In this interview, Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, sought to confront the evidence of bias and exploitation of the rhetoric of universal human rights to deny Israelis the right of self defense against violence. As seen in the following analysis, Roth’s claims included a number of false and unsupported statements:
Roth: "…we had nothing to do with the final document [at the 2001 Durban conference] that emerged and did everything we could to denounce it."
HRW, in fact, played a key role in allowing the results in the NGO forum of the Durban anti-racism conference to pass unchallenged, as reported in detail by members of the Jewish caucus and described by Anne Bayefsky.
Roth: "I don’t think I personally hold Israel to a different standard than I apply to other governments…" I hardly feel that we’re giving it [Israel] disproportionate attention."
NGO Monitor’s research shows that while HRW has published over 120 reports and press statements on Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past four years, less than 20 deal primarily with Palestinian terrorism. In comparison, from September 2000 until March 2004, HRW issued a total of 40 reports on the Sudan crisis – less than half the number focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the same period. Roth’s denial that HRW gives "disproportionate attention" to alleged Israeli human rights violations is false.
Roth: "…out of our staff of 200 people, we have one researcher on Israel/Palestine."
This statement is a misleading half-truth. Roth is responsible for hiring Joe Stork as Acting Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, after Stork worked for many years in the radical anti-Israel political group (MERIP) that supported radical Palestinian terror groups. Similarly, Sarah Leah Whitson was brought to HRW after she had established her radical and anti-Israel credentials at MADRE , another NGO with a clear anti-Israel political agenda. Stork and Whitson are very active in HRW pronouncements and activities in this region.
Responding to accusations that HRW is responsible for "singling out the Jewish state" in a deeply biased manner, Roth repeated his usual reference to "his father’s stories of life in Nazi Germany until he fled in summer 1938"….."That very much shaped my view of the world, and the importance of building a world in which atrocities of that sort were not tolerated,"
Roth’s particular interpretation of his father’s experiences under the Nazis before leaving Germany in no way justifies the evidence of HRW’s anti-Israel bias and exploitation of these values in support of a hostile ideological agenda.
Roth: "…we wrote the definitive account on suicide bombing and a much more profound analysis of the individuals and groups behind it than anyone else."
HRW’s "definitive account", while welcome, disappeared almost immediately after its publication and its central conclusion regarding the legitimacy of Israeli defensive actions under international law were ignored. In addition, the authors of this report clearly went out of their way to avoid the evidence showing Yassir Arafat’s responsibility for terrorism.
Roth: "…if you’re on the receiving end of the violation that is deemed the lesser, it tends not to pay appropriate respect to the suffering that you nonetheless endure, so we don’t do comparisons."
As a result of this blindness, HRW operates in a moral vacuum in which Israel is bracketed in the same company as its autocratic and dictatorial neighbors, whose human rights abuses receive but a fraction of the attention heaped on it from the NGO network. In addition, for many years, HRW and other NGOs avoided examining terror organizations on the morally specious grounds that since they are not states, they are not bound by international norms.
Roth: "Human Rights Watch…is always neutral between two warring parties…We never say who is the aggressor and who is the defender. We don’t take positions on who is right or wrong in a conflict."
This is further evidence of HRW’s moral vacuum, as Palestinian terrorists are, at best, equivalent to Israeli defenders and IDF actions to protect Israeli civilians are treated with the same amoral equivalence as the terrorist acts. At worst, HRW’s reports reflect the general ideological tendency in the UN and elsewhere to view the Palestinians as "victims", thereby in fact taking sides in this conflict in support of the terrorists.
Roth: "…the IDF’s over-reaction to these situations, or its use of security as a pretext to punish Palestinian civilians, is a major reason Israel is facing protest in many countries around the world."
As demonstrated in its recent report on IDF house demolitions in Rafah, HRW’s claims reflect unsubstantiated security judgments for which HRW’s politicized Middle East Division has no credentials.
Roth: "Our only concern is when it’s [Israel’s security barrier] placed within Palestinian territory in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
These are additional examples of HRW’s distortion of international law in pursuit of a political agenda backed up by selective opinions regarding the justification for Israeli military activities.
Roth: "We have [examined the issue of anti-Semitism], although we tend to focus on violence. We have sort of decided not to get involved around attitudes per se."
Violent anti-Semitism and physical attacks on Jews in Europe have increased significantly, but HRW has also failed to use its considerable resources to address this issue. Roth also declined an invitation from Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky to participate in the Global Forum on anti-Semitism, which would have allowed him to make his position clear.