Tag Archives | Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch Director Privately Slurs Israel

The credibility of NGOs like Human Rights Watch depends on their being above and apart from the conflicts they monitor – to not take sides. Human Rights Watch has been criticized by many, including its founder, for giving up all objectivity an adopting an anti-Israel campaign.

Their grudge against Israel has been clear for a while, and David Bernstein has written about it frequently here.

Now, we find evidence of direct personal animus. A news story reveals a private Facebook group whose members include a medley European journalists, NGO officials, and far-left activists. Recently the group turned to discussing an Israeli government report that the famous killing of a Palestinian boy at the start of the Second Intifida was in fact staged. Not only was he not shot by Israel, as much prior evidence suggested, he appears not to have been killed at all. (It would not be the last time Palestinians elaborately staged deaths for PR purposes.)

The issue is not the IDF report, but the comments made about it by Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s Emergencies Director (responsible for civilians in wartime, according to his twitter page). He wrote: “Typical IDF lies. As usual, it takes them a long time to really build up the falsehood.”

He goes on the complain that the New York Times coverage of the Israeli report will be used by supporters of Israel.

I previously criticized HRW for releasing reports on alleged Israeli crimes without waiting for the IDF’s comments - now we know: why wait for a “typical lies” that just build up the more time they get? Seriously, HRW should reveal what reports the “emergencies director” was involved in writing.

Academic writing on human rights and international law often treats groups like HRW as custodians of the truth, and [...]

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Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch and the Arab Spring

It’s fascinating to listen again to this talk by HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson (starting at 16:53) from the Summer of 2009. The topic was “Human Rights in the Middle East.” Syria and Libya get barely a mention. Yemen isn’t mentioned at all. Israel gets by far the most negative attention, followed by Egypt and Jordan–apparently singled out because they are U.S. allies and have peaceful relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority comes in for some criticism for “not representing all the Palestinians,” i.e., not being anti-Israel enough. While Israel is accused of engaging in “apartheid” and routinely violating international humanitarian law, such that the U.S. should rethink its support of its government, Hamas is referred to as the “elected government” in Gaza, which the U.S. shouldn’t try to undermine.

The weirdest moment in the talk, though, is when Whitson points out that no Arab country allows freedom of speech, the cornerstone of a free society. What one example, of all possible examples, does she use to illustrate the lack of freedom of speech? That Arab governments tried to prevent their populations from protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza in the war against Hamas in late 2008/early 2009. Just, WOW!

NGO Monitor comments on now HRW’s obsession with Israel left it unprepared to deal with the emerging events in the Arab world here. [...]

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Human Rights Watch Appoints Terrorist (and “Human Rights Activist”) to Middle East Advisory Board

You can’t make this stuff up.

Daily Beast:

The man at the center of the dispute, Shawan Jabarin, runs the human rights organization Al Haq in Ramallah on the occupied West Bank. In 1985 he belonged to a Birzeit University student group associated with the PFLP, indicted as a terror group, by 30 countries including the U.S., the European Union, and Canada. He was convicted of recruiting members for terrorist training outside Israel and served nine months of a 24-month jail sentence….

In its 2007 judgment, the [Israeli] Supreme Court found that alongside activity in [peaceful NGO] Al Haq, Jabarin was also a senior figure in the Popular Front terrorist organization: “This petitioner is apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In part of his activities, he is the director of a human rights organization, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organization.”

Ken Roth, head of HRW, first denied that Jabarin was ever a member of PFLP, then claimed that if he was, it was ancient history, and then added that he had no such affiliation since he joined Al Haq in 1987, though Roth refused to comment on the Israeli Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.

HRW, of course, rests much of its criticism of Israel on “international law,” or at least its dubious interpretation thereof and of the relevant facts. Let’s note, meanwhile, that terrorist bombings of the sort that the PFLP has been guilty of for decades are against international law.
Where does that leave HRW’s vaunted concern for international law?

H/T: NGO Monitor

UPDATE: I’m not sure how to make this clearer, but given the initial comments let me reiterate that the Israeli Supreme Court found in 2007 that Jabarin was, at that time, a senior [...]

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Soros and Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch, bleeding donors because of the various scandals surrounding its reporting on the Middle East [I have a lengthy series of blog posts on HRW and Israel, most of which can be found here, with some more recent ones here], and apparently finding Saudi elites either unavailable or no longer palatable, has found a sugar daddy: George Soros, who is donating $100 million to the organization.

This certainly takes care of HRW’s intermediate funding needs, but also makes HRW’s position as a leading organization of the anti-Israel international left even clearer. Even J Street and Soros parted ways long ago, before J Street even officially launched, because Soros is so toxic to anyone most people sympathetic to Israel, and J Street seeks to represent the left/liberal wing of the pro-Israel community. Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor has more.

UPDATE: Putting aside the Israel issue, Human Rights Watch officials consistently and loudly protest that they have no ideological agenda beyond promoting human rights. It doesn’t exactly help their case to be beholden to, a favorite donee of, a prominent left-winger who has been extremely critical of American foreign policy. It’s a free country, and HRW has every right to be a left-wing organization. It just shouldn’t be confused with an objective human rights monitor. [...]

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Taking the Yglesias Challenge on Human Rights Watch

Matthew Yglesias writes of Benjamin Birnbaum’s piece on HRW in The New Republic:

What I had in mind is that I don’t see what there is to rebut in the piece. As we’ve known for a while, some folks don’t like it that Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel. Some of those people aired their grievances to Birnbaum. But he doesn’t offer any new facts or new analysis or have any relevant expertise in international law. The result is a fairly dull narrative piece detailing how some HRW folks fell out with some other HRW folks over their disagreements about Israel. The piece itself is responsibly written but a bit confusing and doesn’t seem to advance any argument at all, much less a devastating one.

Well, here is my one-line summary of what we learn from the Birnbaum article (which just reinforces what those of us who were paying attention already knew): “HRW’s Middle East division is run by individuals who purport to be human rights activists with no political agenda, but who are in fact far left-wing anti-Israel ideologues who are extremely intolerant of any criticism from within or without the organization.” Birnbaum provides ample evidence on these points, some of which is reviewed here.

I think Sarah Leah Whitson’s and Joe Stork’s (the director and deputy-director of HRW’s M.E. division) bona-fides as far left-wing anti-Israel ideologues masquerading as neutral human rights advocates are well-established by now, but if Yglesias has some new information– e.g., that Whitson didn’t really gush over Hezbollah supporter Norman Finkelstein’s “brilliant mind and generous spirit,” or that she really doesn’t think that, like Finkelstein, the “focus” of her “life’s work” is “Israeli abuses”–let him rebut away.

UPDATE: And, I can’t resist this, it’s priceless. Ygelsias writes of Birnbaum, “But he doesn’t offer any new facts [...]

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The Sound of Crickets Chirping

So the New Republic published the most thorough critique to date of Human Rights Watch’s record on Israel this week. Contrary to its typical belligerency, HRW has not responded [beyond this tepid and largely unresponsive letter to TNR from a co-chair of HRW's Middle East advisory committee, who is not an employee of HRW, but not from HRW itself--thanks to a reader for pointing this out]. That’s unusual, but not too strange; given how often HRW spokespeople get themselves into trouble when they defend the organization’s record on Israel, they are clearly better off keeping quiet.

What is very strange is that members of the left blogosphere who have previously vigorously (and reflexively) defended HRW have all been silent. Where is Matthew Yglesias? Andrew Sullivan? Daniel Levy? Aryeh Neier? Adam Horowitz? Even Kevin Jon Heller has blogged not a word about the TNR story.

I’m not given to conspiratorial thinking, but it’s almost as if “headquarters” has sent out word to ignore the TNR piece in the hopes it will go away. [...]

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Birnbaum on Human Rights Watch and Israel

Benjamin Birnbaum’s investigative piece for The New Republic on Human Rights Watch and Israel is now up. The piece mentions, but does not dwell on, the various scandals that engulfed HRW last year—the fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia in which HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson invoked the organization’s hostility to Israel and the “pro-Israel lobby”; reports that deputy director Joe Stork’s prior “human rights” background primarily consisted of editing and writing for a radical left, anti-Israel publication; and the revelation that HRW military analyst Marc Garlasco was an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.

Instead, the piece focuses on the longstanding conflicts within HRW regarding its Israel-related activities that eventually led founder Richard Bernstein to denounce HRW in an op-ed in the New York Times last Fall.

Much of the piece will be of great interest to both donors and critics of HRW, but will strike those without a deep interest in HRW as so much inside baseball. Nevertheless, there are several newsworthy nuggets within the article:

(1) Whitson’s hostility to Israel. Birnbaum quotes an anonymous insider for what should by now be obvious: she “has no sympathy for the Israeli side” and “has a lot of personal identification [fwiw, her Armenian mother was born in East Jerusalem] with the Palestinian cause.” Birnbaum backs this up with a few telling quotes from Whitson.

(a) Whitson recently professed HRW’s neutrality on the Hamas-Israel conflict to a Moroccan newspaper. But then she added, “Of course, no one can deny that the pain and destruction that Israel causes cannot be compared to what Hamas is doing.” A more objective observer might point that whatever “pain and destruction” Israel is leveling on Gaza is itself Hamas’s fault, because Hamas has chosen to live in a state of war with Israel, whereas Israel

[...]

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Forthcoming TNR Piece on Human Rights Watch

Word on the street is that the next issue of The New Republic will have an extensive investigative article on Human Rights Watch and its hostility to Israel, written by young journalist named Ben Birnbaum.

On cue, Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss–a Nation Institute sponsored anti-Israel and often anti-Jewish blog (really, how many “introspective” posts by founding blogger Weiss about how haughty and obnoxious Jews are as-he-learned-growing-up-Jewish-until-he-was-taught-better-manners-by-his-Gentile-wife does one have to read before one notices a pattern?)–launches a preemptive attack on Birnbaum.

Weiss has longstanding journalist-source ties to Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, who [in both senses] shares with him an interest in analyzing Jewish psychology. (In fairness, Whitson has never expressed the same hostility to Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture that Weiss frequently does.) In turn, Whitson’s Facebook page has listed “Mondoweiss” as one of her very few favorite “Pages.” Leading to the question: Can’t HRW find a more credible attack dog than Weiss? [...]

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Typical Human Rights Watch Dishonesty

HRW’s website has published this piece on the Geneva Conventions and Israel by director Ken Roth.  There are many things wrong with it, but I’ll focus on one piece of blatant dishonesty.

Here’s Roth:

Instead, there is strong evidence that Israel wanted Gazan civilians to pay the price for Hamas’s abuses, and that the decision to impose that cost was taken not by junior officers in the field but by senior government officials…. [A]s the foreign minister at the time, Tzipi Livni, said during a wartime debate in parliament: “On my way here I heard that Hamas declared the man killed by a rocket in Ashkelon ‘one of the Zionists’ despite being an Israeli Arab. They don’t make a distinction, and neither should we.” With culpability running to such senior levels of government, it is no surprise that Israel wants to rewrite the rules.

Roth helpfully provides a link to his source for Livni’s quote, a newspaper article from the Israeli news site Ynet.  Put aside, for a moment, the fact that despite the seriousness of his accusation, Roth is quoting from a newspaper article that doesn’t give a transcript (and thus the full context) of Livni’s remarks.  And put aside that he is relying on an English translation, not the original Hebrew.

The Ynet article itself that Roth cites makes it clear that Livni is not talking, as Roth claims, about Israel not distinguishing between attacking Hamas and attacking ordinary innocent Gaza civilians, but about Israel not distinguishing between its Jewish and Arab citizens.

The context, from the article, is that an Arab Israeli MP lambasted Israel for the civilian casualties in Gaza, and then added . “As a humane person, I oppose targeting civilians wherever they are. Naturally, however, every time an Arab is injured it hurts me [...]

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What Kind of People Affiliate with Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division?

This kind: Helena Cobban is on the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.  In a recent blog post, she took exception to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb criticizing her because “she likes to compare Israel to Hamas.” (H/T: Richard Landes)

Cobban was offended not because Goldfarb was wrong, but because in her opinion any rational person knows that Israel is comparable to (or perhaps, judging by her tone, worse than) Hamas:

So here’s the thing that Michael Goldfarb and people of his ilk really don’t seem to understand: For the vast majority of the people on God’s earth today, Palestinians are just as fully human as Jewish people, and just as deserving as Jewish people of our compassion and our understanding.

(She later suggests that Gaza’s Hamasistan dictatorship is just as “democratic” as Israel.)

And who are Michael Goldfarb’s “ilk”?  Jews who support Israel and/or criticize Human Rights Watch (you tell me if the following individuals have anything else in common)!

But the Michael Goldfarbs, the Norman Podhoretz’s, the Alan Dershowitz’s, and Robert Bernsteins of this world truly don’t get this. They truly think there is something so “special” about Jewish people and their experience in the world that somehow the [sic] (and especially the allegedly “Jewish” state, Israel) deserve to be given a free pass on the application of any neutral standards of behavior, such as would be applied to anyone else.

So there you have it.  Among other Jews, Robert Bernstein, the founder, longtime president, and now critic of Human Rights Watch is not merely mistaken when he accuses HRW of anti-Israel bias, he is mistaken because he thinks Jews should be held to different, lower standards than everyone else because he thinks Jews are “so [...]

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Andrew Sullivan on Human Rights Watch–Ignorance is Bliss

Sullivan quotes me: “I suggest that if Yglesias and similarly-situated bloggers want to address the root causes of R. Bernstein’s obviously painful decision to denounce the organization he founded and nurtured, they read this comprehensive report by NGO Monitor” (by the way, I’ve since heard from a very reliable source that R. Bernstein in fact came to his painful decision after both reading such critiques–I’m not sure if he read that specific report–,  doing his own due diligence to make sure they checked out, and trying to get HRW to mend it ways before going public):

So, does Sullivan actually bother to read the report?  You guessed it, nope.   Instead, he quotes my frequent (and persistent) critic, Kevin Heller:

Bernstein bases his recent posts on “reports” issued by NGO Monitor, an organization that — unlike HRW — makes absolutely no effort to be critical of both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

NGO Monitor’s objective is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas.

NGO Monitor at least gets credit for truth in advertising: every single report it has issued in 2009 has attacked an NGO or state or other organization that criticized Israel.

You know, I heard there’s a blogger named Andrew Sullivan who is concerned about marriage.  And here’s the crazy thing: every single  blog post he writes on the issue is supportive of gay marriage!  Every one!

This of course means that no matter what facts he marshals, no matter what evidence he provides, no matter how extensive his research, and no matter how darn persuasive he would be if we just read what he wrote, because he has a position on the issue, nothing he has [...]

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Heller (Kevin) Again

Just about every time I post something about Human Rights Watch, Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris, who served as HRW’s external legal advisor on the trial of Saddam Hussein, posts a nasty response.  His response almost never addresses the substance of my post, but instead provides readers with an attack on the messenger, i.e., me.

Today he neglected to comment on HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s astonishing disavowal and critique of the organization he led for twenty years.  Instead attacked my post on R. Bernstein for, among other things, suggesting that HRW not just anti-Israel, but  “anti-Western,” which he said was a new claim on my part. [Readers are free to go to Opinio Juris themselves, but I'm not going to link and increase Heller's post's Google rank.]

I responded in the comments,”I have linked to this post by Prof. Maimon Schwarzschild.  You may disagree, but I’d say that organizations staffed by people who implicitly hate the U.S. and Israel is [sic]  ‘anti-Western’.”   Maimon states, inter alia: “I’ve met one senior Human Rights Watch officer at several symposia in New York over the past few months, and I was genuinely taken aback at her visceral hatred not only for George Bush (that’s to be taken for granted in these circles) but for the US more generally.”

Heller then selectively reprints part of my response, without the link, and writes: “It takes a special kind of myopia to believe that HRW hates any country that supports Israel. (Or perhaps Bernstein thinks HRW hates the US because it opposes things like torture, illegal detention, and the like.  I hope he’ll enlighten us.)”

Now, Heller could have disagreed with my conclusion on all sorts of grounds, but he could have at least restated my argument fairly, or at least in [...]

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