On March 6, 2007, the U.S. State Department issued its influential “2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” As in past years, the 2006 report section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories” relies heavily on allegations from politicized NGOs, many of whom are active proponents in the “Durban Strategy,” without providing any criteria by which these NGOs and their claims were selected or assessed. NGOs cited by the report include ICAHD, Human Rights Watch, Mossawa, Adalah, and B’tselem. This analysis highlights deficiencies found in the 2006 report stemming from the reliance on NGOs that display anti-Israel bias, publish claims that lack credibility, and ignore the complexities of human rights requirements in the context of conflicts involving terrorism and warfare.
In the previous two years (2004 and 2005), NGO Monitor analyzed the U.S. State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories.” These analyses highlight deficiencies stemming from the reliance on NGOs that display a consistent anti-Israel political bias (in sharp contrast with the norms of universal human rights), publish claims that lack credibility, and ignore the complexities of human rights requirements in the context of mass terror. Despite NGO Monitor's assessments and our meetings with US State Department Officials, the 2006 Country Report still relies heavily on allegations from problematic NGOs, without providing any criteria by which these NGOs and their claims were selected or assessed.
Given the impact of the State Department report, it is important that it is credible, accurate and impartial. In this context, reliance on NGOs as sources of information regarding human rights practices in the context of conflicts involving terrorism and warfare is highly problematic. The obsessive NGO condemnations of Israeli responses to Hezbollah attacks during the recent conflict in Lebanon, and the clear inaccuracies in the numerous reports issued by NGOs including HRW and Amnesty International, further highlight this issue. Similarly, a recent study conducted by the Conflict Analysis Resource Center in Colombia reveals that the lack of reliability of NGO reporting is not limited to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Some of the highly politicized NGOs referred to in the 2006 Report include:
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
As NGO Monitor has demonstrated repeatedly and in detail, many of these NGOs are active participants in the "Durban Strategy" of demonizing Israel through the use of inflammatory rhetoric, false allegations of human rights abuses and selective or distorted interpretations of international law. These NGOs often erase the context of terror from their reporting, providing a one-sided view of events. They consistently promote this political agenda at the expense of accurate analysis. Many of these groups cannot be considered to be "reputable international organizations" or "credible NGOs," as the State Department claims. Citing to these NGOs publications as fact leads to serious inaccuracies and the use of double standards, while simultaneously giving credence to their often distorted reports and political “campaigns.” Moreover, reliance on these NGOs creates a highly distorted image of human rights practices in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The section of the 2006 Report addressing human rights in Israel includes citations from several problematic NGOs. Many NGO citations are references to petitions brought to the Israeli judicial system on behalf of Palestinian groups or individuals. The report informs that “reputable NGOs filed numerous complaints.” Yet NGO Monitor’s research has found that many of these NGOs cannot be considered reputable nor can their complaints be considered credible. For example, the report cites to a HaMoked petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that the government release information on a secret detention facility. This is one of numerous petitions brought to the Israeli courts by HaMoked on behalf of Palestinians. In a recent case, however, Nira Mashraki, an Israeli state prosecutor, noted that HaMoked's claim to be a human rights organization has "no basis in reality and is designed to mislead."
Mossawa is another NGO upon whose claims the report relies heavily. This NGO claims to promote improved economic and social conditions for Israeli Arabs, but its activities often deepen the rift between Israel’s Arabs and Jews. This politicized NGO recently held a conference in which it proposed an Israeli constitution and called for the eradication of the Israeli flag and national anthem; the right of the Arab minority to have a veto over matters of national import; and the immediate implementation of the “Right of Return.” An analysis in Ha’aretz characterized this activity as a sign of continued conflict within the State of Israel even after the establishment of a Palestinian state. The failure to note this background information regarding these NGOs reduces the credibility of the overall report and gives a distorted picture of the human rights situation in Israel.
The report also repeatedly refers to claims and complaints filed by Adalah. While in certain cases Adalah has made a positive contribution to the mandate it set itself in its mission statement, for example winning a more equitable distribution of funds in the budget of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, its international advocacy work betrays a consistent focus on highly politicized issues rather than the legal aspects of human rights. In its advocacy campaigns, in contradiction to its mission statement, Adalah 1) provides very carefully selected and incomplete evidence to support alleged discriminatory practices and other human rights issues in Israel; and 2) Adalah deliberately obfuscates the distinction between Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Recently, Adalah proposed a constitution for Israel which would essentially “abolish the Jewish elements of Israel.”
In another example, the authors of the State Department report reflect sympathy with atomic spy Mordechai Vanunu by incorrectly referring to him as a "whistleblower", adopting the term used by Amnesty International and other political NGOs. A "whistleblower" reveals illegal behavior by an organization, while Vannunu violated Israeli law and endangered national security. Such actions would be considered illegal under U.S. law with the perpetrator subject to severe penalties including lengthy imprisonment. The report’s characterization is one of many examples reflecting the double standards applied to Israel that have been copied from NGOs without independent analysis.
The report’s sections addressing human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza also heavily rely on claims by politicized NGOs whose work has been shown to lack credibility. They include verbatim repetition of claims published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) without substantiation. NGO Monitor has documented in detail the credibility deficiencies of this NGO stemming from its political agendas and lack of independent research capabilities:
The report contains an HRW allegation that Israeli military investigative practices are not "impartial, thorough, or timely." The report also reports that HRW “claimed that between May 30 and June 20, IDF forces attacked Palestinian medical emergency personnel on at least six separate occasions in Gaza, including two attacks by missile-firing drone aircraft.” Evidence verifying these claims and the context for any such incidents that might have occurred are not provided.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, HRW falsely accused Israel of engaging in “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” attacks against Lebanese civilians, claiming it found “no cases” of Hezbollah activity during its investigations. These reports have been widely discredited by media accounts, the UN, and Israeli intelligence. NGO Monitor’s website provides numerous examples disproving HRW’s accusations.
A recent study conducted by the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) examining Amnesty International’s and HRW’s activities in Colombia concluded that Amnesty and HRW have “substantive problems in their handling of quantitative information.” The authors of the study found that “problems include failure to specify sources, unclear definitions, an erratic reporting template and a distorted portrayal of conflict dynamics . . . . The quantitative human rights and conflict information produced by these organizations for other countries must be viewed with scepticism along with cross-country and time series human rights data based on Amnesty International reports.”
Other examples of unreliable NGOs in the report include the repetition of allegations by organizations such as Machsom Watch as "evidence" of IDF human rights abuses. The State Department report cites an incident in which a Machsom Watch volunteer “observed” the IDF “strip and search” Palestinians at the Jubara checkpoint. No evidence is brought to corroborate this claim, nor is official Israeli comment provided. Machsom Watch has been documented in the past for its politically motivated and at times, inaccurate claims against the IDF. Allegations from self-declared political NGOs do not constitute sufficient evidence of human rights abuse.
Citation to Unverifiable Statistics
The 2006 Report cites to figures provided by B’tselem regarding the number of Palestinians allegedly killed in Israeli military operations. The report also repeats a B’tselem claim that “at least 322 were not engaged in hostilities when killed.” No information is provided to support this claim. B’tselem’s data regarding alleged non-combantants has been called into question. In addition, B'Tselem openly declares its political agenda stating that it "acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories", and is not an independent human rights group. Its reports, including the number of civilian casualties, require independent confirmation.
Statistics claiming that the Israel Security Agency agents used “torture” in 20% of its interrogations were attributed to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. The authors of the State Department report did not provide the criteria by which the credibility of these claims was assessed. An Israeli government response was not provided in the report.
Another problematic aspect of the report is its citation to unverifiable NGO statistics:
The report quotes the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) as the sole source for the claim that "approximately 12,000 structures in East Jerusalem were defined by the Israeli government as illegal; Consequently, during the year Jerusalem municipal authorities and the interior ministry systematically demolished [them]." No basis for this claim is provided. As documented by NGO Monitor, ICAHD is centrally involved in the anti-Israel divestment campaigns and similar activities based on the Durban Strategy. ICAHD has consistently labeled Israel an "apartheid" state and uses extreme political and ideological rhetoric to describe Israel. Numerous examples of ICAHD’s politicized anti-israel statements have been documented in detail in NGO Monitor reports and are available on NGO Monitor’s website.
Elsewhere, the report states that “Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the government's policy of demolishing illegal buildings in the Arab sector. They claimed that the government restricted issuance of building permits for Arab communities more than for Jewish communities, thereby limiting Arab natural growth.” Independent research conducted by Israeli attorney, Justus Reid Weiner, found these accusations as well as those made by ICAHD to be without basis.
NGO statistics regarding alleged destruction of Palestinian olive trees are cited without specifying the NGOs or evidence to back up these claims.
Exploiting the NGO "halo effect"
The credibility of the State Department report is further damaged by the repetition of anonymous NGO claims. For example, it includes citations such as, "human rights NGOs monitored...", "international human rights groups stated...", “a reputable international organization reported . . .”, and "international organizations monitored . . ." This practice makes independent verification of these claims impossible, and relies on the NGO "halo effect" for credibility.
The credibility, accuracy, and impartiality of the State Department report are undermined by its reliance on politicized NGOs that in many cases exacerbate the conflict, and the absence of criteria by which these NGOs are selected for inclusion. NGO Monitor hopes that future State Department reports will end this damaging practice.