Research Institution Cites Need for “Moral leadership”

JERUSALEM – As part of continued research and analysis on the claims and advocacy activities of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jerusalem-based research institution NGO Monitor calls on incoming board chairman James Hoge to take immediate steps to restore the organization’s focus on universal human rights. To move forward in restoring “HRW’s moral influence,” Hoge must take decisive action regarding biased staff members who exploit human rights rhetoric.

Mr. Hoge has joined an organization whose credibility was torn apart in an op-ed by HRW founder Robert Bernstein in the New York Times, “Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Middle East,” in which he denounced the biases and failures of his own organization. Bernstein highlighted NGO Monitor’s finding of obsessive focus by HRW on false allegations against Israel, while de-emphasizing daily human rights violations in Iran, Libya and other authoritarian regimes. Bernstein noted that instead of using its growing resources to press for human rights under these regimes, his organization has focused on turning “Israel into a pariah state.” In 2010, reports in The New Republic and Sunday Times exposed more of HRW’s failures, and further reduced its moral reputation and influence.

“If Mr. Hoge is going to have a serious impact as head of HRW’s board, he will need to repair its moral reputation,” says Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “HRW has the resources and capabilities to be the moral compass for societies throughout the world. Unfortunately, the organization has been hijacked by senior staff members, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Division. They have replaced universal human rights principles with a narrow ideological bias and an obsession with Israel, while ignoring other conflicts and real human rights abuses throughout the world.”

NGO Monitor has chronicled HRW’s false claims and disproportionate focus on Israel. NGO Monitor’s monograph, Experts or Ideologues: Systematic Analysis of Human Rights Watch, described the consistent anti-Israel agenda within the organization, as shown in detailed analyses of the publications in the MENA division from 2002 to 2009. This report showed that MENA division director Sarah Leah Whitson and her deputy, Joe Stork, as well as other officials, allow their backgrounds in anti-Israel advocacy to distort their human rights and international law work.

These destructive and unethical biases have intensified at HRW in recent years. In May 2009, Whitson went to Saudi Arabia to raise funds, selling the odious message that HRW’s role is central in countering “pro-Israel pressure groups.”  Whitson also emphasized HRW’s anti-Israel reporting on the Gaza war, which provided the foundation for the one-sided Goldstone report, as the basis for donations from Saudi funders. Later that year, HRW’s “senior military analyst” Marc Garlasco was dismissed after it was revealed that he was a collector of Nazi memorabilia. However, a gag order was imposed on Garlasco, and HRW blocked efforts to investigate the credibility of his numerous reports condemning Israel.

“We fully expect Mr. Hoge to initiate a credible and independent examination of the organization’s past reports on Israel, and issue retractions where warranted,” Steinberg continues. “HRW said they would review every single report compiled by Mr. Garlasco after he was dismissed – we are still waiting for that process to begin. Additionally, Mr Hoge will need to review staffing issues, including the role of top officials, and take actions to end support for the anti-Israel ideology that has permeated the organization.”

Steinberg added that the recent $100 million “challenge grant” from George Soros to HRW presents new challenges for the organization regarding its anti-Israel biases. “Despite the implications of the Soros funding, we hope that Mr. Hoge will take the actions necessary to restore the centrality of universal human rights in HRW’s agenda.”