Latest Report Promotes BDS and Hijacks Civil Rights Rhetoric

Jerusalem – In another indication of the organization’s biases and lack of moral compass, Human Rights Watch (HRW) today released a report that promotes boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and strips away the context of Arab terror in which Israel operates, notes NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based think tank that tracks NGOs in the region.  In particular, NGO Monitor condemns the report – titled “Separate and Unequal” – for its historical inferences and misleading and false allegations.

“This is the latest HRW report comprised of inflammatory rhetoric, misuse of international law, and baseless accusations,” says Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “Presenting information in this manner only serves to reinforce the myth of Palestinian victimization – a tactic that does not foster an environment conducive to peace and mutual understanding. Furthermore, by invoking the Separate and Unequal language of the American civil rights movement, HRW falsely turned a political conflict into one of racial hostility. This is an insult to the history of African Americans and black South Africans who truly suffered as a result of racial discrimination.”

NGO Monitor also notes other critical flaws in the report:


  • As in the case of most HRW reports on Israel and the conflict, this publication has the façade of research, without the substance. Instead, the majority of the allegations are based on reports from and a mix of political advocacy NGOs that HRW did not independently verify – specifically: Al Haq, EAPPI, BADIL, B’Tselem, Bimkom, OCHA, Peace Now, Yesh Din, and Coalition of Women for Peace.
  • In one example, HRW misquotes B’tselem (page 4): “Israeli security forces killed 1823 Palestinian civilians” in the West Bank between 2000 and August 31, 2010. According to B’Tselem, however, 479 of these casualties were known to be “Palestinians who took part in the hostilities,” and an additional 411 casualties may also have been armed.
  • HRW’s independent research, including interviewing 66 Palestinians and eight Israelis, anecdotal and lacks credibility.


  • HRW’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division has consistently and obsessively focused on Israel, while giving far less attention to human rights violators in the region. The 166 page publication is the longest one issued by MENA in the past two years. HRW has issued more reports and documents on Israel in 2010 than on any other country in the region. For comparison, HRW’s five-year report on systematic Saudi Arabian abuses is only 52 pages (“Looser Rein, Uncertain Gain,” September 27, 2010); HRW’s report on the Syrian police state covering the past decade is 35 pages (“A Wasted Decade,” July 16, 2010). In 2010, HRW’s three reports on Israel total 344 pages – far more than any other country in the region.


  • The report seeks to justify increased HRW support for the BDS campaign, which specifically calls for the destruction of Israel, as stated in the 2001 NGO Durban declaration. (HRW was a major supporter of the NGO Forum and has supported BDS in the past.)  In addition, HRW repeats previous demands for punishing Israel by withholding U.S. security assistance.


  • Significant portions of HRW’s indictment are based on a tendentious version of human rights norms and international law, such as reliance on the non-binding and widely discredited advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, July 2004.

“This report unfortunately is the result of the anti-Israel agenda of the MENA division,” Steinberg adds.  “Much of the staff come from ideological advocacy backgrounds.  MENA director Sarah Leah Whitson in 2009 actually went to Saudi Arabia to raise funds, selling the message that HRW’s role is central in countering ‘pro-Israel pressure groups.’  Simply, the once proud organization has lost its moral foundations.”

Steinberg’s assessment echoes that of HRW founder Robert Bernstein, who last year concluded that HRW “has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”  After a visit to Sderot in November 2010, Bernstein remarked that “Human Rights Watch’s attacks on Israel as the country tried to defend itself were badly distorting the issues – because Human Rights Watch had little expertise about modern asymmetrical war.”

The release of the report also is indicative of the close relationship between superpower NGOs, such as HRW, and international institutions such as the UN.

“At the same time as the Arab League is campaigning to undermine the peace process by exploiting UN frameworks, HRW publishes this study,” says Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor legal advisor.  “It is another troubling aspect of a very troubling and misleading report.”