Rights group is biased on Israel, says its own founder
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.
Gaza City during Operation Cast Lead. HRW accused Israel of committing war crimes there in January