The addition of Nadia Barhoum, a pro-Palestinian campus activist, to HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, increases the political bias reflected in the activities and backgrounds of Sarah Leah Whitson, Joe Stork, and previous staff (Lucy Mair, formerly of Electronic Intifada). This is inconsistent with HRW’s claimed “even-handedness and accuracy. “

  • Barhoum was an active member in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California, Berkeley. SJP promotes the Durban agenda of demonization of Israel, using terms such as “apartheid,” as well as accusations of “mass atrocities. “
  • In promoting divestment, Barhoum wrote: “Our university should not profit from bloodshed. Our university should not invest in apartheid. “
  • At a Sabeel Conference, she participated in a “guerilla theater action” of a mock IDF checkpoint, claiming to raise awareness that “human rights are violated” by US tax dollars (through financial support of Israel).
  • Barhoum’s “Palestina” blog includes references to Israel as “a military state . . . ,” Israeli “crimes against humanity,” erases all traces of terror, and repeats Palestinian political messages: in Gaza, people “are starving because the israeli military refuses to open up the gazan border…. [sic]”

Nadia Barhoum’s Background

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently hired an Associate for its Middle East and North Africa Division — Nadia Barhoum. Barhoum’s background as a Palestinian activist who uses “apartheid” rhetoric and supports divestment from Israel suggests that her work at HRW will not be objective.  Her addition to the staff based in New York reinforces the anti-Israel political agenda of the senior members of the Middle East and North Africa Division.
As an undergraduate, Nadia Barhoum, a Palestinian-American, was an active member in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California, Berkeley; in 2005, she was the group’s publicity chair. SJP espouses the “Right of return and repatriation for all” (a euphemism for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state), and calls Israel an “apartheid state” alleging that “the Israeli system of controlling the Palestinian people and maintaining Jewish control . . . matches many of apartheid South Africa’s goals of maintaining White control over the government. ” On its website, SJP claims that in 1948, “Zionist militia groups violently took over the land that became Israel” and “committed mass atrocities that led to the expulsion of approximately 700,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes. “

Barhoum herself has used the “apartheid” rhetoric of the Durban strategy, stating the SJP’s “message . . . is to resist occupation and end the apartheid-like framework which is found in Palestine-Israel. ”  Barhoum was involved in a campaign calling on the University of California to “divest from Israel,” and urging its students to “join the struggle against the occupation of Palestine. ” In promoting divestment, Barhoum and her fellow activists declared: “Our university should not profit from bloodshed. Our university should not invest in apartheid. ” Her published article also included the tendentious allegation that “Jewish settlements stand atop recently flattened Palestinian homes, schools and hospitals. ” The history of Arab rejectionism and violence was erased.

In September 2007, Barhoum attended a Sabeel Conference in Berkeley, participating in a “guerilla theater action” of a mock IDF checkpoint, claiming to raise awareness that “human rights are violated” by US tax dollars (through financial support of Israel). Sabeel is a leading Palestinian NGO in the anti-Israel church divestment campaign. Its founder and head, Reverend Naim Ateek, has repeatedly questioned Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and often employs antisemitic theological themes in his sermons and essays. Sabeel’s conferences are platforms for the NGO to advance a highly distorted narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Barhoum was also a student representative to a “right of return” conference run by Al-Awda California, another NGO involved in pro-Palestinian advocacy. Al-Awda’s statements equate Zionism with racism:

Al-Awda regards the ‘Israeli’ definition of Jewish nationals, granting exclusive rights to citizenship and land to any Jew from anywhere in the world, as part of the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionist ideology which underlies the policies and laws of the settler state of ‘Israel. ‘

The group’s website contains an image of a placard with the phrase, “USA Stop Funding Israeli Terrorism!”

Nadia Barhoum spent a year in “Palestine” at Birzeit University and wrote a blog chronicling her travels.  In her observations, the only references to Israelis are negative and in the context of Palestinian suffering – there is no mention of terrorism and its impact. In one entry, she writes, “I’m just beginning to see how life operates under a military state . . . the economy, and political and social life are permanently and continuously penetrated by the practices of the Israeli government, military, and its citizens, namely the settlers on the west bank. ”  To emphasize her message, she erases the major deliveries of food aid from Israel to Gaza, alleging, “people in gaza right now are starving because the israeli military refuses to open up the gazan border to allow food through. seriously, if that is not a crime against humanity, i dont know what is. maybe that the international community stands by in silence. [sic]”

Adding to the Bias in HRW Middle East and North Africa Division

As shown above, Barhoum’s ideological agenda closely parallels that of the senior members of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division — Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork — and is consistent with the biases found in statements by Kenneth Roth and Reed Brody. In addition to Barhoum, the earlier employment of Lucy Mair (researcher for “Israel/Occupied Territories,” 2005-2007) suggests a political bias in the hiring process, and is inconsistent with HRW’s claimed “even-handedness and accuracy. “

Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division:

Prior to joining HRW Whitson, was associated with the NGOs MADRE and the Center for Social and Economic Rights (CESR), organizations with strong anti-Israel agendas.  MADRE’s “Palestine” web page employs rhetoric such as “apartheid,” “cantons,” and “matrix of control,” and claims terrorism is simply a Palestinian “strategy” to “gain[] self determination. ” CESR accuses Israel of “brutality,” “siege” and “depopulation” against Palestinians and initiated a lobbying effort to pressure the US government to change its policies on Israel (CESR also employed Lucy Mair).

At HRW, Whitson continues to promote an anti-Israel political agenda, including when HRW joined the anti-Israel boycott movement  in 2004, and she continues to promote her biases through HRW reports and activities.  On December 27, 2005 Whitson attacked Israeli policy in a letter to President Bush condemning “Expanding Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ” As in past HRW allegations against Israel, this letter was based on unverified media reports and invoked the distorted politicized rhetoric of international law, including misleading references to the advisory opinion of the ICJ. Whitson concluded her letter by restating the overriding political objective of HRW’s leadership: sanctions against Israel, including cutting US aid.

Whitson’s ambivalent position on terror  is reflected in an article she published in Al-Akhbar on September 1, 2007, which refers to Hezbollah as the “Islamic Resistance” and portrays Israel as the aggressor.

“That Israel violated the laws of war does not justify the Islamic Resistance’s failure to abide by such laws. … that Israel carried out indiscriminate strikes on populated areas in southern Lebanon in no way justifies the Islamic Resistance’s retaliatory strikes on civilian areas in Israel. “

See also: NGO Monitor’s 2008 report on HRW’s activities in 2007.

Joe Stork, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division

Before joining HRW, Stork was a highly visible anti-Israel political activist and ex-editor of Middle East Report (published by MERIP, the Middle East research and information project). MERIP’s members distributed PLO buttons, posters, and flags, and its anti-Israeli rhetoric reflected the standard Marxist anti-imperialist ideology of the time. MERIP Reports carried laudatory interviews with terrorist leaders and other activists, and Stork’s articles repeatedly condemned “the origins of the State of Israel and its war with the people of the Middle East.”  After the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, this organization urged socialists to “comprehend the achievements” of the atrocity. (“Who Are the Terrorists,” MERIP Reports, No. 12, September-October, 1972, at12-13) Similarly, after a Palestinian terror attack on an Israeli school, this organization declared that “all Israeli settlers are potential targets of the Palestinian resistance” (“Ma’alot: an Account and an Evaluation,” MERIP Reports, No. 29, (June 1974, pp. 21-3).

At HRW, Stork has continued to promote this ideological agenda. Examples include a 2008 letter to President Bush, which exploited international legal terminology, repeated incomplete or false analyses of international law, and minimized or omitted Hamas’ attacks on Israeli border crossings where humanitarian aid is delivered, as well as the diversion of this aid by Hamas.  In conjunction with numerous other examples, including a January 2008 statement on Gaza, these publications eschew carefully written, accurate and well-sourced legal analyses for political diatribe, loosely couched in the terminology of international law. Stork and Whitson have both avoided important and well-documented substantive criticism of their work by invoking false ideological allegations and ad hominem attacks. Whiton’s September 2007 op-ed published in Al Akhbar dismissed NGO Monitor’s comprehensive qualitative and quantitative documentation of HRW biases as equivalent to “name-calling and invented stories. ” And in a 2005 response to Professor Gerald Steinberg (head of NGO Monitor) in the Wall Street Journal Europe, she sought to discredit him personally rather than addressing evidence. Similarly, when Stork was asked by journalists to respond to NGO Monitor’s meticulous quantitative analysis of HRW in 2007, he answered “… I haven’t seen this report from Mr. Steinberg, and he seldom has anything useful or truthful to say – you can quote me on that. “

Lucy Mair, HRW researcher for “Israel/Occupied Territories” (2005-2007)

Hired in 2005 as researcher, Ms. Mair’s qualifications included writing for the radical website, “Electronic Intifada” and serving as International Program Coordinator for CESR.  Her work at CESR involved sharing a platform with anti-Israel activists such as Phyllis Bennis at a “Freedom and Justice for Palestine Conference on 31 March 2001. On 3 May 2003, at a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Mair repeated unsubstantiated Palestinian allegations that “the Israeli army had destroyed two wells in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, that provided nearly half of the city’s drinking water. Drivers of water tankers and water maintenance personnel had been physically attacked and threatened by the Israeli army and illegal settlers. ” At the same meeting, representing the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights, she alleged that “[t]he military forces were shooting at people, including newborn babies. Patients seeking medical assistance were dying at Israeli checkpoints because they were not given access to hospitals.”