Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia, UPDATE:

I blogged in June about a trip a delegation from Human Rights Watch took to Saudi Arabia, where Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, spoke at an event at which funds were raised for HRW. She highlighted HRW's work in Gaza, and HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations."

The piece, based on a story in Arab News (with a hat tip to the invaluable NGO Monitor), was reprinted today in the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com. This, in turn, was spotted by the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, as detailed by the Jerusalem Post:

In the opening shot of a battle Jerusalem has decided to wage with NGOs it deems biased against Israel, the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday slammed a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) fundraising delegation to Saudi Arabia as evidence the organization has lost its "moral compass."

"A human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women's rights group asking the Taliban for a donation," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev said Monday.

"If you can fundraise in Saudi Arabia, why not move on to Somalia, Libya and North Korea?" he said. "For an organization that claims to offer moral direction, it appears that Human Rights Watch has seriously lost its moral compass."

Ms. Whitson has responded, both in the Post and on in the comments on OpinionJournal, asserting that contrary to the impression left by the Arab News (which, she notes without irony, is subject to government censorship), she did criticize Saudi Arabia's abysmal human rights record in front of her Saudi audience. Perhaps Ms. Whitson will share a transcript of her remarks with us.

Meanwhile, Ms. Whitson acknowledges that the trip involved fundraising, and she says that HRW obtaining funding from Saudi Arabia is something to be "applauded." She also does not deny that her pitch involved trumpeting HRW's battles with what Arab News quotes her as calling "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations."

For my part, if Ms. Whitson did indeed criticize Saudi human rights abuses during her trip, I apologize for suggesting otherwise. [Clarification: Whitson says that she "discussed" Saudi human rights problems during her trip, but doesn't state that she publicly mentioned any of them, much less criticized them, at the fundraising dinner at which she criticized Israel and its supporters, in front of "prominent members of Saudi society, human rights activists and dignitaries."] But I still think (a) it's extremely unwise for a human rights group to raise money in a totalitarian country, even from human rights advocates in that country; the organization may become dependent on that funding, which in turn could be cut off by the government at any time, creating pressure on the organization to downplay its criticisms of that country; (b) it's more than unwise for HRW to specifically raise money in Saudi Arabia by portraying itself as an organization doing battle with "pro-Israel forces," which implies that HRW is serving as an "anti-Israel force." This suggests either that HRW isn't concerned about its reputation for evenhandedness, or that it's so maniacally anti-Israel that its leaders just assume that being anti-Israel is somehow the obvious even-handed position that it embraces. This obviously plays into the hands of critics like myself who have previously accused HRW of a lack of objectivity with regard to Israel. I certainly can't imagine HRW going to Israel and raising money with the pitch that it is trying to counter-balance "pro-Arab" or "pro-Saudi" "pressure groups".

I'll close with a quote from commenter "Patrick" at the Opinion Juris blog (scroll down), with whom I rarely agree:

HRW pride themselves on being independent, but this raises two quasi-existential threats to them. First, the poisonous allure of Israel-bashing does sometime threaten to contaminate and devalue not only their other work, but the numerous legitimate criticisms that might be made of Israel. Secondly, I know that it is almost sweetest if rich Saudis can be convinced to fund HRW, but there is a real risk of giving very wrong impressions by soliciting same. HRW appear not to have so much managed that risk as blatantly embraced it.

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Jeffrey Goldberg on Human Rights Watch:

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic follows up on the controversy surrounding my piece on HRW's fundraiser in Saudi Arabia. Goldberg reprints some rather remarkable email correspondence with Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, which is worth reading in full. But here's the conclusion:

In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers. [Roth: "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception." [!!!!!!]] It appears as if Human Rights Watch, in the pursuit of dollars, has compromised its integrity.

UPDATE: I'd put it differently then Goldberg. There's no evidence that HRW's pursuit of dollars has compromised its integrity, at least not yet. Rather, HRW's pursuit of dollars has starkly revealed the underlying biases that it previously has denied having. But really, anyone who has been paying attention shouldn't be surprised that HRW's credibility on Israel-related issues approaches zero. [links just e.g.]

FURTHER UPDATE: And here's Matthew Yglesias completely missing the point. He describes my argument (without linking to the piece directly) as HRW being "somehow hypocritical for raising funds from private Saudi individuals." No. It's (a) HRW potentially compromising itself by becoming reliant on funds from a nation whose government will cut off the funds if HRW's reporting becomes a nuisance; and (b) HRW portraying itself not simply as an advocate of universal human rights, but specifically as a counterweight to pro-Israel organizations, while engaging in fundraising from private Saudi citizens.

And to make matters worse, director Roth has now revealed to Goldberg that he thinks that (apparently all) criticism of HRW's "reporting" on Israel amounts to "lies and deception"--although anyone who has studied the issue can present numerous examples in which HRW was wrong, and Israel's supporters correct, including my first link above. The logical conclusion is that HRW is institutionally hostile to Israel, whether for reasons of ideology, money, or because it enhances its "street cred" in other parts of the Middle East. That this hostility may ultimately undermine the credibility of HRW's in other countries, which indeed often seems valuable, is unfortunate, but it's a logical consequence of people's realization that HRW has utterly failed to be objective regarding Israel. Supporters like Yglesias do HRW no favors by letting it off the hook; without reform, HRW's reputation will sink under the weight of this scandal.

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Human Rights Watch and the Presumption of Good Faith:

Human Rights Watch's fundraising in Saudi Arabia has cast a welcome light on the organization's anti-Israel agenda. Much of the response among HRW's defenders has been along the lines of, "how dare you attack a human rights organization? Typical right-wing Zionist crap, attacking the messenger."

This criticism, of course, presumes that HRW is acting in good faith as a neutral human rights arbiter. The other possibility is that HRW's Israel policy is driven by a leftist "anti-colonialist" agenda masquerading as a human rights agenda, and using the halo effect of HRW's human rights work in other regions to provide it with credibility.

The evidence strongly suggests the latter.

Take a look at NGO Monitor's investigation of HRW's Middle East staff. It includes researcher Nadia Barhoum. Barhoum is a Palestinian activist who publicly supported divestment from Israel because of its "apartheid" policies.

A blog she wrote while living in the Palestinian territories hardly shows an even-handed concern with human rights abuses emanating from the Palestinian side. Here's what she wrote after Hamas won election in Gaza:

right now, the western powers are threatening to halt aid to the palestinians on account of hamas and its stance on the use of violence against the state of israel. ironic, because i never once heard a western power threatening to discontinue its billions of dollars in aid to israel on account of the violence used daily against palestinians.

And that's just one example. Read the whole NGO Monitor report.

Of course Human Rights Watch could counter that it hires "activists" on all sides, because they have a particular incentive to ferret out abuses by their opponents. A dubious argument, but completely undermined by the fact that HRW doesn't hire pro-Israel activists, and it's laughable to think it ever would.

That doesn't mean that HRW is never right when it points out perceived Israeli wrongdoing. It just means that HRW's reports on Israel should be treated with the same skepticism one would treat them if they came from any other anti-Israel NGO. The "human rights" halo is a false one, and the presumption of good faith unwarranted.

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Heller and Human Rights Watch:

Kevin Jon Heller, an American teaching international criminal law in Australia [corrected], has been on a campaign at his blog to discredit my posts about Human Rights Watch. It's therefore worh reprinting an exchange from the comments on one of his posts on the issue:

Commenter:

Putting aside Professor Bernstein's post, are your comfortable with HRW going to Saudi Arabia and using its work vis-a-vis Israel or Jewish entities in the US as the focus of its fund raising? .... I think the point is using one's work against Israel as a donation argument in an Arabic country is very troublesome.

For example, pretend that HRW attended a right-wing event to raise funs with the argument that they were “sticking it to the Arabs” with their focus on women's rights.

Heller:

I think that is a very fair question — and I appreciate the civil tone in which you ask it. My answer depends on whether HRW is even-handed in its fundraising. If it fundraises with progressive Jews by highlighting its criticisms of Hamas, no. But if it is one-sided, absolutely. I have an email into a friend at HRW to ask precisely that question; I'll report the results when I get them.

That was exactly one month ago. Now, all of us but Kevin know that Sarah Leah Whitson wouldn't be caught dead fundraising among Jews sympathetic to Israel by highlighting its criticisms of Hamas (which, by the way, are much more limited than its criticisms of Israel).

But you would think that now that a month has gone by, with no examples of anti-Palestinian fundraising by HRW having arisen, Kevin would at least acknowledge that as sympathetic as he is to HRW, its fundraising among Saudi elites while promoting its work in Gaza and its battle with pro-Israel critics was dodgy. You'd be wrong.

You'd also think that Kevin would acknowledge that HRW director Kenneth Roth explaining Whitson's statements in Saudi Arabia away by writing: "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception," is at best arrogant (We're always right! They lie and deceive!) and impolitic, and at worst reflects a deep hostility to supporters of Israel. Nope, the real villain is me, and my "clever rhetorical move" in noting Roth's unqualified statement.

And Kevin doesn't even try to explain why HRW, if it were at all concerned with even the appearance of not being anti-Israel, would hire Palestinian political activists with longstanding anti-Israel records to be its researchers, while, to put it mildly, not exactly reaching out to former AIPAC staffers.

No need to open a new thread, you may comment on the previous one.

UPDATE: Oh, and a previous encounter with Heller involved his post, "Israel's Shifting Defense of Its Attack on the UN School," an attack which, Heller asserted, based on nothing in particular, "was an intentional attack that was either (1) designed to punish the UN for helping the residents of Gaza; or (2) based on faulty intelligence." But, oops:

The United Nations has reversed its stance on one of the most contentious and bloody incidents of the recent Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza, saying that an IDF mortar strike that killed 43 people on January 6 did not hit one of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools after all.

I first pointed out in the comments that Israel, after some initial confusion, and contrary to Heller's post, denied that it hit this school. Nothing. I later pointed out the UN's own finding, with relevant link, to Heller via email, and suggested that he might issue a correction. None was forthcoming.


HRW's Whitson Defends Fundraising in Totalitarian Countries:

Inter Press Service

Bernstein maintained that "it's extremely unwise for a human rights group to raise money in a totalitarian country, even from human rights advocates in that country."

Whitson said the claim had no grounds, noting that the notion "that any money from Saudi Arabia is tainted because it comes from a country with a totalitarian ruling regime is a gross generalisation."

"The ethnic background of our donors is irrelevant to the work we do," Whitson told IPS. "It's not relevant to our work in Israel that many, many of our donors are Jewish. And it's not relevant for the work that we do that we get money from Arab countries."

"Should people be criticising us for the fact that much of our support base is made up of Jews?" Whitson said. "Should that imply that our work on Israel is in fact too soft?"

Let's review. The problem with HRW's fundraising in Saudi Arabia is two-fold: (1) Totalitarian (or even run-of-the-mill authoritarian) governments will only allow fundraising for human rights NGOs to the extent that the NGO is at worst only a minor nuisance to it. If HRW becomes dependent on Saudi money, it will have a significant incentive softpedal Saudi Arabia's human rights violations; (2) HRW specifically asked for money in Saudi Arabia due to its research and publicizing of Israel's alleged human rights violations in Gaza, and the cost of its battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations" (as if the U.N., with dozens of Arab and Muslim countries, is a hot bed of pro-Israel sentiment!). So HRW went to the elites of a totalitarian nation, with some representatives of the government in the audience(!) to ask for money to help it combat the controversial policies of a liberal democracy.

On point 1, Whitson has intentionally distorted the point to an issue of the "ethnic background of our donors." Elsewhere, she responded to me by concluding that "believe it or not, some Arabs believe in human rights too." If Whitson has some reason to believe that HRW's mission won't be compromised by fundraising in totalitarian nations, say that HRW is limiting its fundraising in such countries to 5% of its budget so it doesn't become dependent, let her say so. But her claim that the issue I raised is the "ethnic background" of HRW's donors is egregiously dishonest.

As for point 2, HRW director Ken Roth has claimed that the pitch regarding Israel was made in the broader context of discussing HRW's work in the Middle East, and did not amount to a request for funds specifically to combat Israel. ("I've been told that we talked about the range of our work in the region, including Israel, Saudi and elsewhere.... That's [the Israel stuff] certainly part of the story. We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception. It wasn’t a pitch against the Israel lobby per se. Our standard spiel is to describe our work in the region. Telling the Israel story — part of that pitch — is in part telling about the lies and obfuscation that are inevitably thrown our way.")

So, HRW acknowledges that it used its reporting on Israel and its battles with Israel's supporters as part of its pitch in Saudi Arabia. The only remaining question is how prominent this was. Given HRW's constant refrain that it believes in "transparency," HRW should release a transcript of the remarks made before the Saudi elites, or, better yet, a video. And while they're at it, how about releasing data on how much money comes from citizens of repressive regimes, how much of that money is earmarked, and for what?

Meanwhile, here is lawprof Maimon Schwarzchild's account of his acquaintance with a vociferously anti-American and anti-Israel senior staffer at HRW.

UPDATE: HRW has now sent a statement on the controversy to its Board of Directors, which I reprint below:

A number of recent media reports have suggested that Human Rights Watch has compromised its neutrality by meeting with potential donors at receptions in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. These reports are based on misleading assumptions and wrong facts.

Human Rights Watch does not accept donations from any government. All of our US$44 million annual budget is raised from private individuals and foundations. Of that sum, almost 75% comes from North America and about 25% from Western Europe, with less than 1% from all other regions of the world combined. As an organization with a global mandate, we are naturally endeavoring to diversify our financial base and have begun to actively explore funding in regions as diverse as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Accordingly, Human Rights Watch staffers made presentations on our work to two private audiences in Saudi Arabia in May (as well as to audiences in Amman and Beirut). [click to continue reading]

(show)

Comments

Daniel Levy's Defense of Human Rights Watch:

You can read it here. Levy writes:

The apparent trigger for this assault on a group that represents the global gold standard in human rights monitoring, analysis, and advocacy, was a visit by HRW's Middle East-North Africa director, Sarah Lee Whitson, to the Saudi kingdom. I happened to find myself on a panel at The Century Foundation discussing the Middle East with Whitson just days before this storm broke — I went back and watched tapes of that panel discussion. To accuse Whitson of being soft on the Saudis or somehow singling out Israel for criticism is quite astonishing as I'm sure you'll agree if you take ten minutes to listen to her presentation — of that, more in a moment.

Okay, so I listened. If you have any illusions about HRW's neutrality or objectivity re Israel and its neighbors, you should too.

Whitson had a fifteen-minute presentation on human rights in the Middle East. She spends approximately three minutes and thirty-five seconds describing Israel's alleged violations of international law and human rights. Her presentation of the relevant facts and relevant international law is tendentious in the extreme [Gaza, with not a single Israeli soldier or civilian, is "occupied?" Israel "transferred" its population to the West Bank? Using white phosphorous to illuminate targets violates international law?]. She accuses Israel of apartheid. She consistently refers to the wars in Lebanon and Gaza as "Israel's wars," even though, obviously, they were fought against foes that were launching cross-border attacks against Israel's civilian population and which declare themselves to be at war with Israel. She accuses Israel of war crimes, including "indiscriminate" bombing of South Lebanon, which, given the low civilian casualty in the second Lebanon War--even Hezbollah puts the total in the high hundreds, while Israel says low hundreds, out of a population of hundreds of thousands--from a nation with one of the most powerful air forces in the world, is absurd. If Israel had engaged in indiscriminate bombing, casualties would have been in the tens of thousands. I expect foes of Israel to engage in such hyperbole, but Whitson is supposed to be an "objective" human rights advocate.

And after Whitson's several minute-long exhaustive survey of Israel's alleged sins, she spends all of approximately twelve seconds on Hamas and Hezbollah, and this is the total of what she said: "of course there are also violations of international humanitarian law by the armed groups that are fighting Israel, namely Hamas and Hezbollah, but of course there are armed groups that have been in conflict with them [sorry this isn't coherent--ed.]. And that's something Human Rights Watch has documented." That's it.

After the exhaustive list of Israel's alleged crimes, no mention of

  • Hamas's suicide murders
  • Hezbollah and Hamas's indiscriminate (really indiscriminate) lobbing of missiles into Israel
  • H & H's use of human shields, use of civilian establishments for military purposes, and failure to wear military uniforms
  • the kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldiers
  • Hamas's reign of terror against Christian Palestinians
  • Hezbollah's threat to democracy in Lebanon
  • Syrian and Iranian state sponsorship of terrorism
  • Hamas's murder of Fatah supporters
and so forth and so on.

She then spends several more minutes criticizing U.S. aid to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, with additional specific criticisms of Israel thrown in, and suggests the U.S. should be nicer to Hamas and less supportive of Fatah.

And note that this was a speech to an American audience. God knows what she said in Saudi Arabia. And God knows what she thinks privately, as opposed to what she reveals publicly. Somehow Levy hasn't persuaded me that this speech shows that Whitson doesn't single out Israel for criticism in the U.S., much less when she's on a fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia.

Comments

HRW's Whitson Plays the Racism Card:

In her ongoing attempt to defend Human Rights Watch's indefensible, Israel-bashing, fundraising dinner with Saudi elites, with government officials in attendance, Sarah Leah Whitson has now played the racism card. Oh, she hinted at it before, when she responded to my Wall Street Journal piece by snidely writing, "believe it or not, some Arabs believe in human rights too," even though NOTHING in my piece suggested or implied that no Arabs believe in human rights, or, for that matter, that Arabs are inherently less likely to believe in human rights than anyone else. And it's not like I left the source of my criticism to the imagination: I criticized HRW for "raising funds among the elite of one of the most totalitarian nations on earth, with a pitch about how the money is needed to fight 'pro-Israel forces,'" and for risking "becoming dependent on funds emanating from a brutal dictatorship [which] leaves you vulnerable to that brutal dictatorship later cutting off the flow of funds if you don't 'behave.'"

Now Whitson's more explicit. She has told the Beruit-based news service Menassat that my (and others') beef with Human Rights Watch's Saudi Arabian venture is "fundamentally a racist one." This just shows how low Whitson will go, and how desperate she has become. Her defense of fundraising through Israel-bashing in Saudi Arabia has fallen flat. She won't release a video or transcript of her remarks at the Saudi fundraising dinner. The one recent video of her that has circulated, before an American audience, where she was likely more restrained then she would be in Saudi Arabia, shows her lambasting Israel for minutes at a time for its alleged human rights violations during its wars with Hezbollah and Hamas, while not managing to identify a single violation by the latter two terrorist groups, whose very method of combat--hiding behind civilians, not wearing uniforms, targeting civilians--violates all international norms. This video led one previously wishy-washy observer to conclude, "I don't know how, after this, HRW is not fatally compromised when it comes to reporting Israel." I guarantee Whitson can't reasonably explain why as the representative of an allegedly non-partisan human rights group she hires Palestinian political activists with a long record of hostility to Israel as her "neutral" researchers. And of course, Whitson has never acknowledged Human Rights Watch's various errors in its reporting on Israel--here's one example--and her boss, Ken Roth, asserts that all criticism of HRW amounts to "lies and deception".

Ironically, nothing offends Human Rights Watch officials and its defenders more than unsubstantiated allegations that HRW's anti-Israel agenda (which, counterfactually, HRW denies having) is driven by anti-Semitism. But throwing out charges of racism against its critics, which are not only unsubstantiated but completely irrelevant to the issues at hand, is apparently a-okay with HRW's Middle East director, Ms. Whitson.

I will not, however, sink to Ms. Whiton's level in this debate. Oh, what the heck: I'm rubber, you're glue, anything you say bounces of me and sticks to you.


Are Human Rights Watch Officials Just Thin-Skinned? (No!):

In a previous post, I criticized Human Rights Watch Director Ken Roth's characterization of the criticism HRW receives regarding its coverage of Israel. Roth wrote, in an email to Jeffrey Goldberg, "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception." I've also noted that (at least according to NGO Watch, and to my knowledge), HRW has never officially recanted or apologized for any of the errors or distortions critics have identified in its reporting on Israel.

There are two possible explanations for the above. One is that HRW is implicitly hostile to Israel and its supporters. The other is that Roth and colleagues are just arrogant you-know-whats who don't take criticism well, and would react the same way regardless of the source of the criticism.

It was therefore enlightening for a reader to point me to a prior controversy involving HRW and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. HRW criticized Palestinian officials for urging civilians to serve as human shields. Anti-Israel commentators, led by rabidly anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein, went ballistic.

So how did HRW react? Did Ken Roth say, "We report on Palestine. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception." Did Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson accuse HRW's critics of racism? Not exactly. HRW instead issued an abject apology. In fact, if you try to find the original press release on its website, you instead find a page that first has the lengthy apology, and only then republishes the original press release.

You can't make this stuff up!

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Pollak on Human Rights Watch:

I just noticed this piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Noah Pollak, discussing HRW's bias against Israel.

Pollak is actually too soft on HRW. He focuses on one aspect of the problem, that HRW gives wildly disproportionate attention to what it considers Israeli violations of human rights. (In addition to the examples Pollack provides, consider that HRW's top Mideast official recently gave a speech on human rights problems in the Middle East, in which she devoted approximately twenty-five times as much attention to Israel as to Hamas and Hezbollah combined, and more attention to Israel than to the entire Arab world).

But he neglects another aspects of the problem, that HRW's reports on Israel are frequently either inaccurate, or based on information from eyewitnesses that can't be verified. And even when HRW is proven wrong about Israel, it absolutely refuses to apologize or retract, although it has done so when it's come under criticism from pro-Palestinian sources.

Is it really possible that HRW has NEVER made an error in its many reports and releases on Israel? Well, no it's not, especially because NGO Monitor, CAMERA, and others including Professor Avi Bell have pointed out such errors. Unfortunately, given that HRW director Ken Roth dismisses such critiques as "lies and deception" and HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson says they amount to "griping and whining," it's not terribly surprising that they ignore them.

Over at the Opinio Juris blog, HRW fan/apologist Kevin Jon Heller pointed to this Jerusalem Post article, reporting that HRW's expert investigator of an incident in Gaza "conceded for the first time since the incident that [HRW] could not contradict the IDF's exonerating findings" and that the investigator "praised the IDF's professional investigation into the blast."

Heller takes this as evidence that HRW is indeed willing to apologize/recant/retract when it's wrong about Israel. But oops, this information never made it on to HRW's website, nor was there any other official correction or clarification. Quite the contrary, ten days after the Jerusalem Post piece appeared, HRW reasserted its original accusation, and alleged that Israel's investigation, praised by its own researcher, "betray[ed] a lack of interest in arriving at the truth of what happened." So HRW's leaders will contradict their own researchers' conclusions--at least when it makes Israel look bad. Though challenged, Heller has yet to come up with another, legitimate example of HRW officially responded to legitimate criticisms from pro-Israel sources the way it responded to (somewhat dubious) criticism from extremist anti-Israel critics.

UPDATE: Heller has now found an example of HRW correcting errors about Israel, though, as we shall see, it doesn't remotely count as "HRW officially respond[ing] to legitimate criticisms from pro-Israel sources the way it responded to (somewhat dubious) criticism from extremist anti-Israel critics.

Over a year after the Second Lebanon War ended, when no one was paying attention any longer, HRW issued a new report in which it corrected what it calls two major errors an earlier report, "Fatal Strikes," written in August 2006.

I checked up on one of the errors/corrections: HRW writes that "further Human Rights Watch investigations into a deadly strike at Srifa established that an Israeli attack there killed 17 combatants and five civilians on July 19, not the 26 civilians claimed in Fatal Strikes."

One odd thing about this is that various critics, including me, pointed out at the time that HRW's initial report on Srifa contradicted both published reports and common sense. Ms. Whitson nevertheless vociferously defended HRW's conclusion at the time, and indeed snidely attacked one of HRW's critics, Prof. Avi Bell. (Has she apologized to Prof. Bell? Don't hold your breath.) Whitson, indeed, seemed willing to stake HRW's credibility on the Srifa report. Prof. Bell replied that HRW was either incompetent or engaging in fabrication. He was right!

Even stranger, and contrary to its practice when it "clarified" criticism of Hamas, HRW has failed to otherwise update its website to reflect its correction. Thus, HRW's website still has the Fatal Strikes report up, and it still claims that Israel killed twenty-six civilians:

Killing of an Estimated Twenty-six Civilians in Srifa, July 19

Following the July 13 attack on Srifa village that killed four members of a Brazilian-Lebanese family (see above), Israeli warplanes and Apache helicopters continued to bomb the village and the surrounding fields, putting the villagers into a state of panic. A villager who had fled from Srifa explained how the heavy Israeli bombardment effectively trapped people inside the village, and how the village Sheikh had ordered the terrified civilians to seek refuge in the wealthier "Moscow" neighborhood of the village, where the multiple-story homes had concrete basements that offered greater protection: [Click to continue reading]

So, I'll acknowledge that HRW did, in fact, issued corrections regarding Israel--long after the relevant controversy faded from public consciousness, after vociferously defending its original report while attacking its critics (who turned out to be correct) in harsh, obnoxious terms, and without correcting the original charges on its website (the latter of which explains, along with the fact that it's not on HRW's "Corrections" page, why, contrary to Kevin's snarkiness, I was unaware of the correction). Oh, and Ms. Whitson still seems to assert that HRW has never gone wrong reporting on Israel by relying on local eyewitnesss, and Roth, of course, still dismisses all criticism of HRW emanating from pro-Israel sources as "lies and deception."

Forgive me if this fails to meaningfully change my opinion of HRW.


More on Human Rights Watch's Sarah Leah Whitson:

The raging controversy over Human Rights Watch's anti-Israel bias, which was sparked with a blog post here at the VC that was republished by the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, just won't die. Readers will recall that the piece focused on a talk Sarah Leah Whitson gave in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which she tried to win friends (and their money) by emphasizing HRW's work criticizing Israel, and HRW's battles against "pro-Israel pressure groups."

Since then, HRW and Israel has been the subject of countless blog posts criticizing (mostly) and defending (occasionally) HRW, and, as best as I can tell given my language skills, been the subject of newspaper articles or editorials in Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., several Arab countries, Australia, Spain and Italy. HRW has issued a release defending itself (explaining how important it is for HRW to counteract the impression in the Arab world that it is pro-Israel!), and has even taken to proactively responding to criticism in Jewish media outlets. Meanwhile, various Israeli government officials criticized Human Rights Watch. According to reports in the Israeli media, the controversy has led the Israeli government to reconsider how it interacts with NGOs, and whether it should be permitting foreign governments to fund local NGOs.

So let me add some additional fuel to the fire.

Sarah Leah Whitson has been HRW's Middle East Director for five years. Ms. Whitson was a classmate of Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, and served on the board of the Armenian Bar Association. According to her bio on HRW's website, "before joining Human Rights Watch, Whitson worked as an attorney in New York for Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton."

What the official bio doesn't tell you is that Whitson was an active member of the New York chapter of the American-Arab Antidiscrimination Committee. She had served on the Steering Committee (source: ADC Times, Apr 30, 2002). When HRW hired her, she was serving a two-year term on the new Board of Directors, which replaced the Steering Committee (Source: ADC Times, Jan. 31, 2004).

The ADC styles itself as a civil rights organization, but like the Jewish organizations on which it is modeled, it also involves itself in Middle East issues, specifically by supporting the Arab and Palestinian cause against Israel. Local chapters are often more active on foreign policy issues than is the national organization.

And indeed, the New York chapter generally, and Whitson personally, were active in pro-Palestinian politics. The April 30, 2002, ADC Times. published at the height of the Second Intifada, with buses and restaurants being blown up regularly in Israel, reports:

The crisis in Palestine was the main focus of the New York Chapter's work over the past two months. This work culminated on April 29 with a meeting for representatives of the ADC with the United Nations Secretary General [Kofi Annan] set up by members of the NY Chapter [and see this press release, noting Whitson's attendance]. ADC Chapter President Nick Khoury and Steering Committee member Sarah Leah Whitson helped organize this meeting.... ADC NY members' activism to raise awareness of the situation of Palestinians has taken many forms. On March 30, we chartered a bus to DC so that members could participate in the Land Day Rally at Freedom Plaza. [The New York chapter also held a local rally].... On April 14, ADC NY organized a silent vigil outside St. Patrick's Cathedral to draw attention to the fact that Palestinian Christians are also suffering under Israeli occupation....

The Jan. 31, 2004 ADC Times , which noted Whitson's election to the Board of Trustees, reported that the New York chapter "continued our Palestine activism over the summer."

So when HRW hired Ms. Whitson to be its Middle East director, it was hiring someone that was in the middle of serving what amounted to a second term on the Board of Directors of an organization that was firmly and openly on the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And she had personally engaged in pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism while serving in that position. I don't know whether she resigned her position when she started working for Human Rights Watch; if she didn't, it was a clear conflict of interest. Regardless, it should hardly come as a surprise that one of her first acts at Human Rights Watch was to involve the organization in political action, supporting the campaign to get Caterpillar to stop selling tractors to the Israeli Army.

I've also learned that Ms. Whitson is a self-described big fan and admirer of Norman Finkelstein. (Source: Anonymous, but the source provided me with what appears to be airtight documentation). For those not familiar with Finkelstein, imagine a leftist, male version of Ann Coulter who instead of attacking liberals and the liberal establishment, has devoted his career to attacking Israel and the American Jewish establishment. Imagine, though, that this male version of Coulter was a less talented writer, and even more offensive in his description of his adversaries.

Finkelstein's view of the Arab-Israel conflict manifests itself is such antics as meeting with Hezbollah officials in southern Lebanon and proclaiming "I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope". His criticism of pro-Israel American Jews tends to be unusually nasty. Thus, he comments that photos of Jewish writers Cynthia Ozick and Ruth Wisse "might induce nightmares.". He also recklessly or intentionally indulges in rhetoric of the sort that one normally finds on anti-Semitic hate sites like Stormfront. For example, he writes that American Jewish leaders "resemble stereotypes straight out of [Nazi newspaper] Der Sturmer," and that American "Jewish elites" have "a mindset of Jewish superiority."

Whitson's admiration of Finkelstein has survived the fact that he has harshly attacked Human Rights Watch and Whitson when he has deemed them too hard on Israel's adversaries, or too soft on Israel. By contrast, Whitson has more than once expressed her disdain for HRW's pro-Israel critics, as when she recently and baselessly accused some of us of racism). The logical conclusion is that Whitson is in broad agreement with Finkelstein's extremist anti-Israel views, and therefore forgives his occasional hostile outbursts.

In short, Human Rights Watch, while purporting to be a neutral arbiter of human rights issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, hired as its Middle East director a person who at the time was intimately involved in pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel political action, and who, not surprisingly, appears to have rather strongly held, far left-wing views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Some self-styled Jewish (and non-Jewish) Progressives like Matthew Yglesias, dismiss criticism of HRW as "unsupported accusations of bias" and argue, as far as I can tell on pure faith, that because HRW is a "human rights organization," it can be trusted on all issues, including Israel. In fact, by hiring someone like Whitson to be Middle East Director (and her deputy director Joe Stork, a supporter of the international boycott campaign against Israel, with an exception for academics) HRW hasn't even tried to to maintain the appearance of neutrality or objectivity. And, as I've discussed in previous posts, HRW's bias manifests itself quite clearly in its "reporting."


Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch:

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv has published an article about Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East of Human Rights Watch. As Noah Pollack summarizes, Stork has "written in explicit support of terrorism against Israel, who lauded the murder of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972 as providing 'an important boost in morale among Palestinians,' and who wrote that 'Zionism may be defeated only by fighting imperialism.'"

I thought the article was somewhat unfair, because it relies primarily on quotes that are over thirty years old. So I decided to read some of Stork's more recent writings, from the Middle East Report, which he edited (and searchable back issue of which are available through university library subscription).

I didn't find anything nearly as outrageous as his quotes from the '70s. What I found was someone with fairly standard, far Left anti-Israel views, who was especially exercised by the "special" U.S.-Israel relationship.

Which leads to the question of why Human Rights Watch hired him in 1996 to be a senior member of its Middle East staff, direct from his position as editor of Middle East Report. When HRW hired Stork, as near as I can tell (see his official HRW bio), he had no law degree and had not practiced international law, had never worked for a human rights group, had no military experience or experience with munitions, never held an academic position (he has an M.A. in international affairs), and otherwise had no specific qualifications one could pinpoint that would suggest that he'd be the person an "objective" human rights group would hire to a top position.

Stork did have a great deal of experience, however, as a leftist anti-Israel polemicist, who sought to undermine U.S.-Israel ties. One can only assume that this is why HRW director Ken Roth hired him.


Defending Joe Stork (A Little):

Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for the Middle East, has been attacked in the blogosphere for his anti-Israel views. Much of the attack is justified. Stork has spent much of his career attacking Israel, has made some rather vicious and inaccurate statements that he seems to have never recanted, is a current supporter of the campaign for a worldwide boycott of Israel, and has no apparent qualifications for his position beyond his history of Israel-bashing.

However, one thing that Stork did NOT do, but that he has been widely accused of doing since an article in Ma'ariv accused him of it, is support the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. I went back and read the relevant article. First of all, the article is billed as a a collective statement by the journal's editors, but is not signed by any of them. Therefore, one can't say for sure that Stork supported the entire editorial, or any given line in it. The most one can say is that he didn't publicly object.

Second, while the editorial does apologize for the Munich massacre, and does say that it gave Palestinians a needed morale boost, and further adds that Israel has engaged in much worse crimes, it ultimately says, as a bit of an afterthought, that all of these factors do not justify it. This hardly amounts to the sort of unequivocal condemnation one would expect from people with any decency, but it's simply inaccurate to say that this amounts to "supporting" the massacre.

I've noted before occasions on which critics of Israel have mistranslated, distorted, or otherwise mangled things to serve their political agenda (e.g.). Indeed, Stork's critics have noted that he once spread the lie that Menachem Begin called Palestinians "two-legged beasts" when Begin was clearly referring specifically to Palestinian terrorists who murdered children. It's not any better when "our side" engages in similar behavior.


Ma'ariv vs. Joe Stork:

I don't want to become the Human Rights Watch blogger, but since we've taken the story this far, I figured I'd tell interested readers that HRW deputy Middle East director Joe Stork responded to the widely cited Ma'ariv article criticizing him last week, and the Ma'ariv editorialist lashed back with a massive Fisking; much better, in my opinion, than his original piece.

From what I can tell, the various revelations over the last few weeks about Human Rights Watch--the fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, the anti-Israel activist backgrounds of its Middle East staff, the contemptuous attitude toward pro-Israel critics (who often turn out to be right) contrasted with the obsequious attitude toward anti-Israel critics, and so on--has cost the organization its credibility among a very broad swath of Israeli and Western pro-Israel public opinion, including the moderate left.

From now on, every HRW report on Israel is going to be greeted with "you mean the Saudi-funded HRW," or "you mean the report written by the woman [HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson] who is a great admirer of Norman Finkelstein and lobbied Kofi Annan against Israel in the middle of the Second Intifada" or "you mean the report written by the guy [Stork] who supports the anti-Israel boycott movement and has been venting his hostility to Israel for almost forty years" or "you mean HRW, the organization that fails to take down from its website anti-Israel reports even when it has admitted they are inaccurate," and so on.

A housecleaning is needed. Transfer Stork, Whitson, and the rest of the current crew to an area in which they don't have strong ideological priors, and bring in some real human rights advocates to replace the anti-Israel propagandists. Or just preach to the leftist, anti-Israel choir, but don't expect anyone else to pay attention.


An Interesting Admission from HRW's Ken Roth:

In the past, whenever Human Rights Watch spokespeople have been asked about their seemingly obsessive and disproportionate focus on Israel, the response has been that HRW holds every country to exactly the same standards. HRW does not, they claim, disproportionately focus on Israel, and if it seems that Israel is receiving disproportionate attention, it's because Israel has been engaged in so many high-profile human rights violations.

But here's Ken Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, in Tablet, on why HRW has issued report after report on the Gaza war: "But if the question is, 'Why are we more concerned about the [Gaza] war rather than on other rights abuses?' Well, we've got to pick and choose-we've got finite resources."

So it turns out, HRW doesn't treat all countries equally, and does disproportionately focus on Israel. Which begs the obvious question: If HRW is picking and choosing based on limited resources, why pick and choose Israel? Not only are there, by any reasonable human rights standards, much worse regimes both locally in the Middle East and around the world, but unlike countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and so on, Israel has its own domestic human rights groups that are perfectly legal and well-heard in public discourse. It hardly seems logical that Israel is the best choice for HRW's limited resources, unless its staff happens to be ideologically hostile to Israel apart from specific human rights concerns--which, as I've documented in several posts, linked below, it is!

Not irrelevantly, in the same article, HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson--who, remember, is a huge fan of anti-Israel activist, and frequent HRW critic Norman Finkelstein, whom she goes out of her way to appease--once again shows her contempt for her pro-Israel critics: "I'm not going to do something to appease people who have no interest in the truth, or who are only screaming about Israel."


Is Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco A Nazi-Obsessed Collector?

Well, yes. But if you're going to hire pro-Palestinian activists to run your Middle East division, why not throw in an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia (he even wrote a book, see below) to be your military investigator for good measure?

Snark aside, I understand there are people who collect Nazi memorabilia for innocuous reasons, and in Garalasco's case, his grandfather served seven years in the Nazi military. Perhaps there's not much more to it than that. But it's still, to say the least, a rather odd hobby for someone hired to be a human rights organization's point man on Israel issues.

Meanwhile NGO Monitor has released a devastating, detailed, and well-documented report analysis of HRW's Israel reporting.


Human Rights Watch Responds:

It's only sporting to publish the response HRW's press office has sent regarding its Nazi memorabilia obsessed military analyst, Marc Garlasco [UPDATE: I think it's also fair to point out that the response, not surprisingly from HRW, is at best disingenuous. For example, it describes Garlasco's 400+ page book on German World War II "Flak" badges as "a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals," leaving out the World War II part.]

Several blogs and others critical of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch's longtime senior military advisor, is a Nazi sympathizer because he collects German (as well as American) military memorabilia. This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government. Garlasco has co-authored several of our reports on violations of the laws of war, including in Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iraq, as well as by Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Garlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.

Garlasco's grandfather was conscripted into the German armed forces during the Second World War, like virtually all young German men at the time, and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery. He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist. Meanwhile, Garlasco's great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.

Garlasco own family's experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects (not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged). Many military historians, and others with an academic interest in the Second World War, including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from that era.

Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that "the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful."

To imply that Garlasco's collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.

And here (see below) is "serious military historian" Garlasco hanging out in his favorite "Iron Cross" sweatshirt, you know, the one that all the serious military historians wear, but that everyone thinks is a biker shirt (a screenshot from the German Combat Awards website)

After Garlasco posted this picture, the following dialogue ensued

Skip: Love the sweatshirt Mark. Not one I could wear here in germany though (well I could but it would be a lot of hassle)

Garlasco: Everyone thinks it is a biker shirt!

Skip: Yeh, were you come from but imagine walking around in Berlin with "das Eisene Kreuz" written across your cheat. Either you get beaten to pulp by a group of rampaging Turks or the police arrest you on suspicion of being a Nazi.

UPDATE: By the way, I don't suggest that Garlasco is a Nazi sympathizer--as noted in my previous post, lots of people collect Nazi stuff for innocuous reasons. [Several readers have emailed me about the significance of the Iron Cross. As weird as it is to walk around in an Iron Cross sweatshirt, without the WWII-era swastika it's not a banned Nazi symbol in Germany. Indeed it was revived, in a denazified version, as the symbol of the German armed forces in 1957. However, the West German government stopped awarding Iron Cross medals after WWII--thanks Wikipedia! The Iron Cross medal, which the shirt seems to allude to, is still widely associated with the Nazi era in Germany. I take it that "Skip" thinks that walking around in Germany with an Iron Cross shirt that says "das Eisene Kreuz" is taken as a reference to the medal, not the modern German armed forces, which would also make sense for a medal collector like Garlasco.]

But Garlasco is much more than a casual hobbyist [contrary to HRW's release, there is no indication that Garlasco is an avid collector, in general, of American and German military stuff, as opposed specifically to WWII era German military medals, on which he wrote a 430 page book, and other WWII German stuff], and I think it's a rather strange obsession for a human rights investigator who spends much of his time investigating Israel for HRW. Strange, first, because human rights activists aren't typically obsessed with collecting mementoes of Nazi war achievements. As one blogger wrote, it's like an animal rights activist avidly collecting vintage furs. There's nothing inherently wrong, by most lights, with collecting such furs, but it's not the kind of thing you'd expect an animal rights activist to find enjoyable. Not to mention that in Garlasco's case, you wind up hanging around with the type of people who casually refer to "rampaging Turks" and make not-so-oblique references to their frustration at having to obey laws banning them from wearing Nazi regalia; or, as I saw on one memorabilia forum defending Garlasco, with people who refer to Israel as the "Jew country."

And strange because one would think that HRW, under fire for years for its anti-Israel bias, would not want to hire someone with this rather strange avocation given the obvious p.r. implications--all HRW really has, after all, is its reputation. But then again, if HRW was concerned about its reputation for objectivity, it would start by not hiring pro-Palestinian activists (and no pro-Israel activists) to run and staff its Middle East division. [Put differently, I think HRW poobahs think that being hostile to Israel is an objective position, one that any reasonable person would share.] Solomania has much more.

UPDATE: Garlasco himself was apparently aware of the incongruity of his obsession. "Skip" wrote that "I remember you asking about using a psydonym [sic] before your book was published. Using your real name it really was only a matter of time before something like this happened."


Human Rights Watch Employee Quote of the Day--SS Jacket is "so COOL":

"That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!"

--Flak88 (aka Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch Senior Military Analyst, wehrmacht-awards.com, 2005)

H/T: NGO Monitor.

UPDATE: 88 is a well-known Neo-Nazi hate symbol, but Flak88 is the name of a German 88mm caliber Flak gun. So using the Flak88 moniker doesn't mean that Garlasco is sending out coded Nazi messags, but it's not exactly evidence of his sensitivity to the horrors of Naziism, either.


So You Work for a Human Rights NGO

whose integrity is under attack in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, no one wants to defend the subject of the latest attack, your Nazi-obsessed, anti-Israel military analyst. There's only one thing to do! Resort to sock-puppetry.

Sure, if you're discovered it will add to the growing impression that your organization is dishonest and unprofessonial, but those evil Zionists would never be clever enough to trace your URL back to Human Rights Watch...

UPDATE: When I say no one, I mean no one. Even sympathetic leftists M.J. Rosenberg and Helena Cobban (who sits on HRW's Middle East advisory board) are abandoning HRW on this one. Okay, not quite no one; it's HRW, its sock puppets, and Professor Kevin Jon Heller of University of Melbourne, who shills for HRW at every opportunity (while usually failing to mention his work for HRW on Iraq, assumedly with the very same Middle East staff he defends from criticism), against the world (and common sense).

ANOTHER UPDATE: And HRW has lost another past knee-jerk defender, Matt Duss. [And add Daniel Levy, too.]

MORE UPDATE: This may not be HRW's first experience with sock-puppeting.


HRW's Garlasco Responds, Making Matters Worse:

In response to concerns expressed about Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco's obsessive Nazi medal collecting, he claims that it didn't occur to him that anyone might question his "hobby." "Precisely because it's so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realized that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things."

Yet here's a post of his under his pseudonym Flak88 from September 2007:

Need advice

So I am trying to figure out what to do. My book [on Nazi war medals] is clsoe [sic] to done, but I am not sure if I should put my name on it. If folks at work found out I might very well lose my job. That is the reality, so don't dwell on it - ok? But this is a small group of people - should I worry? And shouldn't I stand up for myself? And if I use a psyeudonym [sic] isn't that worse, like I am trying to hide something?

I wonder whether this untruth is Garlasco's alone, or whether, as seems likely, HRW officials vetted his response, and were either too incompetent to discover his prevarication, or too dishonest to care. I also wonder what kind of person is so obsessed with German World War II medals that he publishes what amounts to a vanity press book on the subject, knowing it could cost him his job and reputation.

UPDATE: Another interesting Garlasco quote, from the same thread: "I will talk quietly to some at work that I trust - a small group indeed." Assuming he followed through, some at HRW knew about all this two years ago, though HRW bigwig Iain Levine says he only found out about it last week.

FURTHER UPDATE: While HRW's official response is that Garlasco collects World War II memorabilia from both sides, no evidence has surfaced of his significant interest in non-German memorabilia, and it turns out he refers to his fellow collectors as those in the "Nazi collecting field." And more from blogger Aussie Dave.

UPDATE re "Flak88": Several readers have emailed me to note that "88" is neo-nazi code for "Heil Hitler." I've mentioned this before, but Flack88 is also the name of a feared 88mm German anti-aircraft weapon. I'm quite sure that Garlasco chose his pseudonym based on this weapon, but I agree that choosing a name with 88 in it means that either (a) despite traveling in Nazi memorabilia collector circles, which includes a certain number of Nazi admirers, Garlasco somehow was oblivious to the fact that 88 is neo-Nazi code, or (b) Garlasco displayed at best an indifference to the possibility that people not well-versed in German weaponry would surmise that he's a Nazi sypathizer.


HRW's Garlasco Suspended:

N.Y. Times:"A leading human rights group has suspended its senior military analyst following revelations that he is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia."

As has become its practice with controversies that don't fit its narrative, the New York Times is extremely late to the controversy over HRW, and its analysis is more than a dollar short. The Times puts the Garlasco controversy in the context of a battle between human rights groups and the Israeli government, as if the government is somehow pulling the strings of dozens of bloggers who've been investigating HRW.

And instead of quoting any of HRW's manifold respectable critics, the reporter quotes a Hebrew U. professor, Yaron Ezrahi, who says that "Human Rights Watch’s credibility might have been wounded because Mr. Garlasco’s hobby 'has armed the right-wing fanatics' who 'work day and night to demonize any individual or organization that raises questions about the military practices of Israel when they end up even with unintended civilian casualties.'"

The recent controversy over HRW and Israel started with my piece in OpinionJournal.com, based on a blog post here at the V.C., over HRW's fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, in which Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson sought support from the Saudi elite by demonizing Israel. My views on Israeli war/peace politics are probably somewhere between Ehud Barak's and Tzipi Livni's [in other words, between Israel's center-left and center], though of course I approach things from an American, not Israeli perspective. And my connection to the Israeli government is approximately zero.

The yeoman's work on HRW, including the information that I used for the Saudi Arabia post, has been done by NGO Monitor. I understand from mutual acquaintances that Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University, who runs NGO Monitor, is a moderate in Israeli political terms.

Plenty of other non-right-wing-fanatics have raised questions regarding HRW's objectivity and accuracy when it reports on Israel. Perhaps the Times could have found out these facts before quoting Professor Ezrahi's nonsense. Of course, that's assuming, probably incorrectly, that reporter John Schwartz didn't go trolling for a quote that supported his pre-conceived story line. (Exactly how did Schwartz get this story, anyway? Fed to him by folks at HRW who recognize a friendly reporter, perhaps? No other news outlets seem to have it.)

The Times somehow manages to avoid mentioning the controversy over the Saudi Arabia trip, the controversy over the vociferously anti-Israel pre-HRW histories of various HRW Middle East staffers which have recently come to light, and the controversy over the inaccuracies and distortion in various recent HRW reports on Israel, particularly its recent reports on white phosphorous and white flags. (You can find the critiques at NGO Monitor's website.) These issues were covered in the news and op-ed pages of newspapers around the world, but not in the "paper of record."

And while falsely portraying HRW's critics as fanatical right-wingers, the Times manages to omit mention of the fact that HRW's top people are, by any objective standard, not simple "human rights advocates" but far leftists in either Israeli or American political terms. So the story is played as "human rights groups vs. right-wing government," and it's obvious despite Mr. Garlasco's suspension which side the reader is supposed to favor.

I've had several requests to open comments to one of these HRW posts, but unfortunately I'll be unavailable for moderating over the next two days, and I just don't do unmoderated comments.


Is It Legal for Human Rights Watch to Suspend an Analyst for Collecting Nazi Paraphernelia?

The underlying story is linked to here; but what struck me is that New York -- the place where Human Rights Watch is headquartered, and where I take it Marc Garlasco is working -- has a statute that generally prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their lawful recreational activities:

[1.]b. “Recreational activities” shall mean any lawful, leisure-time activity, for which the employee receives no compensation and which is generally engaged in for recreational purposes, including but not limited to sports, games, hobbies, exercise, reading and the viewing of television, movies and similar material; ...

2. Unless otherwise provided by law, it shall be unlawful for any employer or employment agency to refuse to hire, employ or license, or to discharge from employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual in compensation, promotion or terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of: ...

c. an individual's legal recreational activities outside work hours, off of the employer's premises and without use of the employer's equipment or other property; ....

3. The provisions of subdivision two of this section shall not be deemed to protect activity which:

a. creates a material conflict of interest related to the employer's trade secrets, proprietary information or other proprietary or business interest; ....

4. ... [A]n employer shall not be in violation of this section where the employer takes action based on the belief ... that: ... (iii) the individual's actions were deemed by an employer or previous employer to be illegal or to constitute habitually poor performance, incompetency or misconduct.

5. Nothing in this section shall apply to persons who, on an individual basis, have a professional service contract with an employer and the unique nature of the services provided is such that the employer shall be permitted, as part of such professional service contract, to limit the off-duty activities which may be engaged in by such individual....

So while Garlasco's collecting Nazi memorabilia might well cause serious public relations problems for Human Rights Watch, the organization may not suspend him (suspension surely qualifies as discrimination in terms, conditions, and privileges of employment) based on such collecting -- assuming Garlasco "received no compensation" for the collecting -- unless one of the exceptions applies. What are the possible exceptions?

Provision 5: Maybe Garlasco's contract qualifies as a "professional service contract" based on "the unique nature of [his] services," and the contract specifically provides that the employer may limit off-duty activities; I'm not sure, though, whether his services are "unique" enough that this would apply even if the contract has such a clause. If anyone knows more about this provision, or about the normal New York law or employment law definitions of "professional service contract" or "unique nature," I'd love to hear about it.

Provision 4.iii: I doubt that one would conclude that Garlasco's collecting would reasonably qualify as being "incompetency or misconduct," though of course the terms are quite vague, and one could argue that any employee action that could lead to the public's devaluing the employee's work for his employer is "incompeten[t]."

Provision 3.a: One could argue that Garlasco's conduct "creates a material conflict of interest related to the employer's ... business interest." In my experience, "conflict of interest" generally refers to some way in which an employee's activity potentially undermines his loyalty to the employer. But one case, Berg v. German National Tourist Office, 248 A.D.2d 297, 297 (1998), seemed to read the provision broadly enough to also cover actions that undermine the employee's utility to the employer, by exposing the employer to hostility stemming from public hostility to the employee's views. In Berg, the court found that the German National Tourist Office acted permissibly in firing an employee for becoming publicly known as the translator of some Holocaust revisionist articles. But is Berg, which is a single decision of the New York intermediate appellate court, not the state high court, correct? And would it also apply to the less incendiary -- though obviously still unpopular -- behavior of collecting Nazi memorabilia?

The First Amendment: Finally, it's possible that Human Rights Watch's First Amendment rights -- here, the rights to choose who writes and comments on its behalf -- might trump the New York statute in some situations. Compare Nelson v. McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., 936 P.2d 1123, 1127 (Wash. 1997) (holding, by a 5-4 vote, that the First Amendment trumped such a statute when a newspaper demands that its reporters not engage in politics; that specific scenario is exempted from the New York statute, but the Washington court's logic may apply to other situations as well) with Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication, 112 Cal. App. 4th 1477 (2003) (rejecting the claim that a newspaper "has the unfettered right to terminate an employee for any [outside-the-newspaper] speech or conduct that is inconsistent with the newspaper's editorial policies").

I'm inclined to say that employers should indeed have broad rights in such situations, and in most states they would. It's also possible that under Berg, Human Rights Watch may indeed fire employees for doing anything that might make them or Human Rights Watch seem less credible. Still, the matter is not as clear in New York as it would be in most states, because of the statute I quoted above.

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