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June 27, 2018 7:16 pm

Head of Human Rights Watch Knocked for Using ‘Antisemitic Dog Whistle’

avatar by Shiri Moshe

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 23, 2015. Photo: World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebell.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch accused the White House this week of following an “Israel First strategy” by withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council, drawing sharp backlash from leading Jewish and watchdog groups.

Kenneth Roth tweeted on Tuesday about a response by HRW and other advocacy groups to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who described their joint opposition to proposed US reforms as “a contributing factor” in the country’s decision to withdraw from the UNHRC.

“Human rights groups to Trump administration: Don’t blame us for no government wanting to follow your Israel First strategy which risked undermining the UN Human Rights Council when a safer alternative reform effort was underway,” Roth wrote.

The moniker “Israel first” — largely found on the far-right and, increasingly, the far-left of the political spectrum — has in the past been employed against those accused of placing Israel’s priorities above their own country’s.

Sharon Nazarian, the Anti-Defamation League’s senior vice president of international affairs, told the Algemeiner that “Kenneth Roth’s tweet distorts US foreign policy and provides fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.”

“We urge him to not use the term ‘Israel First’ in the future,” she said.

Hillel Neuer, head of the UN Watch monitoring group, compared Roth’s language to that favored by former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, who in June called the US ambassador to the UN “Nikki ‘Israel First’ Haley.”

“Your use of white supremacist David Duke’s favorite anti-Semitic dog whistle is a disgrace to Human Rights Watch and the human rights movement,” Neuer said. “I urge you to delete it immediately, and to apologize.”

The watchdog group NGO Monitor likewise denounced Roth for “channeling the rhetoric of David Duke.”

“Is this really what has become of [Human Rights Watch]?” it asked.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, explained that “the term Israel-firster … is shorthand for all of the stereotypes about Jewish control of government, of a hidden hand, of getting the most powerful nation on the planet to put another country’s interests first.”

“It’s not true, and Kenneth Roth knows it’s not true,” he observed.

“Human Rights Watch has done some important work on behalf of human rights in many parts of the world,” Cooper noted. Yet he argued that Roth holds Israel “to a different standard,” a charge he also leveled against the UNHRC, which he called “fundamentally broken.”

“If you have a kangaroo court against Israel, and you have a stacked deck in which tyrants and dictators trade votes in order to protect each other and themselves, why should the US waste its time there, give its name, money, and legitimacy to a UN agency that lost its legitimacy long ago?” Cooper asked.

He said Roth left one fundamental question on the table: “Is the UNHRC doing its job in exposing Iran, China, and other major leaguers in terms of their human rights abuses, yes or no?”

Haley similarly criticized the UNHRC for its “chronic bias against Israel” and failure to adequately confront authoritarian countries after announcing that the US would leave the body earlier this month.

When a so-called Human Rights Council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” she said.

The UNHRC has been frequently accused of turning a blind eye to some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers while disproportionately focusing on Israel, the only country with a permanent item on the council’s agenda.

In the decade since its formation in 2006, the UNHRC adopted 68 resolutions targeting Israel, more than it passed against all other countries combined, according to UN Watch.

While the US was involved in the council under the Obama administration, the Bush administration chose to boycott it for many of the same reasons cited by Haley.

HRW has also been accused in recent years of focusing disproportionately on Israel, with Robert Bernstein — the group’s founder — criticizing it in 2009 for publishing “far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than any other country in the region.”

Representatives for HRW did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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