Board of Directors
A number of members of the MENA board of directors have a history of pro-Palestinian activism. These raise further questions about bias in the division, and the structural barriers to a balanced or objective examination of the Arab-Israeli conflict by HRW.
Charles Shamas is the senior partner and founder of the MATTIN Group, a “voluntary human rights-based partnership in Palestine,” which currently lobbies the EU to impose trade sanctions on Israel. He is also the co-founder of Al Haq, a Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO. Mr. Shamas advised the PLO/PNA on International Humanitarian Law related diplomacy and attended the expert meeting convened by Switzerland in 1999 as a member of the Palestinian delegation.47 Shamas describes Israeli policy as “inseparable from violations of international humanitarian law,” just as in “rogue states” like “apartheid in South Africa” or genocidal regimes, and distorts international humanitarian law to erase Palestinian terror, which he labels “resistance” (Shamas 2002). He also obscures the immorality of terrorism, describing Palestinian violence as “an uprising of large elements of a civilian population against an Occupying Power’s unlawful and predatory abuses of its control over that population and their habitat” (Dennis n.d.).
Helena Cobban, a former news correspondent in Lebanon for The Christian Science Monitor and
The Sunday Times, has written four books on the Middle East and comments frequently on the Israeli-Arab conflict. Her writings describe “Jerusalem’s apartheid wall” (Cobban 2004) and credit Hamas’ “long reputation for internal discipline and its solid nationalist credentials” which “could potentially be viewed as an asset in the crafting of a stable peace in the region” (Cobban 2006).
Gamal Abouali is a Paris-based lawyer who in 1999 and 2000 “served as legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.”48 This followed the publication of two articles on Israel’s alleged violations of international law in relation to Palestinian water supplies (Gamal 1998).
Ann M. Lesch, described as “among the handful of American experts on the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip” (Sa’d 1988), is the director of the Palestinian American Research Center and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University in Cairo. She has published five books on the Palestinians and from 1977 to 1984 supervised grant allocations for the West Bank from the Ford Foundation.
Andrew Whitley is director of the Representative Office of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) in New York. In 1990 he was the founding director of Middle East Watch.49
James J. Zogby is founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Zogby was a founding member and leader of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign,50 and continues to publicize his opinions on the conflict (Zogby 2009).
Rita E. Hauser is an international lawyer, and president of The Hauser Foundation, Inc. In her capacity as head of the American branch of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East (1984–1991), she led a group of American Jews in meetings with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Stockholm and Geneva. As chair of the International Peace Academy, Hauser was invited by the head of the Palestine Elections Commission to serve as an official observer of the 1996 Palestinian elections (Joyce 1992).
Robert Malley is Program Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C.51 He published several articles on the failed 2000 Camp David Summit in which he participated as a member of the U.S. negotiating team. In contrast to President Clinton and Dennis Ross, Malley blamed the failure of the Summit on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and not on Arafat.
Philip Mattar is president of the Palestinian American Research Center. Formerly he served as executive director of the Institute for Palestine Studies and as associate editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. His book The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin Al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement, revised edition, was published in 1988.
Gary Sick is vice chair of the HRW board and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. He was a national security advisor to Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, then deputy director for international affairs at the Ford Foundation from 1982 to 1987. Sick was instrumental in inviting Iran’s Ahmadinejad to Columbia University in 2007. As a board member of the American Iranian Council, he regularly lobbies the U.S. to reduce its demands on Iran with respect to human rights (Parvin and Daioleslam 2007).
The backgrounds of staff and board members presented above indicate a strong political agenda shared by Roth and several other officials in the MENA and Emergencies division of HRW. Not only are its staff apparently chosen for their demonstrated political prejudice in the region, but this ideology clearly permeates their work, as evidenced in HRW’s publication record, double standards, distorted use of language, and manipulation of international law. This discussion also illustrates how the politicized, international human rights NGO network nurtures and shapes its members, providing them with experience and career development opportunities at other institutions with similar ideological agendas. These results raise fundamental questions about HRW’s ability to conduct “rigorous, objective investigations” and the universality of their defense of universal human rights.