The following exchange took place following the publication of Gerald M. Steinberg, "Human-Rights Schizophrenia: Human Rights Watch shows a disturbing disparity in its treatment of Israel and China," National Review Online, May 23, 2006. Iain Levine from Human Rights Watch responded to the op-ed with a letter to the editor of the National Review Online, to which Gerald Steinberg responded.

May 31, 2006
National Review Online

To the Editor

In "Human Rights Schizophrenia" (May 23), Gerald Steinberg says he "agree[s] with…every word" of Human Rights Watch’s reporting on China, Sudan, Syria, and Iran, but dismisses its work on Israel as the product of "an emotional anti – Israel agenda." Could it be that an organization whose intense commitment to objectivity and fairness has brought it global respect and influence somehow loses its bearings when it comes to Israel? Or might the problem lie in the eye of the beholder?

Steinberg, in a moment of candor, asks the same question. Might it be, he wonders, that he "blindly oppose[s] legitimate criticism of Israel." His quick rejection of that possibility is, perhaps, a bit hasty. After all, Steinberg has created an entire organization devoted single – mindedly to condemning anyone who dares to criticize Israel’s human – rights record. In the hundreds if not thousands of pages he churns out, this supposedly dispassionate observer has not once found a criticism of Israel to be valid.

Bias aside, Steinberg might be worth listening to if he could cite facts to back up his charges. Yet his arguments are most striking for their liberal license with the facts. To put it bluntly, he makes things up. Here are just a few examples of his concoctions:

  • He suggests that Human Rights Watch lay behind the Durban race conference’s description of Israel as an "apartheid state" even though the organization has never used that term in reference to Israel and issued a widely reported condemnation of the document at Durban that did use it.
  • He charges that Human Rights Watch has "focused one – third of its entire Middle East effort on condemnations directed against Israel" – more, he says, than even its work on Sudan. In fact, as a review of the organization’s website shows, Human Rights Watch since the beginning of the year 2000 has published 119 reports, letters or press releases on Israel. That compares with 261 for Iraq, 170 for Sudan, 133 for Egypt, 121 for Iran, 107 for Turkey, hundreds on abuses by other Middle Eastern states, plus 75 on Palestinian abuses, including the definitive study of suicide – bombing attacks on civilians. Numbers aside, Human Rights Watch believes that its fairness should be judged by the quality of its reporting, not the quantity.
  • He quotes Human Rights Watch as contrasting "all powerful and aggressive Israel" with "Palestinian victimization" – clauses that a search of the organization’s website shows that it never used.
  • He claims that Human Rights Watch’s board members "imposed a control mechanism on activities dealing with the Middle East" – a pure flight of fantasy that doesn’t have even a remote basis in reality.
  • He asserts that Human Rights Watch "press[ed] the U.N. resolutions referring Israel’s security barrier to the misnamed International Court of Justice" – again, complete fiction.

There is no question that Israel faces serious security threats. Its decision to meet those threats by sometimes overstepping the ample latitude provided by international human rights and humanitarian law has done enormous damage to its reputation and global esteem. Are such transgressions really in Israel’s interest? The question deserves serious consideration on the basis of a carefully assembled factual record. Steinberg’s fairy tales do Israel no favor.

Iain Levine
Program Director
Human Rights Watch
New York, N.Y.

June 1, 2006

HRW’s Human Wrongs

Iain Levine’s response (May 31) to my analysis of HRW’s role in the political attacks against Israel ("Human Rights Schizophrenia" May 23) highlights the importance of the questions raised by NGO Monitor. Unfortunately, by focusing to gratuitous personal attacks and making false claims, he has further damaged HRW’s image as a credible and unbiased source promoting universal human rights.

Levine’s rhetoric not withstanding, legitimate criticism of Israel is not in question – no country is perfect, and the responses to Palestinian terror need to be weighed against the alternatives.
But the anti-Israel obsessions reflected in HRW’s unverifiable reports are far from legitimate. And this letter provides more evidence of the deep-seated antipathy for Israel among some HRW officials. In particular:

  1. On the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference that defined Israel as an "apartheid" state, Iain Levine repeats the myth that HRW was far way. In fact, Reed Brody, the legal counsel, led the HRW delegation, and the details provided by delegates highlight Brody’s spirited contribution. Similarly, in radio interviews on Durban, Ken Roth declared that "Israeli racist practices are an appropriate topic", justifying the travesty. The "condemnation" issued by HRW came after the fact, precisely for use in the cover-up. (See Anne Bayefsky, "Human Rights Watch Coverup," Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2004)
  2. NGO Monitor’s detailed and disaggregated analysis of HRW’s Middle East activities following the Durban conference (2002- 2004) clearly demonstrates the targeting of Israel and shameful neglect of Darfur. See "Human Rights Watch: A Comparative Analysis of Activities in the Middle East, 2002-2004."
    In contrast, Levine’s refutation consists of a simple-minded tally mixing one-page emails and HRW’s glossy reports, accompanied by a highly orchestrated press conference and media blitz. Most of the reports and PR campaigns targeted Israeli attempts to end the murders of its citizens.
  3. In his response, Levine chose to ignore evidence on the ideological biases of officials such as Ken Roth, Reed Brody, Sarah Leah Whitson, Joe Stork, and Lucy Mair. Nor did he address their participation in pro-boycott rallies, and use of the propaganda in the "Razing Rafah" report to promote the boycott.
  4. In flatly denying detailed evidence of pro-Palestinian bias, Levine also failed to cite the few examples in which HRW condemned Palestinian terror or expressed support for Israeli victims. In these, Roth and HRW officials twisted the evidence in order to exonerate Arafat, consistent with their political agenda.
  5. Levine’s denials regarding the sharp changes in HRW’s Middle East agenda in 2005 (the discovery of human rights violations in Syria, Libya, Iran, and Saudi Arabia), and on promoting U.N. resolutions denouncing Israel’s security barrier (the Durban strategy again) are inconsistent with the facts. See, entries between October 2004 and July 2005.

These examples highlight the contrast between HRW’s emotional and disproportionate attacks on Israel and NGO Monitor’s evidence-based analyses. Instead of attacking imagined enemies, Roth, Brody, Whitson and Levine should focus on repairing the damage to the credibility to HRW and support for universal human rights resulting from their anti-Israel obsessions.

Gerald Steinberg
Editor, NGO Monitor