Hu­man rights watch­ers with poor vis­i­bil­ity

Those charged with pre­vent­ing Nazi hor­rors should not make light of them

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - MARK GARD­NER

GROUPS SUCH as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW) are the guardians of so­ci­ety’s uni­ver­sal hu­man rights, their mis­sion an­chored upon the hor­rors of Nazism. So you would ex­pect them to have zero tol­er­ance for any­thing as­so­ci­ated with Nazism. Not so, it seems. When Marc Gar­lasco, HRW’s “bat­tle­field an­a­lyst”, was shown by pro-Is­rael lobby groups to be an avid col­lec­tor of Nazi mem­o­ra­bilia; a wearer of Iron Cross sweat­shirts; the au­thor of a book sold by www.iron­cross1939.com; and to use “flak88” as his In­ter­net pseu­do­nym and car num­ber plate, HRW’s first re­ac­tion was to shoot the mes­sen­ger and refuse even to ques­tion Gar­lasco’s be­hav­iour.

Their re­sponse was: “This ac­cu­sa­tion is demon­stra­bly false and fits into a cam­paign”— the al­leged cam­paign be­ing one to pro­tect Is­rael from HRW scru­tiny. “To im­ply that Gar­lasco’s col­lec­tion is ev­i­dence of Nazi sym­pa­thies”, the HRW added, “is not only ab­surd but an at­tempt to de­flect at­ten­tion from his deeply felt ef­forts to up­hold the laws of war”.

HRW be­lat­edly sus­pended Gar­lasco. The an­nounce­ment is on their web­site, atop the ear­lier de­nun­ci­a­tion of his crit­ics.

It says HRW is “looking into the mat­ter... and an in­quiry is un­der way. Gar­lasco has been tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended… with full pay pend­ing the in­quiry. This is not a dis­ci­plinary mea­sure…”

Mean­while, on the Amnesty web­site, an Amnesty press of­fi­cer blogged, “Af­ter HRW, is Amnesty In­ter­na­tional next? Are we set to be outed as a hot­bed of Holo­caust­de­niers? Will key Amnesty re­searchers be un­masked, shown to be furtive col­lec­tors of David Irv­ing DVDs?”

“Rather than sink­ing to such scur­ril­ity,” the press of­fi­cer railed, “Is­rael ought to con­front th­ese se­ri­ous crit­i­cisms head-on”. If Is­rael and Ha­mas ever faced the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, its chief pros­e­cu­tor would be ac­cused of “a fetishis­tic in­ter­est in the leather boots worn by mem­bers of Himm­ler’s Waf­fen-SS units.”

Blogs are less for­mal than the sober, of­fi­cial state­ments made by ac­tual or­gan­i­sa­tions but I fear th­ese play­ground-level jibes are not un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Amnesty’s in­stinc­tive re­ac­tion to the Gar­lasco con­tro­versy, and di­min­ish the right of Jews (es­pe­cially those deemed to be pro-Is­raeli Jews) pub­licly to ex­press their fears about an­tisemitism.

This is part of a wider trend, vis­i­ble across the spec­trum of the po­lit­i­cal left and its me­dia; the slip­pery slope that leads from anti-Is­rael an­tipa­thy to an in­stinc­tive sus­pi­cion and re­jec­tion of main­stream Jewish sen­si­bil­i­ties. As Jews, we may call this an­tisemitism, but it is per­haps bet­ter iden­ti­fied as an anti-Jewish im­pact of anti-Is­rael hos­til­ity. This is not se­man­tics: if we want a trade union­ist or a Guardian writer to change his or her ways, shout­ing “an­tisemite” is un­likely to achieve it.

It is, how­ever, the self-de­clared hu­man-rights or­gan­i­sa­tions that bear the heav­i­est moral bur­den to be­have de­cently to­wards Jews and treat care­fully is­sues of an­tisemitism. This is the legacy of their cho­sen her­itage. And Jews have played a prom­i­nent role in the de­vel­op­ment of the hu­man rights move­ment. In­deed, if th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions do not rapidly ad­dress and re­verse the cur­rent trend, they risk be­tray­ing not only Jews, but also their own found­ing prin­ci­ples.

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