Thursday, July 16, 2009
David Bernstein reported in the Wall Street Journal on Monday about Human Rights Watch's latest effort in Saudi Arabia:
A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?
No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations." (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burka, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel "human rights" activists"? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)...
The point of [this report] is not that HRW is pro-Saudi, but that it is maniacally anti-Israel. The most recent manifestation is that its officers see nothing unseemly about raising funds among the elite of one of the most totalitarian nations on earth, with a pitch about how the money is needed to fight "pro-Israel forces," without the felt need to discuss any of the Saudis' manifold human rights violations, and without apparent concern that becoming dependent on funds emanating from a brutal dictatorship leaves you vulnerable to that brutal dictatorship later cutting off the flow of funds, if you don't "behave."
Yesterday there was more. Bernstein writes at the Volokh Conspiracy:
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic follows up on the controversy surrounding my piece on HRW's fundraiser in Saudi Arabia. Goldberg reprints some rather remarkable email correspondence with Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, which is worth reading in full. But here's the conclusion:
In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers. [Roth: "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception."] It appears as if Human Rights Watch, in the pursuit of dollars, has compromised its integrity.
UPDATE [by Bernstein]: I'd put it differently then Goldberg. There's no evidence that HRW's pursuit of dollars has compromised its integrity... Rather, HRW's pursuit of dollars has starkly revealed the underlying biases that it previously has denied having. But really, anyone who has been paying attention shouldn't be surprised that HRW's credibility on Israel-related issues approaches zero.
Human Rights Watch's hatred for Israel is not new. I had an encounter with a senior Human Rights Watch officer in 2003 which left me shaken. I posted at the time:
I've met one senior Human Rights Watch officer at several symposia in New York over the past few months, and I was genuinely taken aback at her visceral hatred not only for George Bush (that's to be taken for granted in these circles) but for the US more generally. Over the course of several hours of discussions, touching on a variety of events over many decades, she made it extremely clear that a "human rights problem" (past or present) exists for her only if America can be blamed for it. Quite simply, she has no interest in it if she can't blame America for it - whether plausibly or, in many cases, utterly implausibly. She blames America first, last, and always.
Not exclusively though. She also loathes the state of Israel, and expressed disgust at the existence of a Jewish state - in any borders.
One knows in the abstract that many "NGOs", especially "human rights organizations", have now been mentally absorbed into the hard and enraged left. It's a worrying thing, given the influence many of these organizations have at the UN and elsewhere. Their influence, in many cases, draws on their past reputations - deserved or otherwise - for fairness or at least for being somewhat serious and sane. But many of these groups, Human Rights Watch unfortunately included, are increasingly far from being fair, or serious, or even sane.
I would like to think that the grim, almost unhinged zealotry of my Human Rights Watch acquaintance is not the norm in these circles. Then again, I would like to think all sorts of things that, unfortunately, aren't so.
It is surely worrying that visceral hatred for Israel seems to be so widespread in these circles. How many Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, who do not wish for the extinction of the Jewish state nonetheless dutifully send cash to these organisations, "Human Rights Watch" in particular?