In Benjamin Birnbaum’s exposé on HRW (“Minority Report: Human Rights Watch fights a civil war over Israel,” The New Republic, April 27, 2010), Program Director Iain Levine acknowledges that many HRW staff members come from “solidarity backgrounds.” But, he adamantly claims, “when they come to the door of this organization, they park those things behind.” Similarly, in her response to the article, board member and staunch supporter of Kenneth Roth, Kathleen Peratis asserts that “There is no bias against Israel at Human Rights Watch.” In fact, the evidence plainly shows that both Levine and Peratis are wrong: HRW’s staff use the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division as a platform for bias, at the expense of human rights principles.
NGO Monitor’s systematic research demonstrates that, under the leadership of Palestinian solidarity activists, HRW devotes disproportionate resources to allegations of Israeli “violations.” NGO Monitor has documented both the ideological backgrounds and the systematic bias of HRW’s MENA staff. Director Sarah Leah Whitson backed the “Caterpillar” boycott campaign; invited Norman Finkelstein to speak at HRW (“I continue to have tremendous respect and admiration for him”); and led a fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, where she highlighted HRW’s anti-Israel focus and confrontations with “pro-Israel pressure groups.”
Similarly, MENA Deputy Director Joe Stork’s Palestinian solidarity goes back more than 30 years. Other HRW staff members (past and present) with backgrounds in pro-Palestinian advocacy include: Lucy Mair, Darryl Li, Nadia Barhoum, Jamil Dakwar, and Arezo Yazd.
Even if one grants Levine’s argument that HRW’s ideologues are capable of “parking” their biases at the “door of [the] organization,” the presence of partisan campaigners in HRW completely undermines the NGO’s credibility. As noted by vice-chair of HRW’s board Sid Sheinberg in the TNR article, “Is it smart to have a number of people about which questions can be asked—in either direction?” Jonathan Foreman makes a similar observation in the Sunday Times: “While it may be hard to find people who are genuinely neutral about Middle East politics, theoretically an organisation like HRW would not select as its researchers people who are so evidently on one side.”
HRW’s status as the “gold standard in human rights reporting” was predicated solely on the organization’s credibility and integrity. The appearance of impropriety or bias, as evidenced in The New Republic article, has destroyed HRW’s reputation. Clearly, HRW is incapable of investigating itself, and an independent framework is required.
See additional responses to The New Republic article by: Noah Pollak (Commentary), David Bernstein (The Volokh Conspiracy), Jonathan Chait (TNR), and Jeffrey Goldberg (The Atlantic).
Click here for NGO Monitor’s detailed analysis of the TNR article.
For the original article, click here.