In 1978 Robert Bernstein founded Human Rights Watch (HRW). Its mission: to uphold universal moral principles and political independence. After Bernstein’s exit from HRW, the organisation appears to have abandoned its independence. Instead of holding all countries to an equal universal standard, HRW has adopted an increasingly hostile agenda that sees one particular country, Israel, as more worthy of criticism, emotive language and disproportional scrutiny. In 2009 Bernstein felt the need to call out the organisation, writing in the New York Times that when it came to Israel “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective”.
Rather than heed its founder, HRW, with a budget larger than many South African provincial governments, decided to double down on its campaign against the Jewish state.
HRW’s latest effort to this effect came last week in the form of its report, A Threshold Crossed, which accused Israel of apartheid, a crime familiar to South Africans, but wholly unsuitable for the Palestinian context. Despite its length, the report is, in essence, a propagandist document, full of falsehoods and distortions. The world it describes is an alternate reality, one constructed by the same mix of false allegations and legal distortions marketed by the NGO network for decades.
For example, while saying the “apartheid” threshold has only recently been crossed, HRW takes issue with Israel’s founding as a Jewish state and its 1950 Law of Return, which provides diaspora Jews access to Israeli citizenship. Nothing in the law discriminates against non-Jewish Israeli citizens and such a law is not unique; other countries, such as Ireland, Spain and Germany, have legislation to simplify emigration for diaspora populations. These laws are expressly permitted by the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which permits nations to favour certain groups for citizenship.
More importantly, HRW deviously erases the law’s historical context: the Law of Return was enacted in the shadow of the Holocaust to provide a safe haven for Jews who for centuries suffered persecution. The sharp rise in physical violence and other forms of anti-Semitism around the world in recent years only highlights the need for Israel as a safe refuge from persecution.