Since 2004, NGO Monitor has analyzed Human Rights Watch’s Middle East output using a weighted scale methodology1 to rank and count publications on each country per year.  This gives a consistent and informative picture of the research priorities and distribution of resources across the division. To expand the analysis, NGO Monitor studies have also examined the use of language in relation to various Middle Eastern states.  This has repeatedly shown that Israel is consistently singled out for condemnation, using particularly harsh language that delegitimizes Israel’s actions of self-defense, while minimizing Palestinian and Arab human rights violations. The following results comparing Israel and Saudi Arabia show the discrepancy between the two countries, adjusted only recently:

2004: Israel 145 points – Saudi Arabia 42 points

2005: Israel 59   points – Saudi Arabia 38 points

2006: Israel 223 points – Saudi Arabia 47 points

2007: Israel 121 points – Saudi Arabia 116 points

2008: Israel 131 points – Saudi Arabia 184 points

Additional points:

  • Far more items were published on Israel than any other country in 2004. Following NGO Monitor’s exposure of this phenomenon, 2005 saw a significant drop in attention to both Israel and the PA, with a corresponding rise in other countries’ treatment.
  • The shift in the allocation of resources away from an extreme over-emphasis on Israel coincides with a number of internal developments at HRW. These include the reorganization of the Middle East Advisory Board (following NGO Monitor’s earlier reports on HRW bias), which led directly to the expanded scope of its regional activities.
  • Until 2008, following Saudi Arabia was a lower priority for HRW than Israel. In 2008, Israel comes second only to Saudi Arabia as the worst abuser of human rights in the region, based on HRW activities.
  • The Middle East division of HRW has limited resources which must be divided between countries.  This is expressed in the inverse relationship between scores for Israel and the focus on Saudi Arabia in 2008 at the expense of other countries.2 In 2009, the extensive reports on Israel related to the Gaza war are likely to restore the imbalance in HRW’s agenda.

Qualitative analysis of HRW’s use of international legal and human rights terminology to condemn Middle Eastern states adds to evidence of consistent bias against Israel.  Annual studies since 2005 repeatedly show that HRW condemns Israel for human rights violations more frequently and more vehemently than other countries. Terms such as “violation of international law,” “war crimes,” “collective punishment” and “arbitrary/ unlawful killing” are applied to Israel significantly more than other countries. Israel was the only country / Middle Eastern actor accused of “war crimes” by HRW in 2008 (6 times). This reflects a disproportionate willingness to condemn Israel and a lack of universality in the application of human rights standards.