Thank you for having me here today. I appreciate the opportunity to present to the Committee on this very important and complex issue and to discuss the findings from more than seven years of NGO Monitor research on these issues.
For more than 60 years, the State of Israel has been subjected to violence, warfare, and a relentless campaign of terror attacks deliberately targeting civilians. Thousands have been murdered and injured in suicide bombings, mass shootings, stabbings, rocket attacks, car bombs, kidnappings, and hijackings. Today, these attacks are spearheaded by states, including Iran and Syria, and terror organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the PFLP, and even Al Qaeda, They not only outwardly reject the existence of a Jewish state within any borders, but their ideology is marred by overt antisemitism and calls for genocide of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, many so-called Palestinian moderates and supporters also refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and seek to reverse the November 1947 UN decision calling for two states, which was accepted by the Jewish nation, and rejected by the Arabs.
This “hard power” terror war is bolstered by a corresponding “soft power” political war – also known as the “weaponization” of human rights — aimed at delegitimizing and demonizing the State of Israel. It is often led by civil society or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that claim the mantle of universal human rights and humanitarian goals. Many powerful organizations have joined this effort; organizations whose budgets and influence rival that of large multinational corporations — such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam.
The Durban Strategy
At the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, 1500 NGOs, issued a resolution singling out Israel as “a racist, apartheid state” and labeling “Israel’s brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity.” These NGOs accused Israel of the “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing” and called upon the “international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.”
The strategy of transforming Israel into a pariah state is the latest incarnation of the campaign that produced the 1975 UN General Assembly declaration that “Zionism is racism.” Although this very bigoted declaration was repealed in 1991, NGOs resuscitated both the tactic and the canard at the Durban conference in order to delegitimize Jewish self-determination and self defense rights. This singling out of Israel is a form of incitement and in itself appears to be an expression of racism.
NGOs claiming human rights and humanitarian objectives are the main engine of this “Durban Strategy,” promoting boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns; lawfare, where Israeli officials and corporations or States doing business with Israel are harassed around the world with lawsuits that exploit universal jurisdiction statutes;1 and lobbying and campaigning at international institutions such as the UN, the EU, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, targeting Israel. Disturbingly, many of these efforts are funded via large grants provided by EU and European governments, including Ireland.
In their publications and campaigns, these NGOs adopt the rhetoric of human rights and international law. By couching political attacks in legal terms, NGOs seek to create a veneer of credibility and expertise, thereby increasing international pressure against Israel and delegitimizing its right to defend its citizens from attack.
Since the 2001 Durban conference, this process has played itself out many times – Jenin in 2002, the ICJ case against Israel’s security barrier in 2004, the 2006 Lebanon War, last year’s Gaza War, and the IHH/ISM flotilla three weeks ago. It is always the same: Israel is faced with a spate of terror attacks targeting civilians in major populations centers; Israel responds with counter measures in increasing severity; NGOs immediately issue countless condemnations against Israel making accusations of “war crimes”, “crimes against humanity”, and “intentional targeting of civilians” based on speculation and little to no hard evidence; the media and the international community adopt these claims at face value, rarely performing independent verification; the UN, and in particular the HRC, engages in further one-sided condemnations, calling for international investigations and war crimes trials, and NGOs are called upon to play an integral role in these processes further entrenching their influence and claims.
Although the most recent manifestation of this process began after the full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and the violent Hamas takeover in June 2007, it greatly intensified during last year’s war, and has continued apace since the issuing of the Goldstone report and the flotilla violence.
The Gaza war was accompanied by obsessive media and NGO coverage: NGO Monitor tracked over 500 statements by 50 NGOs at that time. And these NGO publications repeated several themes couched in international law that were eventually adopted by the Goldstone report including the alleged continued “occupation” of Gaza, “collective punishment,” the supposed “intentional targeting of civilians,” and claims of “disproportionate” force.
These reports minimized the more than 8000 mortar and rocket attacks of increasing severity and range directed at Israeli civilians living in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva and beyond. The role of Syria and Iran in their support of Hamas and other terror groups was similarly ignored, as were reports regarding the mass commandeering by Hamas of construction materials, fuel, and humanitarian aid. In contrast, little to no mention was made of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped from Israeli territory and held incommunicado for four years this week in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions.
In contrast to the condemnations of Israel, many international NGOs were silent on extensive human rights abuses occurring around the world during this same period such as the more than 600 civilians killed in Congo on December 29th in a conflict that has claimed more than 5 million lives, and the thousands of Muslims killed annually at the hands of other Muslims in attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and elsewhere. Only a couple days before the IHH flotilla confrontation, more than 120 Muslims were murdered and hundreds injured in a dual bombing and mass shooting of two mosques and a hospital in Pakistan. Yet, there were no emergency sessions at the UN Human Rights Council and comparatively little NGO and media coverage or ongoing focus.
Leading this disproportionate response were Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and I will speak now in some detail about their publications on the Gaza war based on the results of our research.
Let me also say, before I continue, that there might indeed have been cases where the IDF may have fallen short of international legal standards. However, in its dozens of publications on the war alleging Israeli crimes, HRW and Amnesty performed little, if any, substantive factual or legal analysis. As noted by the Committee appointed by the ICTY Prosecutor to review alleged wrongdoing by NATO forces during the 1999 Kosovo campaign, “much of the material submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor consisted of reports that civilians had been killed, often inviting the conclusion to be drawn that crimes had therefore been committed.” Similarly, HRW’s and Amnesty’s reports relating to Gaza simply highlighted a few highly emotive incidents from which these organizations drew overly broad and unfounded conclusions regarding Israel’s compliance with international law.2 Moreover, both organizations minimized or even concealed that during their missions to Gaza, they were continually shadowed by Hamas officials who vetted and debriefed witnesses prior to and following interviews.
It should also be stressed that the methodological deficiencies in these publications are not unique to Israel. A 2006 study, “The Work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: Evidence from Colombia,” conducted by the Bogota-based Conflict Analysis Resource Center and the University of London, found that “both organizations have substantive problems in their handling of quantitative information. Problems include failure to specify sources, unclear definitions, an erratic reporting template and a distorted portrayal of conflict dynamics.”
Human Rights Watch
HRW’s concentration on the Arab-Israeli conflict reflects the political ideology of its officials, as well as the powerful influence of the media in setting NGO agendas. According to a study by James Ron and Howard Ramos, “watchdogs respond to media demand, and the more journalists ask about a country such as Israel, the more Human Rights Watch … will respond.” Similarly, a member of HRW’s board has commented that “We seek the limelight—that’s part of what we do. And so, Israel’s sort of like low-hanging fruit.”
In 2009, HRW issued nearly 100 publications, on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the vast majority on Gaza, and only 12 of these focused exclusively on Palestinian actors. Since April 2009, HRW has issued more than 40 statements lobbying for the Goldstone report dwarfing its reporting on any other abuses in the Middle East and even surpassing its coverage of the Iranian election crisis. HRW has issued only two reports on Iran since January 2009 compared to seven reports on the Gaza War alone. Its lone report on the Iranian post-election crisis is only 19 pages, compared to a total of 351 pages condemning Israel for the war.
HRW’s charges related to white phosphorus, drones, and “white flag” deaths drove a variety of NGO and media campaigns during the Gaza war and fed directly into the Goldstone Report, following the model of the “massacre” claims about Jenin in 2002 and Qana in the 2006 Lebanon war. These reports were mostly premised on speculation or false claims (“In none of the cases did Human Rights Watch find evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time.”) as well as charges that go beyond HRW’s research capacity (“the drone operators had the time and optical ability to determine whether they were observing civilians or combatants”).
In its report, Rain of Fire, HRW charged Israel with illegal use of white phosphorus munitions. This allegation depended upon the military “expertise” of Marc Garlasco – HRW’s former “senior military analyst” who resigned in February in the wake of scandal. His technical assertions were refuted by many military experts including in evidence provided to the Goldstone mission (even though that evidence was selectively applied by the mission in its report) – and was supplemented with unverifiable and often inconsistent Palestinian testimony. HRW did not have knowledge of the military conditions involved, and based claims of malevolent intent and war crimes on speculations regarding alternatives that may or may not have been available and equally effective.
Another report accused Israel of “war crimes” resulting from the alleged use of Spike missiles fired from drones according to Palestinian witnesses (Precisely Wrong, June 2009). This report, too, was fundamentally flawed. A number of experts unconnected with HRW also immediately noted the major technical errors in the claims. Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, remarked that the launch of a missile from drones, two of which were alleged to occur at night, would likely “elude the naked eye”. He added that “Human Rights Watch makes a lot of claims and assumptions about weapons and drones, all of which is still fairly speculative.” Colonel Richard Kemp, former head of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, similarly questioned Garlasco’s claims that witnesses heard drones prior to the alleged attacks. Kemp noted that the five mile range of a Spike missile was enough to put it well out of earshot.
The single HRW report on Palestinian violations of Israeli human rights, Rockets from Gaza, was not published until August 6, 2009, long after media attention had subsided. The report covered no new ground and largely repeated an April 2009 publication of the International Crisis Group. Moreover, the content of the report equated Israel with Hamas, failed to condemn Hamas for the use of human shields, and blamed Israel for Hamas rocket fire from populated areas. Rockets from Gaza also ignored weapons smuggling into Gaza, as well as the role of Iran and Syria in supplying those weapons. In contrast to the condemnations HRW directed at Israel, its report on Hamas included no implications, and appeared to be merely an attempt to create an artificial show of “balance”.
Rockets from Gaza was followed one week later by another HRW report headlined White Flag Deaths, alleging that Israel deliberately killed civilians waving white flags. White Flags relied on conflicting Palestinian claims and ignored the major discrepancies in Arabic-language and international media regarding these claims. In one case, over 16 different versions appeared in the media. At a press conference held in Jerusalem, HRW admitted it was aware of these many versions, yet this information was missing in its report. Inconsistencies include whether Hamas fighters were present at the time of the incidents; the specific details of how the incidents transpired; and the number, identity, and affiliation of casualties.
HRW’s reporting on Gaza was coupled with several notable scandals. In May 2009, HRW officials appeared at a fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia including at least one member of the governing Shura Council. At the dinner, HRW’s noted its need to combat “pro-Israel pressure groups” as the reason for seeking Saudi funding.
In September 2009, Marc Garlasco, HRW’s “senior military analyst,” responsible for authoring many of HRW’s Israel reports since 2004, was revealed to be an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia contributing more than 8000 posts to Nazi memorabilia websites and authoring a 430-page collecting guide to Nazi-era war medals. Finally, in October, HRW’s founder Robert Bernstein, wrote a devastating op-ed in the New York Times charging that HRW “has lost critical perspective” and “has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” Recent Exposées on HRW in the Sunday Times and The New Republic support these claims.
As with HRW, Gaza was the primary focus of Amnesty’s work on Israel in 2009. Israel is portrayed as the second worst human rights violator in the Middle East after Iran. Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Egyptian, and Saudi human rights violations received far less attention. In addition, Amnesty issued more in-depth reports – which have the greatest impact – on Israel than on any other country.
In July 2009, Amnesty published a report entitled “Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction,” charging Israel with “war crimes”. The 127-page publication ignored considerable evidence available to anyone with access to YouTube of Hamas operating deliberately within civilian areas to turn the population of Gaza into a mass human shield. It minimized Palestinian violations of international law, and promoted boycotts and lawfare against Israel. The only mention of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was in a footnote, underlining Amnesty’s double standards in the application of human rights norms.
A subsequent report published on the first anniversary of the Gaza war accused Israel of “collective punishment under international law”. Egypt’s and Hamas’ responsibility was minimized, and Amnesty continued to advance the specious legal assertion that “as the occupying power, it is Israel that bears the foremost responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.” The report also repeated a claim, which originated in its July 2009 report, that Israel “wantonly and deliberately” destroyed the al-Bader flour mill. This incident was not contemporaneously reported by the Palestinian NGOs in Gaza, nor in the Arabic media. Photographs and a summary of events released by both the UN (UNITAR) and the IDF refute Amnesty’s (and Goldstone’s) version of events and clearly show that the mill was accidentally hit by artillery during a firefight with Hamas combatants and not by an F-16 strike as Amnesty and Goldstone claimed.
Amnesty has also seen its share of controversy in the past year. In February 2010, Amnesty suspended Gita Sahgal, head of its Gender Unit, for criticizing Amnesty’s alliance with Moazzam Begg, an alleged supporter of the Taliban. Its actions were condemned by author Salman Rushdie and columnist Christopher Hitchens, among others. Hitchens called the “degeneration and politicization” of Amnesty “a moral crisis that has global implications.”
In response to the criticism, Amnesty’s interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone, defended Begg, stating that “jihad in self-defence” is not “antithetical to human rights”. In a statement published in the New York Review of Books, Sahgal remarked that the organization’s “stance has laid waste to every achievement on women’s equality by Amnesty International in recent years and made a mockery of the universality of rights.”
HRW and Amnesty and other NGOs such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights were integral players in the Goldstone mission. Goldstone was a member of HRW’s board until May 2009 and has an on-going close personal relationship with HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth. Prior to the war, mission member Christine Chinkin consulted for Amnesty, and shortly after the war the other three members, Goldstone, Hina Jilani and Desmond Travers signed a letter prepared by Amnesty claiming to be “shocked to the core” by the events in Gaza.
In May 2009, an Amnesty official provided Goldstone with a proposed outline for the report, which was largely adopted. The organization also appears to have given the mission a list of 36 incidents to investigate [all relating to alleged Israeli violations], and which became the sole focus of Goldstone’s report. These connections represent a major conflict of interest –such close ties almost ensured that information provided by these NGOs could not be objectively evaluated. Despite personal assurances to myself and others by the mission that NGO submissions would be made publicly available on the UN’s website, they remain hidden.
In June and July, Goldstone held “public hearings” in Gaza and Geneva, where the mission cherry picked witnesses in a process that was secret; and some individuals even testified in secret to the commission. The mission largely failed to ask questions designed to elicit relevant facts pertaining to the charges at hand.
In one very troubling case, Mr. Travers who testified before you yesterday, asked a pre-vetted witness from the Gaza Community Mental Health Project about the state of mind that supposedly motivates Israelis. Travers asked and I quote:
“We have heard testimony of great, uh, violence, seemingly un-militarily, unnecessary violence inflicted particularly on children. There have been instances of the shooting of children in front of their parents. As an ex-soldier I find that kind of action to be very, very strange and very unique. I would like to ask you if you have any professional insights as to what mindset or what conditioning or what training could bring around a state of behavior that would cause a soldier, a fellow human being to shoot children in front of their parents. Do you have any professional insights into that kind of behavior?”
In response, the NGO official replied, “With time the Israeli soldier has the image of absolute superiority . . . There we see the arrogance of power and he uses it without thinking of humanity at all . . . .inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazis.”
This exchange exemplifies that the Goldstone mission, conducted under the auspices of the thoroughly discredited UN Human Rights Council and in conjunction with these officials, was not about a search for the truth but rather was in service of further demonization. After their participation with Goldstone, two of the mission members, Mr. Travers and Ms. Jilani were active participants in the so-called Russell Tribunal — a fringe political event organized by far-left wing radicals designed to put Israel and countries supporting it on trial in a kangaroo court.
Systematic and widespread condemnation and criticism of the Goldstone process has come from across the political spectrum. For instance, Professor Francoise Hampson has noted that the key problems with Goldstone were the “biased HRC mandate”, “the nature and confused conclusions reached” and Goldstone’s faulty assumption that violations of IHL can be based solely on result. Professor Yuval Shany, who is often critical of the Israeli military, has remarked that the Goldstone report “sets a standard that no one applies and no one can meet.” Judge Fausto Pocar, former President of the ICTY, criticized the Goldstone report for its one-sided and discriminatory call for universal jurisdiction.3
British think tank, Chatham House also issued a report regarding irregularities in the Goldstone process and concluded that among other aspects, “the Mission had given insufficient acknowledgement of the difficulty in obtaining information in a political environment dominated by Hamas;” that there was a perception of bias regarding mission members; that “the criteria employed [for selection of incidents to be investigated] should have been indicated;” and that criticisms of Hamas were “tentative”.
The NGO reports discussed earlier and the nature of the impartial relationship and stated prejudices of the Goldstone commission members are in clear violation of fundamental ethical standards adopted in the London-Lund Guidelines on International Human Rights Fact Finding Visits, by the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. The guidelines specify norms for the composition of such inquiries and appropriate methodologies, including “accuracy, objectivity, transparency and credibility.”
In particular, the London-Lund guidelines state:
- Reports must be clearly objective and properly sourced, and the conclusions in them reached in a transparent manner. … In making their findings the delegation should try to verify alleged facts with an independent third party or otherwise. Where this is not possible, it should be noted.
- The terms of reference must not reflect any predetermined conclusions about the situation under investigation.
- The mission’s delegation must comprise individuals who are and are seen to be unbiased. The NGO should be confident that the delegation members have the competence, experience and expertise relevant to the matters pertaining to the terms of reference.
It is most troubling that the motions for discussion today largely rely upon Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Goldstone Report, repeating their one-sided assessments and political advocacy couched in the façade of morality, and ignoring the ethical and methodological deficiencies.
In issuing demands to end the “siege of Gaza,” NGOs offer little analysis as to whether such a move will strengthen the hand of Hamas – a terror organization that openly persecutes women, gays, Christians, and apostates, bars free speech, advocates genocide, and seeks to impoverish and repress its own people in the service of its dysfunctional political ideology. Little thought is given to whether more moderate Palestinian forces like Mahmud Abbas and Salam Fayaad will be weakened, thereby making peace based on a two-state solution and mutual acceptance far more difficult. Regional impacts of Gaza policy is also ignored such as the potential for increased influence of Iran and Syria. No solutions are offered as to how Israel can protect its citizens from attacks or how to prevent the smuggling of increasingly sophisticated and lethal arms which not only threaten the area surrounding Gaza but also Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These are the difficult and complex questions that must be considered in both a practical and moral framework.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the most complex political situations of our time. However, solutions cannot be found when problems are solely viewed through a narrow ideological lens and morality is exploited to promote bias. I hope that my remarks here today have offered another perspective on these issues and raised critical questions that will inform the debate. Thank you