In his New York Review of Books essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” (June 10, 2010), journalist Peter Beinart makes several dubious claims about human rights NGOs. He makes similar statements in defense of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a subsequent dialogue with Jeffrey Goldberg (The Atlantic). The following is an analysis of the claims Beinart makes in his conversation with Goldberg:
Claim: “… [HRW] has done reports on Palestinian human rights abuses and lots of them (many more than on Israel) on human rights issues in the Arab world.”
Analysis: This claim is simply false. For example, in 2009, HRW publications on “Israel and the OPT” comprised 28 percent of its total Mideast output, more than those focused on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, and other chronic human rights abusers. HRW produced seven reports on the Gaza war, of which five focused exclusively on Israel. It issued only two reports on Iran since January 2009 (HRW’s lone report on the Iranian post-election crisis is only 19 pages, compared to 351 pages condemning Israel for its military operation in Gaza). Amnesty portrayed Israel as the second worst human rights violator in the Middle East in 2009, trailing only Iran.
Claim: “And the argument that Human Rights Watch should not investigate Israel because it is a democracy doesn’t make sense.”
Analysis: Here, Beinart parrots the “strawman argument” made by HRW board members Jane Olson and Jonathan Fanton in their response to Robert Bernstein’s op-ed, “Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast” (October 19, 2009). They insinuate that Bernstein gives open societies and democracies an exemption from accountability, Bernstein actually wrote that HRW “casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies,” as a result of which the plight of the some 350 million people in “brutal, closed and autocratic” Arab and Iranian regimes “is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.”
Claim: “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, while not perfect, are the most reputable human rights organizations in the world.”
Analysis: Beinart makes no reference to the scandals at HRW and Amnesty that have devastatingly compromised the organizations’ credibility. HRW’s fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia used the specter of the pro-Israel lobby to solicit funds; HRW’s former “senior military analyst,” Marc Garlasco, who wrote numerous reports on Israel, was exposed as an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia; ideological biases of MENA Director Sarah Leah Whitson and Deputy Director Joe Stork came to light; and an October 2009 New York Times op-ed by HRW founder Robert Bernstein criticized the organization for its anti-Israel bias and for ignoring severe human rights violations in closed societies. Amnesty suspended Gita Sahgal, head of its Gender Unit, for criticizing the group’s alliance with Moazzam Begg, an alleged supporter of the Taliban. Amnesty’s (interim) Secretary General Claudio Cordone defended Begg, stating that “jihad in self-defence” is not “antithetical to human rights.”