By Prof Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive director of NGO Monitor and chair of political science at Bar Ilan University.
From Gulag Liberators to Saudi Retainers - Human Rights Watch has betrayed its original mission.
Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978 in New York (as Helsinki Watch) with the mission of using public demonstrations and other forms of “naming and shaming” to free prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Many Gulag denizens, including Anatoly (now Natan) Sharansky, later recognized HRW’s role in gaining their freedom. Shortly thereafter HRW began advocating on behalf of political prisoners and torture victims in other totalitarian regimes, including in Chile, Argentina, and Greece.
But since then, HRW has lost its moral compass, and the organization is using its substantial budget ($42 million in 2008) to repeatedly attack Israel by exploiting the language of human rights and international law. Tendentious reports and press conferences, using distorted legal rhetoric in place of credible evidence, target Israeli responses to terror attacks from Arafat, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
My organization, NGO Monitor, annually releases a systematic analysis of HRW’s agenda, and our reports clearly show that HRW singles out Israel in the Middle East. For years, this arbiter of international morality and human rights had very little to say about Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Palestinian terrorists. HRW’s recent cautious criticism of Saudi policy came only after a reorganization of the organization’s board — and then only after receiving unwelcome attention for its see-no-evil treatment of the Kingdom. In May 2009, Arab News reported that HRW officials went to Saudi Arabia to raise funds, advertising the numerous condemnations and pseudo-research reports against Israel in the Gaza war. Some of the founders, including Robert Bernstein, are in strong disagreement with the organization they built.
How and why did this human-rights superpower turn into a major Israel-basher, along with London-based Amnesty International (which began with a similar mission at about the same time)? And why do such groups appear to be credible and moral — if not as vocal — only when it comes to human-rights violations outside the Middle East, such as those in China?
Part of the answer is the addiction to the influence, power, and money that lies just below the moral façade. The collapse of the Soviet empire forced groups like HRW to create new objectives if they wanted to keep the donations coming (and they succeeded; HRW executive director Ken Roth has a $350,000 salary package). The struggle against South African apartheid was but a short-lived substitute.
HRW and Amnesty transformed from human rights groups to “research organizations,” claiming expertise in the complexities of international law and armed conflict. They added a few self-proclaimed experts in these fields, and began producing impressive-looking battlefield reports based on unverifiable “eyewitness testimony” and emotive graphics. The Arab-Israeli conflict was a prime target — and HRW’s agenda fit directly into the Palestinian political strategy of isolating and demonizing Israel through the vocabulary of human rights.
The campaign to label Zionism as racism, endorsed by the U.N. in the mid-1970s, returned in the late 1990s as the Oslo process exploded, giving the NGO network a powerful platform. For the Arabs and Iran, anti-Israel NGO activists who labeled Zionism as “neo-colonialism” and the “new apartheid” became convenient allies. Double standards promoting anti-Israel positions provided direct access to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (now Council), led by moral stalwarts such as Iran, Libya, Pakistan, and Cuba. In every round of violence, including the 2002 Jenin “massacre” myth, the 2006 Lebanon war, and numerous others, HRW officials called for international investigations of Israeli “war crimes” and “violations of international law.” Meanwhile, HRW’s annual income grew as fast as Bernie Madoff’s balance sheets.
Most recently, during the Gaza war, the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed HRW board member Richard Goldstone to head the inquisition. This highlighted the symbiotic relationship between powerful political NGOs and the anti-Western and anti-Israel regimes that control the relevant U.N. frameworks. And as a U.S.-based NGO with many Jewish donors, HRW was a welcome ally in Israel-bashing. (Goldstone resigned from HRW, and his name was quickly removed from the website, after NGO Monitor highlighted the conflict of interest.)
Because the U.N. amplifies the role of NGOs, these organizations receive enhanced media coverage and exercise “soft power.” Journalists usually accept and repeat the obsessions and automatic condemnations published by human-rights superpowers, without bothering to check the “evidence” presented. And this media attention, in turn, helps the top NGOs get more money from foundations promoting radical agendas (like George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and the Ford Foundation), naïve donors, and now, perhaps, the Saudis. (HRW has also established a relationship with Qaddafi in Libya, praising the “spirit of reform.”)
But power and money are only part of the explanation for the radical political agenda. HRW, like other once-liberal organizations, has been captured by activists with anti-democratic ideologies, strong egos, and major chips on their shoulders. Following Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Joseph Massad, and others, the NGO world is filled with anti-nationalists and anarchists who define military power as inherently evil and victimhood as moral, regardless of context or behavior. Thus, an Israel that can defend itself is on the bad side of the moral ledger, along with the United States; Palestinians — the world’s most successful victims — are patronizingly excused from all responsibility to act morally.
Another factor in HRW’s disproportionate emphasis on Israel is the number of anti-Israel Jews among its top officials, beginning with Executive Director Kenneth Roth. Roth has often held press conferences in Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel, home base for the pro-Palestinian media, in order to attack Israel. As suicide bombers were slaughtering hundreds of Israelis, Roth’s solution was to call for sending police into Gaza’s slums to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to trial. In 2006, Roth condemned Israel’s response to Hezbollah rocket attacks and kidnapping of soldiers as an “eye for an eye” approach resulting from “the morality of some more primitive moment.”
Reed Brody, another Jew, led the HRW delegation to the infamous 2001 NGO Forum of the U.N. Durban Conference, which labelled Israel “an apartheid state.” Brody was also active in the case brought against Prime Minister Sharon in a Belgium court while hundreds of Israelis were being killed in Arafat’s terror campaign.
For many years, HRW’s founders and board members paid little attention to these dimensions, relying instead on Roth’s cool assurances, stage presence from the NPR studios to the salons of Davos, and unprecedented fundraising success. Some minor obsessions over Israel could be overlooked when measured against HRW’s status as an NGO superpower and moral arbiter.
But now the façade is thinning, and HRW has become a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia, one of the top human-rights abusers in the world. According to Arab News, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division, and Hassan Elmasry, a member of both the HRW Board of Directors and the MENA advisory committee, attended a “welcoming dinner” and encouraged “prominent members of Saudi society” to make up the “shortage of funds” due to the global financial crisis “and the work on Israel and Gaza, which depleted HRW’s budget for the region.” Whitson has reportedly sought to reel in the Saudis by touting HRW’s (invented) “evidence of Israel using white phosphorus and launching systematic destructive attacks on civilian targets,” and by invoking the “pro-Israel pressure groups” that “strongly resisted the report and tried to discredit it.”
In response to extensive ridicule, Whitson and Roth lashed out at their critics (they accused NGO Monitor of lying), but they have not offered any details to contradict this version of events or the systematic analysis exposing HRW’s targeting of Israel. They have also tried to sell a distinction between soliciting the Saudi regime for money, and wooing wealthy private individuals and Wahhabi religious officials in Saudi Arabia who, we are assured, are genuinely concerned about human rights. Right.
In terms of its budget and ideological agenda, HRW’s embrace of the Saudis makes sense, because it can compensate for the group’s loss of support from liberal Jews. In addition, this new partnership is based on a shared agenda of attacking Israel and the legitimacy of a Jewish nation-state — while more than 50 officially Islamic countries are universally accepted.
But as a result, HRW’s halo has been tarnished, perhaps beyond repair. The long history of cynical manipulation of moral rhetoric notwithstanding, the absurdity of a Saudi-supported human-rights organization that targets Israel may be a step too far. For the first time, Roth and Whitson find themselves being held accountable and answering charges, rather than playing prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. If this also becomes true of Amnesty International and the other human-rights superpowers that have gone bad, this will mark a major step in restoring the moral foundation of universal human rights.
Information from NGO Monitor, to combat the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) are the tactics of political warfare used against Israel, based on the exploitation of human rights, double standards, comparisons to apartheid South Africa, and false accusations of “war crimes.”
BDS is not an established organization or movement, but comprised of dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and radical activists.
In practice, BDS campaigns have little success on the ground, but their effectiveness lie in their ability to penetrate the public and political discourse and blur the lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and the complete de-legitimization of Israel in the international arena.
Very helpful representation. www.ngo-monitor.org/bds/
One example; War on Want, has received £1.5 million from Comic Relief. (plus just under half a million pounds from the European Commission and about £160,000 from the British Government.)
The stated aims of War on Want include the promise “to relieve global poverty however caused through working in partnership with people throughout the world.” - However, War on Want has been widely criticized, and the watchdog group NGO Monitor, issued a report that concluded:
"War on Want is an extremely politicised NGO which actively promotes the Durban Strategy and uses anti-Semitic themes to attack Israel. Given WoW’s extensive political campaigning and lobbying efforts, its one-sided approach to the conflict that ignores Palestinian terrorism, and the recurring investigations by the Charity Commission, funding from the EU and UK to this NGO is highly problematic."
In 1967, under attack, Israel struck back and conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem (the West Bank) from Jordan. Israel had been threatened with a second Holocaust, and few questioned its actions. No one spoke of a Palestinian state; there was no "Palestinian people."
Many legal experts accepted Israel's right to "occupy" and settle its historic homeland, because the areas had been illegally occupied by invading Arab countries since 1948.
One organization, however - the International Committee of the Red Cross - disagreed.
Meeting secretly in the early 1970s in Geneva, the ICRC determined that Israel was in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Based on the Hague Convention, GC IV was drawn up after World War II to protect innocent civilians and restrict brutal occupations. Unilaterally, the ICRC turned it into a weapon to delegitimize and demonize Israel.
As far as is known, the ICRC did not rely on any legal precedents; it made up "the law."
Judge and jury, its decisions lacked the pretence of due process. Since all decisions and protocols of the ICRC in this matter are closed, even the identities of the people involved are secret. And there is no appeal. Without transparency or judicial ethics, ICRC rulings became "international law." Its condemnations of Israel provide the basis for accusing Israel of "illegal occupation" of all territory conquered in 1967.
Although most of the international community, its NGOs and institutions accept the authority of the ICRC and other institutions, such as the International Court of Justice, as sole arbiters of what is "legal," or not, it's strange that some Israeli politicians and jurists cannot defend Israel's legal claim to the territories. And Israel's case is strong.
ADOPTED IN 1945, the UN Charter (Article 80) states: "...nothing in this Chapter shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which members of the United Nations may respectively be parties."
This means that the designation of "Palestine" as a "Jewish National Home," incorporated in the British Mandate and established by international agreements adopted by the League of Nations and US Congress, guarantees Israel's sovereign rights in this area. All Jewish settlement, therefore, was and is legal.
Two years later, amid growing civil war, the UN proposed a division of Palestine between Jews and Arabs - changing the terms of the Mandate; the Jews accepted, the Arabs launched a war of extermination.
When Britain ended the Mandate and left, the State of Israel was proclaimed and local mobs who had been attacking Jews for years were joined by five Arab armies. The armistice in 1949 - for Jews, independence, for Arabs, nakba (tragedy) - did not result in a Palestinian state, because the Arabs did not want it. Arab leaders never accepted Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state - most refuse to do so today.
Pressured by Russia and the Arab states, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which spoke of Israel's military withdrawal from some - not all - of these conquered territories in the context of a final peace agreement. The question of sovereignty remained elusive and problematic.
Israel's political echelon and Supreme Court refrained from asserting full sovereignty over the newly acquired areas but, in the absence of any reciprocal gestures, agreed to allow Jews to return to Jerusalem's Old City and Gush Etzion, where a flourishing group of settlements had been wiped out in 1947. Striking a compromise, it allowed the building of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, where the Jewish community had been wiped out in Arab riots of 1929; Jews were permitted to pray at the Cave of Machpela, an ancient building containing the tombs of Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs, for the first time in 700 years.
Although free to leave UNRWA refugee camps, with new opportunities and challenges, Palestinians did not call for statehood or peace with Israel. The PLO, which claimed to represent Palestinians, was dedicated to terrorism, not nation-building.
FOR SOME, this is not a "legal" issue, but a moral one: Jews should not rule over ("occupy") others. So Israel withdrew unilaterally from nearly all "Palestinian" cities, towns and villages and turned over vast tracts of land to the PA/PLO as part of the Oslo Accords in 1994 and a few years later in the Wye and Hebron agreements.
When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, it became a bastion of Hamas. "Land for peace" in reality means "land for terrorism."
Influenced by these events, incited by Islamists, encouraged by Israeli concessions and seeking to undermine the state, Israeli Arabs identify as "Palestinians," demanding an end to "Jewish occupation" and discrimination, and the destruction of the state itself.
Others contend that "Israel's Jewish and democratic" nature will be threatened if it continues to include large numbers of Arabs who are not loyal and do not identify with the state. But nearly all "Palestinians" live under PA, not Israeli rule. The dispute now, therefore, is over territory, not people.
Predictions of an "Arab demographic time bomb" have not proven realistic or accurate. Moreover, allowing Arab residents full civil and humanitarian rights, without political rights, as exist in most other countries, could be considered in conjunction with resettling Arab "refugees" in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, etc., dismantling UNRWA camps and ending terrorism and incitement against Israel.
That a second (or third) Arab Palestinian state would be an existential threat to Israel seems obvious. "Land for peace" has failed. Why then promote it?
The writer, a former assistant professor of history, is a journalist.
From a piece by Melanie Philips in the Spectator
A few months after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, yet another slew of unsourced, unverified and unsubstantiated allegations and assertions by unnamed Israeli soldiers claiming appalling acts during Cast Lead was being given pride of place on BBC news bulletins and in the British media. Despite the fact that this was based entirely on hearsay and rumour, it was reported as a credible set of allegations.
This has of course happened before. As I wrote here last March, Ha’aretz published similar horror stories from IDF soldiers – which turned out to be untrue, unsubstantiable second and third hand recycled gossip -- or just the soldier’s own opinions.
For the BBC and the British media to put out the Breaking the Silence smears is, to put it mildly, sloppy journalism; but the real sting of this is that it simply would not happen in respect of any other country. If such claims were made about soldiers in other armies, newsdesks would either be totally indifferent or would correctly assess them for being a load of unsubstantiated claims by people with an agenda and bin them. When it comes to Israel, however, they become ammunition for the process of inciting hatred against Israel and further delegitimising it. (StandWithUs has now published accounts by named IDF soldiers who present a very different picture from Breaking the Silence which they feel traduces the army in which they serve).
Now the Jerusalem Post reports that Breaking the Silence is funded by several European governments, including Britain. So the British and European governments fund an organisation which smears Israel, thus providing the pretext for those governments to put the thumbscrews on Israel and punish it on the basis of ‘pressure’ from the organisations they fund.In what appears to be a co-ordinated campaign, the Breaking the Silence report came hard on the heels of other tendentious and unjust reports about Israel in Gaza earlier this month from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross -- all of which NGOs disproportionately target Israel for condemnation, and uniquely target Israel for systematic distortion and misrepresentation.
StandWithUs has now published accounts by named IDF soldiers who present a very different picture from Breaking the Silence which they feel traduces the army in which they serve.
*The Jerusalem Post reported here an IDF brigade commander saying that the soldier who claimed the IDF used Palestinians as human shields was not even in combat at the time. He simply reported what he had 'heard happened' during a week when he wasn't even in the field.
The United Nations, and particularly the UNRWA is not impartial. Furthermore, it has a record of employing terrorists
Following up on the story that Israel supposedly targeted a UN school in its battle against Hamas, journalist Joel Mowbray has uncovered the disturbing fact that a UN agency responsible for schools operating in Gaza has a history of employing members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Mowbray's investigative reporting adds credence to the contention that Islamic terrorists are using school facilities as military outposts.
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