commitment of the U.S., Iran most certainly would still be in the running for election to the Council and would have used its membership of that body to continue its campaign of venomous rhetoric against Israel and draw attention away from its own horrid human rights record. Similarly, since rejoining UNESCO in 2005, the U.S. has exerted much effort to reform the organization and to ensure that it does not become another venue that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism. In that regard, I was pleased to see the attached letter from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for recent U.S. efforts at UNESCO that prevented the adoption of a number of anti-Israel resolutions. Had the U.S. chosen not to engage with UNESCO, we would have been unable to rally the votes to block these anti-Israel resolutions.

On a related note, Israel’s accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a prestigious grouping of advanced economies, is a truly monumental achievement – a testimony to Israel’s remarkable economic success and diplomatic acumen but also to the Obama Administration’s effective multilateral engagement. The unanimous vote by OECD members to admit Israel not only highlights Israel’s growing global economic importance, but is an important sign that the unremitting campaign to isolate and delegitimize Israel is faltering. Without the full-throated support of the U.S. delegation and the Obama Administration, Israel almost certainly would still be waiting at the OECD’s door.

The lesson from these critical victories is clear: U.S. engagement works. Without a strong presence at international organizations, we risk leaving our ally Israel to battle alone against countries seeking to de-legitimize the Jewish state. It’s important to remember that maintaining a strong U.S. voice in international organizations isn’t important just for our own interests, but for Israel’s as well.

Please find the aforementioned letter from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman here.

Sincerely,

 

/s/

 

HOWARD L. BERMAN

 

Chairman

 

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