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July 29, 2019 2:08 pm

Head of Human Rights Watch Refuses to Say Israel Has Right to Exist as Jewish State

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Photo: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell.

A top official at the prominent NGO Human Rights Watch proved unable to explicitly say Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state in a recent interview with an Israeli media outlet.

In conversation with Israel’s Kan broadcaster, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth was asked, “Do you support Israel’s self-determination as a Jewish state?”

“Nobody’s ever questioned the right of Israel to exist,” Roth replied. “I mean, every state has a right to exist, but every state also has a duty to apply international human rights principles.”

“As a Jewish state?” the interviewer prodded.

“As a democracy,” Roth said. “In other words …”

“Not as a Jewish state?” the interviewer pressed again.

“Well, I mean, Israel can define itself any way it wants,” Roth said. “I mean, lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms, but that’s not an excuse …”

“Why do you have difficulty to define Israel as a Jewish state?” the interviewer asked.

“Well, because there are many Palestinians who live in Israel too who are citizens and deserve full rights,” Roth said, seeming to imply that the presence of Arab citizens negates a Jewish right to self-determination.

“So for me, the emphasis is, is Israel a state that respects the human rights values?” Roth added.

“Should Egypt not call itself an Arab state?” the interviewer queried.

“If that means that therefore people who are not Arabs are second-class citizens and don’t get respect for …” Roth replied.

“And that’s your impression, that Arabs who live in Israel are second-class citizens?” the interviewer interrupted.

“Well, the issue with Egypt, for example, has been, you know, are Coptic Christians given the same rights as Arab Muslims,” Roth said. “Or if you look in Iraq, are Sunnis or various minorities given the same rights as the Shi’a majority. In Iran, are Baha’is given the same as the majority there?”

“You can go around the world, there are always minorities, and for me, the essence of a democracy, the essence of a rights-respecting state, is to ensure that everybody in that state has respect for their rights,” Roth went on to say.

Watch the full exchange below:

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