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Human Rights Watch Executive Director Stepping Down, but Remaining Israel-Bashers Stand to Carry on Legacy

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


Omar Shakir, a US citizen representing New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel and the Palestinian territories, stands next to Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, while speaking before departing Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Nov. 25, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.

Ken Roth, the executive director of frequent Israel-basher Human Rights Watch (HRW), is stepping down from his post.

A statement on HRW’s website said Roth would be leaving after three decades at the helm of the organization — a tenure that has seen Israel lambasted so routinely that even the group’s own founder, Robert Bernstein, warned it had strayed far from its mission of monitoring abuses by authoritarian regimes, and instead obsessively focused on the Middle East’s sole democracy.

The departing statement, which announces HRW’s chief programs officer Tirana Hassan will act as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is found, suggests any criticism levied at Roth over his biased views toward Israel is misplaced, owing to the fact he is Jewish:

Roth inevitably earned many enemies. Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked for the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses.

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HonestReporting has documented HRW’s anti-Israel libels at length; it is an animosity that has culminated in the NGO releasing numerous flawed reports and articles that peddle unfounded accusations.

In July 2021, we deconstructed a 6,500-word report titled, “Gaza: Apparent War Crimes During May Fighting,” which ostensibly detailed an investigation into the actions of the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist groups during last year’s conflict that allegedly “resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties and where there was no evident military target.”

We noted that a thorough examination of HRW’s claims revealed the entire foundation upon which the report was constructed used recycled allegations from other unnamed NGOs and The New York Times, and failed to present any concrete evidence to support its accusations.

In addition, we criticized the report’s exoneration of US-designated terrorist group Hamas of all responsibility for deaths that had occurred in Gaza, despite controlling the territory with an iron fist and the well-documented fact that it uses civilians as human shields.

In December 2021, HRW continued its assault on Israel’s legitimacy — this time targeting what it deemed “discriminatory” policing during the May hostilities in which Arab Israelis carried out what many described as “pogroms” against Jews and their property.

The wave of antisemitic violence in cities including Lod, Acre, Jaffa, and Haifa was followed by a handful of attacks by Jewish extremists, who were denounced by Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum.

Yet, according to data from the Fire and Rescue Services, Arab violence against Jews formed the vast majority of assaults.

HRW chose to ignore these salient facts in its 5,000-word analysis, “Israel: Abusive Policing in Lod During May Hostilities,” and instead relied entirely on controversial pro-Palestinian sources to conclude that police had “forcibly” dispersed “Palestinians protesting peacefully.”

This, as Hamas-encouraged riots saw Arab Israelis set fire to at least 10 synagogues, 112 Jewish-owned homes, and 849 cars in the space of just five days.

Outside of his work leading HRW and overseeing the production of its anti-Israel propaganda, Roth has demonstrated his personal enmity towards the Jewish state on numerous occasions.

During the 51-day Hamas-initiated war against Israel in 2014, he posted no fewer than 400 tweets about Israel over a two-month period, which watchdog group NGO Monitor described as resulting in the spread of “numerous false … claims regarding events involving Israel, as well as blatant double standards and large-scale distortion of international law in order to promote his personal and ideological objectives.”

Last year, Roth was accused of justifying antisemitism following the publication of a report that showed there had been a spike in anti-Jewish incidents in the UK during the May 2021 conflict, which Hamas started.

In a tweet that was later deleted, Roth wrote: “Antisemitism is always wrong, and it long preceded the creation of Israel, but the surge in UK antisemitic incidents during the recent Gaza conflict gives the lie to those who pretend that the Israeli government’s conduct doesn’t affect antisemitism.”

But even with Roth no longer leading HRW, it seems unlikely that the organization’s entrenched animosity toward Israel will fade.

After all, the individuals at HRW who Roth tasked with “researching” human rights issues in Israel and Palestinian territories have frequently demonstrated a total disregard for facts as they pertain to the Jewish state, while abandoning any pretense of impartiality on the subject.

Omar Shakir, who is listed as the organization’s “Israel and Palestine Director” — this, mind you, despite the nonexistence of a Palestinian state — has been a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to eventually dismantle the Jewish state.

His support of BDS led to Shakir being denied an Israeli work visa in 2017 before the decision was overturned. However, in May 2018, the Ministry of Interior, acting in accordance with Israeli law, declined to renew his visa due to his ties with the anti-Israel movement. Following the rejection of an appeal, he left the country in 2019.

Another staffer listed on HRW’s website is Abier Almasri, described as the group’s “research assistant for the Gaza Strip.” A scan of Almasri’s Twitter page reveals a number of disturbing posts, including one praising Basel al-A’raj — a terrorist leader known to Palestinians as the “educated martyr” — who she described as a “pure spirit.”

In another post from December 2017, she tweeted that Jerusalem is the “capital of Palestine” alongside images of four Palestinians who were killed during what she terms “clashes” in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Among the pictures was one of Mohammed Aqel, who Almasri failed to mention was shot after stabbing a Border Police officer near Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Almasri’s HRW colleague Khulood Badawi, an “Israel and East Jerusalem Consultant,” similarly uses her social media profile to spread distortions about the Jewish state. In 2013, Badawi was sacked from her role at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) after writing a “bogus post on Twitter alleging that a pictured Palestinian girl had been killed by the IDF during the 2012 shelling of Gaza.”

The image was actually taken six years earlier by Reuters, and showed a youngster who had been injured in a swing accident.

Ken Roth’s time leading Human Rights Watch will be over in August — but, judging by the staff who are still on the organization’s payroll, his anti-Israel legacy is liable to be long-lasting unless people begin telling the truth about how decades-long Palestinian rejectionism, which continues to manifest in terrorism against Israel, is the root cause of the ongoing conflict.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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