Human Rights Watch’s Lost Credibility

February 26, 2012 2:39 pm 0 comments

Director, Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth. Photo: Kai Mork.

It is always painful to discover that an organization proclaiming liberal and moral values is not what it claims to be, but this is precisely what has happened to Human Rights Watch (HRW). For many years, in the absence of any systematic analysis of HRW’s activities and impacts, few questioned the claims made by the leaders of this organization. But recently, as a number of detailed examinations have been published, the difference between HRW’s public relations claims and the reality have become inescapable.

Our organization, NGO Monitor’s systematic analysis of HRW’s activities in the Middle East demonstrate a consistent credibility gap between HRW’s universal moral objectives, and the reality of its Middle East political agenda – including obsessive focus on Israel, and unseemly cooperation with brutal dictatorships. And despite the extensive use of genocidal threats by the Iranian regime, HRW has not found the time or resources to condemn this and other forms of hate speech.

In 2011, according to NGO Monitor’s annual report on HRW’s output of materials, “Israel and the Occupied Territories” (as termed by HRW) still received more attention than Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. In 2010, as in previous years, HRW published more documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories” than on any other country in the region. Clearly, HRW’s disproportionate attacks on Israel came at the expense of focusing on the worst human rights abuses in the region.

An examination of HRW’s op-eds, press conferences, and other activities shows sustained campaigns attacking Israeli responses to terror as war crimes, as compared to a few one-off statements condemning the Palestinian terror attacks themselves. HRW issued its first report on suicide bombing in November 2002, almost a year and a half after the Dolphinarian atrocity. Prior to this report, HRW head Ken Roth used the excuse that universal standards of human rights applied only to states and not to terror groups. (When they finally did the report on Palestinian attacks, HRW ignored documents clearly showing that Arafat had authorized terror attacks.)

This token report was quickly forgotten by HRW, which failed to organize a campaign or press for sanctions against Palestinian terrorists. Instead, their campaigns returned to attacks and allegations against Israel, including accusations of “war crimes” in the IDF operation against the suicide bombing center in Jenin.

This agenda has closely reflected the final declaration of the notorious NGO Forum at the 2001 Durban conference, in which HRW officials played a central role. This document called for a program of action to promote the “complete international isolation of Israel” through the façade of human rights. After their Jenin campaign, HRW launched campaigns based on false claims during the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah (such as the Qana incident), and the 2008/9 Gaza war, as reflected in the discredited Goldstone Report. Such attacks continue – on January 30, 2012, HRW released a statement attacking the Israeli High Court as undermining human rights – and is a central part of the Durban strategy. The few largely invisible condemnations of Palestinian violations – and every one of the rockets fired from Gaza towards Sderot is a war crime – are lost in the noise.

This dismal record led founder Robert Bernstein to publish an op-ed in the New York Times denouncing his own organization as morally bankrupt. Similarly, in a 2010 Human Rights Day speech, Bernstein emphasized that citizens of repressive Arab regimes “would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide,” but which is instead “ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.”

HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth, Sarah Leah Whitson (director of the Middle East and North Africa Division), and Joe Stork (deputy director) have long records of bias. Roth referred to Jewish religious texts as “primitive,” and Whitson’s “credentials” include praise for Seif Islam Qadaffi as a “reformer.” In 2010, HRW issued 19 largely minor documents on Libya, compared with 51 on “Israel and the Occupied Territories”.  Whitson also held a fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia, exploiting the specter of “pro-Israel pressure groups” to solicit funds from “prominent members of Saudi society.” In 2011, MENA co-chair Kathleen Peratis met with members of the Hamas terror organization.

HRW’s warped agenda is not unique to Israel. Iranian-born journalist Maryam Namazie took HRW executive director Ken Roth to task for stating “Islamist parties are genuinely popular in much of the Arab world, in part because many Arabs have come to see political Islam as the antithesis of autocratic rule.” As Namazie noted, “A majority don’t support Islamism unless you believe that people like to have their rights and freedoms limited and are different human beings from those sitting in the plush Human Rights Watch offices. It isn’t rocket science to understand that after autocratic rule and the suppression of dissent and banning of political parties, it is impossible for secular forces and those representing the true spirit of the ‘Arab Spring’ to organize and win ‘elections’.”

The tragedy here is not only due to the demise of HRW as a moral and significant framework for promoting human rights and other universal principles. Rather, when groups like HRW exploit these moral values as political and ideological weapons, the wider respect for human rights in any society, including Israel’s, is replaced by cynical dismissal. Anyone who is truly concerned about these values should be demanding that groups such as HRW immediately end their double standards and false claims of “war crimes”, and return to the universal principles of human rights.

Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the Middle East.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.