Note: All of the responses from Kenneth Roth and Omar Shakir were in English and transcribed verbatim. The background, introductions, and some of the questions, as broadcast were in Hebrew, as indicated. Translation by NGO Monitor.  The full interview took place in the Kann studios on July 23, edited and broadcast first on July 24 (Item 1 below). Additional responses not included in that broadcast were posted by Cicorel on Twitter (Item 2 below). On the weekend new magazine, July 27, Cicorel included a remix of the interview and commentary, which also included additional material (Item 3).

Broadcast #1

השעה הבינלאומית

ערן סיקורל

השעה הבינלאומית עם ערן סיקורל – 24.07.19

 International Hour

Hosted by Eran Cicurel

Broadcast July 24, 2019 14:00

Israel, Kan, Reshet Bet Radio

Interview with Human Rights Watch CEO, Kenneth Roth and Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir

https://www.kan.org.il/radio/player.aspx?ItemId=104315

Start time: 23:50

Introduction to the Topic:

Cicurel (Hebrew): We are staying in the world of boycotts against Israel, this time a story from within Israel. Supreme Court Judge Neal Hendel approved the participation of Amnesty International as well as an additional three former foreign service officials to appeal the matter of Omar Shakir, an activist in the organization Human Rights Watch, who is suspected as a BDS supporter. The hearing that was supposed to take place tomorrow was postponed until September…

Earlier we conducted an exclusive interview with Omar Shakir, the activist who Israel wants to deport, and with the CEO of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth. We opened the interview with a direct question to Omar Shakir: Do you support BDS?

Shakir: I do not support BDS, and I do not oppose BDS. We don’t take positions on boycotts of Israel, and we don’t take positions on boycotts of any other country—-

Cicurel: But you have taken positions—-

Roth: Not as a representative of Human Rights Watch. And the point is, he is here as a representative of—-

Cicurel: But the law is the law. The law does not allow people who support—-

Roth: No the law is preventive. In other words, the law says that it’s aimed to prevent the promotion of boycotts against Israel. But no one representing Human Rights Watch, Omar or anybody else, has advocated a boycott of Israel or of any Israeli entity. So, this is about trying to punish Omar for his past as a student in ancient history. But there is nothing in his record as a representative of HRW that deviates one iota from HRW’s position. And we do not promote BDS, we do not promote boycotts, we do not promote in any of things the law’s aimed its topic.

Cicurel:(Hebrew) However, the district court ruled that Omar is in fact a BDS activist, also during his tenure as a representative of the organization in Israel. For example, applying personal and ongoing pressure on the tourist site, Airbnb, to remove their apartments from the settlements.

Cicurel: Were you actively working on Airbnb?

Shakir: Our team was certainly. Actually, our lead researcher on that wasn’t Israeli—

Cicurel: You personally?

Shakir: I worked on it as well. But let me say one thing about Airbnb. Our number one recommendation was that Airbnb adopt a universal approach doing business in occupied territories. Our ask was that they develop their standards around human rights compliance in all occupied territories. But we also, based our research on the ground, came to the conclusion that if it wanted to adhere to its own policies, and to international law, it had to stop doing business with settlements.

Cicurel: (Hebrew) I asked the CEO of the organization, Kenneth Roth, has the time not yet come to end this obsession with Israel?

Roth: Human Rights Watch spends about 1 percent of our budget on work in Israel. We do far more work–

Cicurel: 1 percent?

Roth: 1 percent.

Shakir:  I should get a raise, Ken (chuckles).

Roth: Yeah, 1 percent. We do far more work on Syria, on Iraq, on Yemen, and that’s just in the immediate vicinity. I could go on. We do far more work on China, on Venezuela. I mean, there are many many countries that get much more attention, and they deserve it, than Israel. But israel, nonetheless, has serious problems, and I think we devote the appropriate amount of time to addressing those problems.

Cicurel: (Hebrew) We also addressed the fact that Kenneth Roth is a Jew. I asked him how he perceives his Judaism as someone who attacks Israel in a systematic way. He said that who is fulfilling his Judaism in this way, and Judaism’s universal humanistic outlooks.

Cicurel: Do you support Israel self-determination as a Jewish state?

Roth: Nobody’s ever questioned the right of Israel to exist. I mean, every state has a right to exist. But every state also has a duty to apply international human rights principles.

Cicurel: As a Jewish state?

Roth: As a democracy. You know–

Cicurel:  Not as a Jewish state?

Roth: Well, I mean, Israel can define itself any way it wants. I mean, lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms. But that’s not an excuse to—

Cicurel: Why do you have difficulty to define Israel as a Jewish state?

Roth: Well because there are many Palestinians who live in Israel too who are citizens who deserve full rights.

 

Additional Q&A posted by Cicurel in video embedded in Tweet – not included in the broadcasts

https://twitter.com/EranCicurel/status/1155851123665846273?s=20

Transcribed and published in Algemeiner: https://www.algemeiner.com/2019/07/29/head-of-human-rights-watch-refuses-to-say-israel-has-right-to-exist-as-jewish-state/

Roth: Nobody’s ever questioned the right of Israel to exist…I mean, every state has a right to exist, but every state also has a duty to apply international human rights principles.

Cicurel: As a Jewish state?

Roth: As a democracy…In other words…

Cicurel: Not as a Jewish state?

Roth: Well, I mean, Israel can define itself any way it wants…I mean, lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms, but that’s not an excuse …

Cicurel: Why do you have difficulty to define Israel as a Jewish state?

Roth: Well, because there are many Palestinians who live in Israel too who are citizens and deserve full rights…So for me, the emphasis is, is Israel a state that respects the human rights values?”

Cicurel: “Should Egypt not call itself an Arab state?”

Roth: “If that means that therefore people who are not Arabs are second-class citizens and don’t get respect for …”

Cicurel: “And that’s your impression, that Arabs who live in Israel are second-class citizens?”

Roth: “Well, the issue with Egypt, for example, has been, you know, are Coptic Christians given the same rights as Arab Muslims,” Roth said. “Or if you look in Iraq, are Sunnis or various minorities given the same rights as the Shi’a majority. In Iran, are Baha’is given the same as the majority there? … You can go around the world, there are always minorities, and for me, the essence of a democracy, the essence of a rights-respecting state, is to ensure that everybody in that state has respect for their rights,” Roth went on to say.

Broadcast #2

On 27 July, a second program was broadcast based on excerpts from the interview and including additional questions and answers not broadcast on 24 July. The additional Q &A and recordings of Shakir (from earlier public appearances) as played in the program are included below:

יומן השבוע, ערן סיקורל

 27.07.19

https://www.kan.org.il/radio/player.aspx?ItemId=104566

The Weekly Journal, Eran Cicurel

Broadcast July 27, 2019 10:00

Israel, Kan, Reshet Bet Radio

Interview with Human Rights Watch CEO, Kenneth Roth and Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir

Start time: 26:50

On BDS:

Ken Roth: (repeated from July 24) No the law is preventive. In other words, the law says that it’s aimed to prevent the promotion of boycotts against Israel.

Addition: Human Rights Watch is very strict human rights principles. The same ones we apply every place.

 Recording of Shakir from a conference in 2010:

  • “I encourage you to all look to a campaign of boycotts, divestment, sanction. Last year the student government, in the face of widespread opposition, endorsed a call for boycott, divestments, and sanctions, and were starting to see that take real effects. We have companies like Veolia, like G4S, like SodaStream, that are shifting their operations as a result of the pressure they’re facing from boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”

Cicurel: Were you actively working on Airbnb?

Shakir: same answer as first interview….

 

Additions:

Omar Shakir: “We released in October a 149 page report which found that both the Palestinian authority and Hamas are systematically, arbitrarily arresting dissidents and torturing those in its custody. That report was based on a two year investigation…”

……

Ken Roth: I still have confidence that the Israeli government does not want to put itself in a club that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea, as governments that exclude HRW’s representatives.

Cicurel: Countries that are populating the Human Rights Council of the UN.

Ken Roth: Well, I mean, some of those are on the Human Rights Council. But the idea that the Human Rights Council, this is another caricature that comes up in the Israeli press, that the Human Rights Council, somehow, only looks at Israel.