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January 12, 2023 12:20 pm

Media Breathe New Life Into Ken Roth’s Twisted Anti-Israel Conspiracies

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avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld


Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 12, 2021. Picture taken January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than any other self-proclaimed human rights group, has been instrumental in mainstreaming radical anti-Israel talking points for decades. Under the leadership of Kenneth Roth, who served as the organization’s executive director between 1993 and 2022, HRW helped kickstart the antisemitic BDS campaign, which appropriates human rights rhetoric to demonize and delegitimize the only Jewish state. HRW even launched a preposterous report accusing Israel of “apartheid.”

Ken Roth’s obsession with vilifying Israel even led HRW founder Robert Bernstein to publicly denounce the NGO’s work in the Middle East, writing in 2009 that “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Yet in his April 2022 departing statement, Roth bizarrely claimed that objections to his biased views are misplaced due to the fact that he has Jewish roots.

“I am leaving Human Rights Watch but I am not leaving the human rights cause,” he vowed at the time of his resignation, while announcing a book about his personal experiences. Fast forward to January 2023, and Ken Roth is back with another media-abetted attack on Israel.

The Nation reported on January 5 that Ken Roth was denied a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School last year. According to the 5,000-word puff piece written by Michael Massing, entitled “Why the Godfather of Human Rights Is Not Welcome at Harvard,” Dean Douglas Elmendorf cited Roth’s anti-Israel bias when he vetoed the invitation by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

“Roth’s tweets on Israel were of particular concern,” The Nation quoted Roth’s supporters at the institute as saying.

Invoking classic antisemitic tropes about Jewish power and control, and without providing any solid evidence, the progressive magazine then conspiratorially suggested that Jewish and pro-Israel donors might have influenced Elmendorf’s decision to refuse Roth a position.

Immediately after the publication by The Nation, Roth embarked on an aggressive campaign against Harvard and Dean Elmendorf, sending out some 30 tweets on the subject over the span of mere days. Mainstream media outlets like the Associated PressMSNBC, and The Guardian also picked up on the story.

Crucially, in a January 10 opinion piece published by the British paper, Roth conceded that he does not know if “supporters of Israel” had anything to do with his failure to secure a fellowship at the prestigious school. In the same op-ed, he laughably asserted to have paid the price for his principles; the presumed millionaire seemingly forgot he once secured a $470,000 gift from a Saudi donor by promising not to use the funds to defend LGBT rights in the Middle East.

However, in keeping with Roth’s usual modus operandi, Israel is guilty until proven innocent, and other reasonable explanations are quickly dismissed. “As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern,” he explained, “The Kennedy School spokesperson has not denied it.”

Harvard University is a private institution, and we can only guess as to why Elmendorf overruled Roth’s appointment. But to characterize the former HRW head’s history of Israel bashing and antisemitism as “criticism of Israel,” as many news organizations did in their reporting, is wholly inaccurate.

Rather, Roth has time and time again demonstrated blatant, one-sided hatred of the Jewish state.

Most notably, in May 2021, Roth’s Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing Israel of implementing a system of apartheid. The document contained at least 300 errors, as well as falsified quotes, which HonestReporting and independent researchers analyzed and rebutted.

HonestReporting demonstrated that HRW’s definition of “apartheid” is so broad that, if applied fairly and rigorously, then almost every nation would be guilty of it in one way or another — yet Human Rights Watch only put Israel in the dock.

Outside of his work leading HRW and overseeing the production of its anti-Israel propaganda, Roth has demonstrated his personal enmity towards the Jews and their state on numerous occasions. In 2021, 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.

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.

When a spate of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in the spring of 2022 killed nine innocent civilians, Roth refused to condemn the perpetrators.

As noted by some social media users, the notion that Harvard wouldn’t associate with an anti-Israel fanatic is not true. Before he died, former PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat was chosen as a fellow for the university’s Future of Diplomacy Project; Kennedy School fellow Rami G. Khouri continually attacks “apartheid Israel” and “racist Zionism“; and professor Stephen Walt wrote a widely-criticized book about the supposed influence of the “Israel Lobby” on US foreign policy.

Nevertheless, Harvard University — whose motto is Veritas (truth) — should be commended for facing the media mob and finally taking a firm stance against anti-Jewish hatred.

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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