by Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director, NGO Monitor
At a conference in
For this and many other reasons, readers should add more than the usual grain of salt in reading Kenneth Roth’s diatribe (Jerusalem Post, August 26). As head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) since 1993, Roth’s accomplishments do not come close to Prof. Cotler’s. Instead, Roth has led the politicization and erosion of universal human rights as a moral force.
The main focus of Roth’s attack is to defend the legitimacy of Judge Richard Goldstone, the head of the United Nations “fact finding mission” whose report on the
Indeed, as Goldstone is discredited, Roth has good reason to worry. The appointment of Goldstone was another step in the strategy adopted by the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, with the goal of isolating
The Gaza war gave Roth the opportunity to expand these efforts, and HRW worked closely with the UN Human Rights Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia, China, and Egypt, in creating the “independent inquiry” headed by one of its own - Judge Goldstone. Since then, HRW has provided the investigators and the accompanying media campaign with three more tendentious “reports” accusing Israeli forces of “war crimes” during the war. (To claim “balance”, HRW also published a belated report on Hamas, omitting
In addition to the one-sided mandate (which Goldstone claims was revised, citing a statement by the president of the UNHRC to include an investigation of Hamas), the
Furthermore, Joe Stork, Whitson’s deputy in HRW, spent over twenty years as a founder and editor of MERIP, a radical anti-Zionism and anti-American organization. Following the
The biases displayed by Whitson and Stork violate the basic principle of political objectivity for human rights fact-finding, as codified in the International Bar Association’s “London-Lund” guidelines. Similarly, the appointments of Goldstone and Prof. Christine Chinkin to the UN’s
HRW’s reports, like the NGO submissions to Goldstone, consistently reflect this bias and lack of professional standards. Behind the façade of “factual research”, the work of the Middle East Division headed by Whitson and Stork, and with the backing of Roth, consists of multiple pages of carefully picked Palestinian “eyewitness testimony”. These reports mix speculative, plausible Palestinian claims that are unverifiable, bad fiction, and pages of irrelevant technical “facts” and contorted legal verbiage.
In HRW’s latest publication, co-authored by Stork, which accused the IDF of the crime of deliberately killing civilians waving white flags, the first incident is based entirely on the claims of the Abd Rabbo family. However, Western and Arabic versions show that as the Palestinian “fixers” brought journalists and NGO officials, including HRW “researchers” for interviews, the story evolved with each telling. In parallel, the videos and other evidence clearly showing Palestinian abuses, including routine use of “human shields” to protect terrorists and weapons, are omitted because they do not fit the desired conclusions. No serious court would accept this testimony as evidence, or the publications as “research”, but for Roth and HRW, the goal of demonizing
There are dozens of similar examples repeating Palestinian claims in HRW publications. Every phase of this long war is also opportunity for promoting this agenda through reports, press conferences, letters and emails. These indictments (Roth was trained as a prosecutor) routinely repeat the charges of “indiscriminate attacks against civilians”, “war crimes”, and collective punishment. (HRW “White Flags” publication uses the term “war crimes” fifteen times.)
This anti-Israel obsession is part of the broader transformation of HRW its original goal of battling for the freedom of political prisoners in repressive regimes, to an ideological power directing its guns ($42 million in 2008) against embattled democracies such as
HRW’s warped agenda has also led to increasing disquiet among key donors and board members. In understated terms, Robert Bernstein expressed his anger over the direction taken by the organization that he founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch. “The overall result of HRW’s current work …is to say we’re being evenhanded in a way that makes it come out that both sides are equal abusers of human rights—I don’t agree with that.”
The exposure of HRW’s bias and research façade, and the resulting criticism from HRW’s core supporters and donors are the real source of Roth’s angry outburst against Prof. Cotler. The fate of Roth and Goldstone’s commission are closely connected, and exposure of one’s failings unmasks the other.
Gerald M. Steinberg heads NGO Monitor and is a professor of political science at