Rights group is bi­ased on Is­rael, says its own founder

The Jewish Chronicle - - News -

THE FOUNDER of Hu­man Rights Watch has blasted the group for “writ­ing re­port af­ter re­port about Is­rael” while ig­nor­ing the rest of the Mid­dle East.

“The re­gion is pop­u­lated by au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes with ap­palling hu­man rights records,” wrote Robert Bern­stein in the New York Times on Mon­day. “Yet in re­cent years Hu­man Rights Watch has writ­ten far more con­dem­na­tions of Is­rael for vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law than of any other coun­try in the re­gion.” Mr Bern­stein was the chair­man of HRW from 1978 to 1998. He said the group had aban­doned its orig­i­nal mis­sion of re­port­ing on closed so­ci­eties and that demo­cratic so­ci­eties like Is­rael could cor­rect their own mis­takes.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion came un­der fire this sum­mer af­ter its Mid­dle East di­rec­tor told a Saudi Ara­bian au­di­ence that it needed their money to bat­tle “proIs­raeli groups”. It later emerged that its Mid­dle East deputy di­rec­tor had justi- fied the mur­der of Is­raeli ath­letes at the Mu­nich Olympics and that one of HRW’s se­nior mil­i­tary an­a­lysts was a col­lec­tor of Nazi mem­o­ra­bilia.

HRW is­sued a state­ment claim­ing that its work on Is­rael was “a tiny frac­tion” of what it did, adding that it “does not be­lieve that the hu­man rights records of ‘closed’ so­ci­eties are the only ones de­serv­ing scru­tiny”.

In the UN, there is a sim­ple modus operandi. Na­tions vote ei­ther in favour of or against a res­o­lu­tion, or they ab­stain. What they do not do is sit in the room when a vote is be­ing taken, put their hands over their ears, close their eyes tight and sing ‘la, la, la, can’t see you, can’t hear you, you’re not there’, pre­tend­ing noth­ing is hap­pen­ing. That the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment last week chose this re­sponse to the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil’s res­o­lu­tion on the Gold­stone re­port into Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead speaks vol­umes for the con­duct of Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy to­day. As our po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor re­ports, the gov­ern­ment be­lieves that the Is­raelis fell short of the req­ui­site moral stan­dards in the con­duct of war. But even from that stance, the res­o­lu­tion was a piece of pure Is­rael-bash­ing, plac­ing no re­spon­si­bil­ity on Ha­mas. Judge Gold­stone even had his con­cerns. A sen­si­ble re­sponse by the gov­ern­ment would have been ei­ther to vote against or, if the For­eign Sec­re­tary could not bring him­self to sup­port Is­rael at the UN, ab­stain, ar­gu­ing that what­ever the sup­posed wrongs of Is­rael’s con­duct, the res­o­lu­tion ought also to have re­flected Ha­mas’ be­hav­iour. In­stead, the For­eign Sec­re­tary and Prime Min­is­ter chose to let their tac­ti­cal games win out over the sen­si­ble con­duct of for­eign pol­icy. Which is also, in a way, an ac­cu­sa­tion which could be lev­elled at Binyamin Ne­tanyahu, whose re­fusal to set up an Is­raeli in­quiry has pre­cip­i­tated this whole mess. We have ar­gued be­fore that if there is noth­ing to be ashamed of, the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment should not be­have as if it is ashamed. An in­quiry af­ter such a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion would have re­moved some of the in­ter­na­tional le­gal threats against IDF sol­diers. And it would not have been an ad­mis­sion of any­thing; it would have been an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse into the con­duct of a war. There are al­ways lessons to be learned, and prop­erly con­sti­tuted in­quiries fa­cil­i­tate that. Prop­erly con­sti­tuted: un­like the UN in­quiry which fol­lowed Is­rael’s re­fusal to set up its own, and which was bound from the start to at­tack Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead. Now, of course, an Is­raeli in­quiry would in­deed look like a last gasp re­sponse. But that is no one’s fault but the Is­raelis.

PHOTO: AP

Gaza City dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead. HRW ac­cused Is­rael of com­mit­ting war crimes there in Jan­uary

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