While Human Rights Watch (HRW), headed by Kenneth Roth, attempts to defend itself from the powerful critique levelled by founder Robert Bernstein in the New York Times, Helena Cobban — on the board of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division — added further evidence of total moral collapse.
In her October 22 posting, Cobban attacked Bernstein for ostensibly advocating an "old fashioned" view of human rights in which some kinds of societies (open and democratic) are better than others (closed and tyrannical). Continuing with an eerily similar kind of argument, Cobban then expounded her views on Hamas, demonstrating how this ostensibly stalwart defender of universal human rights is actually an apologist for terror. In her January 2009 blog post Cobban is quite convinced Hamas is little more than a social welfare and educational organization made out to be a "terrorist organization" [she uses those quotation marks herself] by the US State Department. Cobban praises Hamas for its "systems for educating successive generations of youth and for cultivating leadership skills in a broad array of skill-sets." The mind boggles. In this moral twisted universe, Helena Cobban seems to think that all violence is equal, and equally bad. In a December 2008 post she argues that Israel and Hamas are morally equal because they both use violence. For Ms. Cobban, it would seem that Israel’s attempts to defend its citizens from murderous attack are indistinguishable from the actions of those who violently strive to kill Israelis and Jews. This moral equivalence is repugnant, and is akin to condemning a woman for fighting a would-be rapist, since both use violence.
All rights, all countries, all violence, cannot be equal simply by virtue of their all being rights, countries, or violence. Universal human rights are based on the ability to make such fundamental moral distinctions – in which we acknowledge that freedom is better than tyranny, health is better than suffering, choice is better than coercion. For a HRW Middle East Division board member to erase the critical differences between immoral aggression and self-defense is simply another sign of the profound moral confusion in this organization that exploits the rhetoric while destroying the substance of human rights.