Law professor Eugene Kontorovich has published an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (“A Selective Opponent of ‘Settlers,’ January 14, 2020), revealing the hypocrisy of Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to Kontorovich, Whitson is an active supporter of groups that support Armenian settlements in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, while pursuing rabid campaigns against Jewish communities in the West Bank.
He cites her role as emcee of the 2018 fundraiser for the Armenian National Committee of America, a group that reportedly refers to the contested territory as an “integral part of the Armenian homeland.” Whitson also promoted on social media products produced in Armenian settlements, as well as was involved with the Armenian General Benevolent Union, identified in the piece as supporting Armenian settlement construction.
This promotion of Armenian settlement products and groups directly contradicts HRW’s assertions regarding Israel. In this context, HRW – and Whitson personally – argue that business activity in Israeli settlements violates international law. They have launched several BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) campaigns targeting corporations that operate there, extensively lobbied for and promoted the UN Human Rights Council “database” of Israeli settlement businesses, and have lobbied the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes because of its West Bank policies.
This is not the only example of Whitson’s human rights hypocrisy. She has a well-documented history of currying favor with despotic Middle Eastern regimes:
- In 2009, Whitson traveled to Saudi Arabia, using the specter of the “pro-Israel pressure groups” to raise money from Saudi elites.
- In 2009, Whitson also visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli spring.” In particular, Whitson praised Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer. In two articles promoting this façade of reform, she repeatedly praised him for creating an “expanded space for discussion and debate.”
Whitson has also repeated antisemitic tropes, antagonizing American Jews and equating the situation in Gaza with the Holocaust:
- In February 2019, referring to a tweet on antisemitism in the UK Labour party, Whitson echoed classic antisemitic tropes and Jewish conspiracy theories, tweeting “Why is this #Israel interference in domestic UK politics acceptable? Is it only a problem when Russia does this?”
- In January 2015, Whitson commented on a tweet about the US Holocaust Museum’s display of “death and torture in Syria,” stating that the Holocaust Museum should “also show pics of death and destruction in #Gaza” – equating the 2014 war with Hamas to the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million Jews.
- In an April 2011 op-ed in the Huffington Post, Whitson baited American Jews, asked rhetorically “Why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”
- In the same piece, she writes “This is why Human Rights Watch, which extensively documented these discriminatory practices in a report, has called on the EU to clearly label settlement-produced goods, on businesses to review their activities in the settlements, and on the US to cut aid to Israel equal to what Israel spends on the settlements and to investigate tax exemptions for settlement charities.” (Emphasis added)