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February 27, 2014 4:23 pm

Watchdog Group Highlights Anti-Israel Credentials of Amnesty International’s Researchers

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Cover of Amnesty International's report about the IDF. Photo: Screenshot / Haim Schwarczenberg.

Cover of Amnesty International's report about the IDF. Photo: Screenshot / Haim Schwarczenberg.

As Amnesty International published an anonymous 85-page report condemning Israel on Thursday, NGO Monitor, the Jerusalem-based charity watchdog, highlighted the backgrounds of Amnesty’s researchers, several of whom were full-time anti-Israel activists before joining the human rights group.

Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s international legal counsel, told The Algemeiner on Thursday, “We are not sure who wrote the report because Amnesty doesn’t say — in violation of NGO fact-finding guidelines established by the International Bar Association.”

The only name associated with the report, on its press release, was Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, who has managed to leave few footprints anywhere online; even Luther’s public LinkedIn profile provides little clue to his experience or credentials.

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The cover photography from the report was courtesy of Haim Schwarczenberg, who describes himself as a “photographer and activist in Israel” on the anti-Israel blog Mondoweiss, to which he contributed a report last year. Schwarczenberg’s Facebook account features a stream of hundreds of photos showing Arabs igniting tires to hurl at soldiers, aiming slingshots, and, of course, throwing rocks at the Israel Defense Forces.

Herzberg said that what NGO Monitor has been able to confirm is that “the Israel researcher based in London, Deborah Hyams, was a human shield in Beit Jala; the Amnesty US Israel researcher, Edith Garwood, used to be a member of the International Solidarity Movement. Also, another one of the researchers, Rasha Abdul-Rahim, describes herself as ‘a ranty Palestinian activist‘ on Twitter.”

“Again, I don’t know if any of these people worked on the report, but their hiring certainly shows that Amnesty doesn’t care about objectivity or the credibility of its reporting,” Herzberg said.

In a 2012 research note, NGO Monitor said, “Amnesty claims that it maintains a policy of ‘impartiality’ and is unbiased in its research of allegations of human rights violations.”

“Despite this claim, Amnesty employs an anti-Israel activist as a researcher in its ‘Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Authority’ section,” NGO Monitor said.

“This individual, Deborah Hyams, has a well-documented history of radical activism in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, correspondingly, weakens Amnesty’s credibility and claims of neutrality.”

On its website, NGO Monitor elaborated on Hyams’s extensive background in anti-Israel activism. In 2001, when Hyams volunteered as a “human shield” in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, it was to deter Israeli military responses to recurrent gunfire and mortars targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. In 2002, Hyams stated that some “of Israel’s actions, all the way back to 1948, could be called ‘ethnic cleansing.'” In 2008, she was signatory to a letter claiming Israel is “a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land.”

Prior to joining Amnesty, Hyams worked for “some of the most radical political advocacy NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” according to NGO Monitor, including the Alternative Information Center (AIC), Jews for Justice in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), Rachel Corrie Foundation, and Ma’an Network. “Any of these affiliations should have been a red flag for Amnesty,” the watchdog said.

Another Middle East researcher, Kristyan Benedict, was described by NGO Monitor as having “a strong anti-Israel obsession, fueled by global conspiracy theories,” of which it cited several from a 2011 interview with Labour Friends of Palestine.

“Israel is now included in the list of stupid dictatorial regimes who abuse peoples’ basic universal rights – along with Burma, North Korea, Iran and Sudan, its government has the same wanton attitude to human beings,” Benedict said in the interview.

When asked if Amnesty would hold an event to aid kidnapped Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit, Benedict, according to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, answered, “Could do, why not? We will also talk about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners as well. We will have to do that if we want to be consistent.”

Described in 2012 as Amnesty’s UK campaign manager, Benedict had to be suspended after a joke on Twitter at the expense of Jewish Members of Parliament, in Britain, backfired, compelling his superiors to even apologize for their employee’s tastelessness.

Outside of the direct Arab-Israeli conflict, NGO Monitor’s Herzberg said that one of Amnesty’s partners, Moazzem Begg, was arrested in the UK on Tuesday “on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.”

The former Guantanamo detainee and alleged supporter of the Taliban was one of four people arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences, the UK’s Telegraph reported, citing the police.

Begg sparked controversy in 2010 after the UK’s Sunday Times reported that Amnesty had suspended Gita Sahgal, head of its Gender Unit, for criticizing the organization’s alliance with the Pakistani-born activist.

In an official response to the “Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights,” which garnered 750,012 signatures, Amnesty’s interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone, defended Begg, stating that “jihad in self-defense” is not “antithetical to human rights.”

The organization had previously claimed it collaborated with Begg because he is a “compelling speaker” and because of its commitment to “upholding the universality of human rights.”

At the time, popular columnist Christopher Hitchens, who has since passed away, described the “degeneration and politicization” of Amnesty as “a moral crisis that has global implications,” urging Amnesty members to withhold their funding from the once stalwart defenders of human rights.

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