The Augean Stables
30 October 09
As posted here, Bob Bernstein, the original founder of HRW, came out with serious criticism of Ken Roth in the op-ed pages of the NYT. That led to something of a sandstorm, with everyone from Helena (Hullo can you see Florida from here?) Cobban to Roth himself throwing the sand in our eyes. (I haven’t gotten to fisking Roth yet, but it’s ripe for fertilizer.) Now, Ma’ariv asks Bernstein why he did what he did, and he answers. (HT for English version to Gerald Steinberg)
Here are the questions sent to Bernstein by Ma’ariv and below are his answers, in full:
1- Why did you write this op-ed at the TN Times last week? what was the ’straw that broke the camel back’ from your point of view?
Actually it has been brewing for a long time. I had been trying to do a long piece because many of my views about human rights in the Middle East are different from those being expressed by Human Rights Watch. The Goldstone Report made me feel I should get something out, so I wrote the NY Times op-ed piece.
2- What was your vision when you founded Human Right Watch and does the organization follow your vision in the recent years?
My vision, I should say our vision because it was supported by a wonderful board – was to go into closed societies and try and help people in those societies who wanted free speech. I was a book publisher so that was an especially important principle to me and it’s a key part of the Declaration of Human Rights. But, of course, other basic human rights are also vitally important. – freedom of religion, equal rights for women, to name just two. When governments of closed societies asked us what we were doing about our own country we would explain that the United States had many faults but because we were an open society we had many organizations and other ways to try and bring change. But after a while we decided we would do some work in the United States but try to not replicate what was being done by others.
I also believe there can be times to do some work in open societies but, now focus is on the Middle East. I think Israel is a country where most people believe in human rights. But at this time many Israelis, and I share their view, do not believe that HRW in the issues it chooses, its tone, and even its interpretations of law are not helping to bring Arabs and Israelis together.
I had a lot to learn when I began feeling uncomfortable with HRW positions on Israel-Palestine issues in 2005 and certainly still do have a lot to learn, but almost from the beginning HRW has cast me as pro-Israel. I think that is the easiest thing to do – say someone is pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I like to think I am pro-human rights. Now that I have stated publicly, very sadly incidentally, that I am in disagreement with HRW, this will play out and others can decide if my views make sense.
3- You told me the you are amazed by the reaction, from general people and mostly from people inside the HRW. Can you explain? (you said, ‘they think they are God’ - off the record)
I was amazed and encouraged by the reaction to my op-ed. Because so many of the positive comments have come, not from those considered hard liners but from people who think a lot about human rights, I have been particularly encouraged.
4- What do you think about the last Goldstone report? Is it part of the big problem you were talking about with me? and if so, why does he, and other human rights organizations, focus mostly on Israel?
I think the Goldstone Report is deeply flawed. I was surprised Judge Goldstone, who I know and admired, took the job. He had to head a commission created by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which I think any fair-minded person would say had to clean up itself before it dared to criticize anything.
When I read Judge Goldstone’s op-ed in the September 17 issue of the NY Times and he said “While Israel has begun investigating into alleged violations they are unlikely to be serious and objective” I felt he was just “judging” too much.
5- What do you think should be Israel respond to Goldstone report as well as to some of the HRW reports?
I can’t tell Israel what to do. I do not think any country would want to put up with a war of attrition, which can explode into real war any time. However I certainly don’t know the best way to stop it. I fault HRW for not taking a position on the war. The fact that Hamas-Hezbollah and Iran have declared it is their intention to try and wipe out Israel and all Jews seems to me, to be incitement to genocide, especially when it is backed by rocket attacks.
Related: Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast