Since the brutal October 7 Hamas pogrom, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has hyperactively published statements and condemnations, primarily demonizing Israel. As of October 23, they had made 7 public statements, 2 “Q&As,” a letter to the ICC Prosecutor, more than 20 opinion essays and media appearances, and well over 100 tweets by officials who frequently deal with Israel.
Analysis of this output demonstrates HRW’s long-standing hostility towards Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; lack of credibility on all issues related to Israel and Jews; tokenism with respect to Israeli victims of brutality, including hostages, in a transparent attempt to deflect the evidence of antisemitism; and inflated claims to expertise and relevance in the realms of human rights and international law.
Demonization of Israel
As systematically documented by NGO Monitor since 2002, HRW maintains an obsessive antagonism toward Israel, often crossing the line into rank antisemitism, through the facades of human rights and international law. Even after the departure of Executive Director Ken Roth and Middle East head Sarah Leah Whitson, who were the primary drivers of this agenda, the anti-Israel propaganda continues – especially with Omar Shakir (Israel/Palestine Director) and Sari Bashi (Program Director).
HRW’s first public statement (Israel/Palestine: Devastating Civilian Toll as Parties Flout Legal Obligations) on the massacre and war, posted Monday, October 9, make this abundantly clear.
Although HRW acknowledges (albeit using the qualifier “apparent”) the illegality of Hamas’ “apparent deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate attacks, and taking of civilians as hostages,” the thrust of the statement is that “Israeli authorities have systematically repressed Palestinians for decades” and that “inhumane acts committed against Palestinians as part of a policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” (emphases added). The focus on such allegations feeds a despicable narrative from Hamas and its supporters that the massacres were somehow justified or at least must be contextualized.
According to HRW, Hamas and Israel are, at best, indistinguishable – as seen in the title and the main quote attributed to Shakir: “Deliberate killings of civilians, hostage-taking, and collective punishment are heinous crimes that have no justification…The unlawful attacks and systematic repression that have mired the region for decades…”
HRW’s Bashi clearly demonstrates the primary emphasis on bashing Israel in her social media posts, beginning on October 7 as the pogrom unfolded. In a tweet from that afternoon, Bashi wrote, “There’s no honor in unlawful attacks on civilians. No matter how just your resistance to apartheid and oppression is.” A few hours later she added, “For decades the US has ignored apartheid by Israeli authorities against Palestinians, sending weapons, giving visa deals to Israeli tourists and brokering normalization with Arab dictators. If only this war would persuade the US to address the abuses that are feeding the violence” (emphases added).
Other HRW officials have expressed similar themes of demonization in their social media activity. On October 9, Shakir tweeted, “So long as there’s impunity, Gaza remains an open-air prison & Israel’s apartheid isn’t dismantled, bloodshed & repression will continue” (emphases added). On October 13, HRW Senior Researcher Sarah Saadoun tweeted, “Seems absurd to tweet my disgust, outrage, fears for the vicious vengeance that Israelis are unleashing on Palestinians… These tweets are useless: they will not move governments to change the cynical political calculus that makes them complicit in apartheid & now in unbridled bloodlust.”
In parallel, HRW also revived and amplified a number of its earlier anti-Israel campaigns, such as the manipulation of international law and the term “collective punishment” to demonize Israeli counter-terror operations in Gaza. This was the theme of HRW’s accusation that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is “unlawful” and constitutes “collective punishment” (Israel: Unlawful Gaza Blockade Deadly for Children, October 18), Bashi’s ABC News interview (October 22), and Bashi and HRW’s statement headlined “Israel Still Blocking Aid to Civilians in Gaza: Collective Punishment of Palestinians is a War Crime” (October 23). NGO Monitor and others – including the Turkel Commission (2010-2013) and Palmer Report (2011) – have definitively shown that the blockade of Gaza is consistent with international law. (For more on previous HRW campaigns, see NGO Monitor’s analysis in “Letter to President Bush on Gaza: The Collective Punishment Hoax” – June 2008).
In another example of recycled demonization, on October 12, HRW issued a statement (Israel: White Phosphorus Used in Gaza, Lebanon) alleging “The use of white phosphorus in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, magnifies the risk to civilians and violates the international humanitarian law prohibition on putting civilians at unnecessary risk.” This repeats false claims made by HRW during the 2009 Gaza War – and thoroughly debunked by NGO Monitor.
Tokenism and Arrogance
In a video accompanying its “Questions and Answers: October 2023 Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian Armed Groups” and a very short “Statement on Release of 2 Hostages Held in Gaza,” HRW notes, “Hamas and Islamic Jihad should immediately and unconditionally release all detained civilians.” It is clear, however, that, for HRW, the issue of Israeli hostages is an example of tokenism, meant to impress uninformed donors and journalists and to falsely establish a sense of balance.
HRW’s tokenism in this regard is best seen in a review of the Twitter activity of the NGO and its key officials. Only 6 of more than 125 tweets on the war mention the hostages, and none refers to the fact that many children were kidnapped by Gaza-based terrorists. By comparison, twice as many tweets discuss the impact of the war on Palestinian children.
Notably, Israeli hostages have long been tokens for HRW. In 2017, HRW published “2 Israelis Who Entered Gaza Held Incommunicado,” regarding Avera Mangistu and Hisham al-Sayed, individuals with mental illness who crossed into Gaza and were captured by Hamas. HRW did not conduct a sustained campaign on this issue – the statement was only issued three and two years, respectively, after the disappearances – all while HRW intensively lobbied European governments and the UN to pursue BDS against Israel.
“Verification” of massacre videos
On October 18, HRW published a video and accompanying statement (“Israel/Palestine: Videos of Hamas-Led Attacks Verified”) claiming, “Human Rights Watch has verified four videos from the October 7, 2023 attacks by Hamas-led gunmen, showing three incidents of deliberate killings.”
True to form, both the video and statement included the propaganda allegation that “for decades,” Israel “has systematically repressed Palestinians.”
HRW’s investment of resources into this exercise had no significant impact. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of videos and images unequivocally documenting the Hamas genocidal pogrom in southern Israel on October 7. In contrast to a meaningful contribution to a comprehensive investigation into Hamas’ crimes against humanity during the October 7 massacre, HRW’s “verifying” of three (!) token incidents is unnecessary and a fig-leaf for the NGO’s anti-Israel activity related to this war.
Indeed, HRW explicitly links its work to “the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s ongoing investigation” – another theme that appears throughout HRW statements on the massacre and war. Given the massive NGO campaign to prosecute Israelis at the ICC, inherent bias in the ICC process, and Israeli rejection of ICC jurisdiction, this too is part of HRW’s twenty-year “lawfare” campaign against Israel.