Click Here to View a Catalogue of HRW’s Activities Following the Hamas Pogrom

On October 25, NGO Monitor published an analysis of Human Rights Watch (HRW) activities during the first two weeks of the Gaza war (October 7-23) NGO Monitor highlighted HRW’s exploitation of  the Hamas massacre and military response in order to demonize Israel, particularly to amplify its campaign to advance the “apartheid” libel. 

This report continues our examination, discussing HRW’s rhetoric in the month since. As demonstrated, the NGO superpower has expanded its demonization of Israel, calling for boycotts and lawfare, and focusing on lobbying Europe to pressure and isolate Israel. HRW also continued to downplay antisemitism under the guise of protecting free speech. As in previous conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon, HRW repeatedly, but without any significant evidence and lacking access to the necessary information, labels Israeli strikes as “unlawful.” 

Even HRW’s token report on the Al-Ahli hospital incident, which exonerates Israel, avoids clear conclusions regarding Palestinian terror groups in a way that would never occur with Israel. HRW uses indirect and qualifying language about “an apparent rocket-propelled munition, such as those commonly used by Palestinian armed groups.” In blatant contrast to the unequivocal accusations concerning Israeli strikes, HRW says “further investigation is needed to determine…whether the laws of war were violated.”

One seeming departure from HRW’s intense anti-Israel obsession during Ken Roth’s regime are more statements condemning Palestinian groups for holding hostages. (Under Roth, HRW never paid more than lip service to Israeli victims.) This might be a form of tokenism, and the few items on Israeli and other hostages held in Gaza are far overshadowed by the intensity of anti-Israel advocacy (demonization) – reflecting the influence of Roth acolytes Omar Shakir and Sari Bashi.  

In fact, an analysis of tweets from the main HRW account and those of key HRW officials shows a total of 811 posts (October 7-November 29), with merely 58 (7%) mentioning Israeli victims of human rights abuses and 43 mentioning Israelis alongside Palestinians. 

NGO Monitor’s findings confirm the pointed criticisms from an HRW whistleblower, who detailed “longstanding issues infecting [HRW’s] Israel work and the hostile internal climate that Hamas’ attacks brought into sharp relief but did not birth.” The examples below illustrate her observation that “years of institutional creep culminated in organizational responses that shattered professionalism, abandoned principles of accuracy and fairness, and surrendered its duty to stand for the human rights of all.”

The emphasis on demonization, discussed in NGO Monitor’s previous report, has not abated. 

In a two-week period (Oct 25 – Nov 10), HRW Israel/Palestine Director Omar Shakir posted five tweets repeating the apartheid lie (here, here, here, here, here), including calling on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “join the anti-apartheid movement.” (Senior EU Advocate Claudio Francavilla also posted a like-minded tweet.) During an October 31 webinar, Shakir repeated earlier ploys of blaming the victims (Israelis) and appearing to justify the brutal Hamas attack, stating, “obviously this story doesn’t start on October 7th…That’s a part of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution that the Israeli government imposes on Palestinians…there is a key reason why we’re seeing the atrocities that are taking place on the ground right now…there’s a clear context of Palestinian living a reality of apartheid and persecution.” Shakir also told MSNBC that “the Israeli government was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians before October 7.” 

A number of HRW employees, including Shakir, shared on Twitter/X an antisemitic letter from a UN official, Craig Mokhiber, who claimed that his resignation was in response to “the current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler colonial ideology.” According to the letter, Israel is committing “genocide,” as the “final phase” of “the European, ethno-nationalist settler colonial project in Palestine.” Mokhiber complained about the “Israel Lobby” and argued that “the UN itself carries the original sin…by ratifying the European settler colonial project that seized Palestinian land and turned it over to the colonists.” HRW Director of Crisis Advocacy Akshaya Kumar labeled it a “brave resignation over a point of principle and in solidarity with the people of Gaza.”

Another manifestation of HRW’s demonization pattern is its automatic presumption of Israeli guilt in general and regarding specific incidents. HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan tweeted “By blocking necessary aid, Israel is punishing all of Gaza’s civilians for Hamas’s attacks” and also accused Israel of “Collectively punishing a population for the attacks of Hamas-led fighters[,] a war crime.” The NGO’s Twitter/X account shared the same idea, alleging that “the Israeli military [is] making innocent people in #Gaza pay the price.” The possibility that Israel targeted a terrorist entity deeply embedded within civilian areas and tried to prevent Hamas from continuing to steal humanitarian aid and divert it to nefarious purposes was not entertained. Moreover, since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, HRW has devoted little to no analysis regarding these war crimes and other violations. The NGO’s failure to report on Hamas’ exploitation of the population of Gaza has added to the international community’s culture of complicity, which enabled the October 7 attacks and has entrenched the conflict.

According to statements from HRW, an alleged Israeli attack on an ambulance in Gaza “was apparently unlawful” and “a possible war crime,” and “repeated, apparently unlawful attacks on medical facilities” could be “war crimes.” Omar Shakir accused Israel of wanting to treat Al-Shifa Hospital as “a free-fire zone” – a blatantly false claim that was definitively contradicted by Israel’s extremely cautious operations near and in that hospital, as well as the extensive evidence that Hamas systematically exploited Al-Shifa for illicit terror purposes. Shakir’s comments followed HRW’s standard practice, in place for 20 years, to dismiss Israeli evidence and misrepresent relevant international law by alleging without basis that “no evidence put forward would justify depriving hospitals and ambulances of their protected status under international humanitarian law.” 

HRW also published a statement on “an unlawful Israeli strike on a family in a car” in Lebanon, calling it an “apparent war crime.” As with every other allegation, HRW lacks the necessary information to make such an assessment, including detailed, inside knowledge of the incident’s military intelligence and targeting elements. Contrary to the picture painted by HRW and other NGOs, tragic mistakes, if this was the case, are not “unlawful” or “war crimes.” 

Perhaps most egregious was a Shakir tweet, claiming that “the last functioning mill in Gaza” was “reportedly hit & destroyed.” Without providing any context on which armed group conducted the strike or, even if it was an IDF strike, whether there were military targets in the vicinity, Shakir implied that Israel was engaged in “starvation as a weapon of war.” This false claim echoes similar propaganda statements made during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict regarding the Al Bader flour mill which were similarly proven to be baseless.

Omar Shakir: Hamas’ Propaganda Champion 

A corollary of asserting Israeli guilt with regards to Gaza hospitals is erasing the presence of Hamas in those places. In response to IDF intelligence (later confirmed with a wide variety of video and other evidence) showing “Hamas headquarters in the Shifa Hospital,” Omar Shakir called it an “alarming statement”  and denied that Hamas was exploiting Al-Shifa to “commit acts harmful to the enemy” (also refuted by a wide variety of video and other evidence). 

And in a much-criticized  tweet, Shakir tried to rebut Israeli evidence by claiming that “an alleged list of operatives shifts holding hostages” in Rantisi Hospital was merely “a calendar of days of the week in Arabic…” As noted by numerous individuals in response on Twitter/X, the calendar suspiciously began on October 7 and was titled “Al Aqsa Flood campaign 7/10/2023”, exposing Shakir’s feeble attempt that better suited a Hamas defense attorney than a supposed human rights activist. 

Shakir took a similar tack in response to a statement by Israel Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan that “many UNRWA workers in Gaza are themselves members of Hamas.” Shakir tweeted, “Killing 100 UN workers & blaming them for their own deaths at the UN… a depth of depravity that knows no bounds!” Shakir failed to mention that UNRWA refused to provide a list the names of those killed and the details of their deaths, including whether they were killed while participating in hostilities. Once again, a credible human rights official would demand an investigation into the apparent extensive abuse of UN humanitarian standing and await independent verification of the circumstances surrounding deaths in Gaza  – instead of repeating Palestinian/UN propaganda that Hamas has not infiltrated UNRWA and that all casualties in Gaza are civilian. 

HRW’s BDS and Lawfare

HRW’s ongoing demonization of Israel, including since October 7, serves a specific political objective: to bolster its campaigns of BDS and lawfare against the Jewish state. 

On November 6, HRW initiated a campaign calling for sanctions in the form of an arms embargo against Israel. According to HRW, “Israel’s key allies—the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany—should suspend military assistance and arms sales to Israel so long as its forces commit widespread, serious abuses amounting to war crimes against Palestinian civilians with impunity.” Among other social media activity by HRW officials, Omar Shakir tweeted that Israel has committed “atrocities” that “have largely [been] met [by] US/EU silence,” and stating that “They should impose arms embargo on Israel to avoid complicity in war crimes.”

In an interview with CNN, Shakir alleged “Israel’s apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians” and expanded the types of sanctions to “ending” unidentified “business arrangements that make states complicit.” HRW official Claudio Francavilla also praised Belgium for calling “for targeted sanctions and accountability” against Israelis. 

The other goal for HRW is International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution of Israelis. For instance, HRW lobbied “All ICC members” to “urgently voice their support for the court’s role” because “the court’s voice is urgently needed to help prevent further mass atrocities.” HRW’s Canada Director Farida Deif complained that “the Trudeau government repeatedly turned a blind eye to Israeli authorities’ systematic repression and grave abuses of Palestinians,” and that “Canada has shown no sign of revisiting its opposition to the ICC exercising any jurisdiction over serious crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” 

These statements were accompanied by voluminous activity on Twitter/X by HRW officials (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here), emphasizing the purported importance and impartiality of the ICC, and calling governments that oppose ICC jurisdiction over Israel (on solid legal grounds) of hypocrisy. 

HRW also urged the UN Secretary General to “immediately” add the IDF to a blacklist of armed groups “responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict.” (See NGO Monitor website for more information on the multi-year NGO campaign on this issue.)

Downplaying Antisemitism under the Guise of Protecting Free Speech

NGO Monitor has documented how HRW systematically and consistently opposes and obstructs meaningful initiatives to combat antisemitism, while the NGO and its officials engage in antisemitic rhetoric. 

HRW has not shown any improvement in the seven weeks since the October 7 massacre, which have been accompanied by a terrible increase in antisemitic attacks around the world.

With regards to the United States, which has seen a 300% increase in antisemitic incidents, HRW whitewashes as “free speech and assembly”, egregious antisemitic comments, incitement to violence, and many incidents of physical harassment and assaults on Jews. While acknowledging, in passing, “increasing acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia,” HRW does not condemn antisemitism, provides no details regarding these incidents, nor does it make concrete recommendations to fight it. Instead, it bemoans the “repercussions in the United States, testing pillars of democracy including the fundamental human rights to free speech and assembly” (US: Protect Free Expression in Israel/Palestine Crisis, November 2). In clear reference to consequences faced by anti-Israel activists for their antisemitic and pro-violence remarks, and behavior, as well as measures taken to protect Jews and Jewish communities, HRW states that “Government officials, law enforcement, college and university administrators, and employers, among others, need to step up to uphold [free speech and assembly].”

For Europe, HRW released a lengthier statement (Israel-Palestine Hostilities Affect Rights in Europe, October 26). Although the subheading reads, “Combat Antisemitism, Islamophobia; Protect Democratic Protest, Expression,” and the statement acknowledges that “Several countries have reported an increase in antisemitic incidents,” according to HRW it is the “responses from European governments [that] are having harmful effects on human rights in Europe.” Once again, the NGO does not make concrete recommendations for combatting antisemitism, and instead focuses on “protect[ing] people’s right to peaceful protest and expression and ensur[ing] that governments’ security responses to violence don’t harm rights.”

The only place where HRW is willing to condemn a government for its “inadequate response to antisemitism” is Russia in the North Caucasus, in response to mob violence targeting Jews at the Dagestan airport. 

HRW’s erasing of Jewish concerns can also be seen in its condemnation of the Swiss government for suspending funding to 11 NGOs involved in Palestinian-Israeli issues, pending a review. HRW published a statement by a researcher from its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program (it is entirely unclear what Swiss funding for NGOs has to do with this department at HRW), referring to the NGOs in question as “respected human rights organizations” and “human rights defenders” and condemning the government decision. HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan tweeted, calling the development “deeply flawed and disappointing” and implying that it was inconsistent with “accountability and compliance.” 

As shown by NGO Monitor, there was more than sufficient cause to justify Switzerland’s suspension, and ultimately, the government’s decision to end its support for three of the NGOs – two of which have links to the PFLP terror group and all three posted statements on the Hamas attacks, belittling, if not justifying, the barbaric war crimes committed on October 7. 

On Twitter, HRW employees engaged in antisemitism denial. For instance, in response to rampant violence directed at Jews on campuses across the United States, ADL and Brandeis Center wrote to university administrations calling on them to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Instead of taking a stand against the blatant and widespread antisemitism, HRW Director of Crisis Advocacy Akshaya Kumar  tweeted, “Can we get the @ACLU @NYCLU involved here? The @ADL are testing just how far they can go… and it’s worrying that they’re seeing so little pushback.”

Likewise, HRW Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa division Eric Goldstein tweeted, in response to the congressional censure of Rashida Tlaib for antisemitism – including using the genocidal slogan, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – tweeted, “Members of US Congress who censured #RashidaTlaib  and who shovel billions in aid to #Israel despite its West Bank settlements are themselves supporting a ‘River to the Sea’ project — for Jews.”

Senior EU Advocate Claudio Francavilla coupled denialism with tokenism. Quoting from “Jewish speakers” at a rally in Brussels, Fracavilla tweeted, “Condemning #Israel’s government crimes is not #antisemitim” and “As Jewish, we know all too well what happens when people are called animals. #NeverAgain means never again for anyone. #NeverAgainIsNow.” The speakers were from a marginal group that does not represent the Jewish community in Belgium. Francavilla did not include their comments accusing Israel of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” as well as “a fight against colonization, against occupation, against apartheid…a fight that has been going on for over 75 years!”

In response to Israeli claims that Amnesty International’s activism was “antisemitic,” Francavilla tweeted, “How utterly pathetic of #Israel’s authorities, and how insulting towards Jewish people and communities who are facing real, despicable #antisemitism in their daily lives – and many of whom harshly criticise the Israeli government’s actions, including its ongoing war crimes.” See here, here, and here for examples of Amnesty’s antisemitism, as well as here for analysis of its propaganda on the Gaza war.

Focus on Lobbying Europe Against Israel

Since October 7, HRW has made a concerted effort to lobby Europe to weaken its support for Israel and adopt an anti-Israel stance. On November 8, Tirana Hassan sent a letter to EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell and the foreign ministers of EU member states. The letter accused Israel of “unlawful actions,” including: “collective punishment, which is also a war crime”; “the war crime of forced displacement” (for trying to move civilians away from intense fighting in Northern Gaza); “disregard for international humanitarian law”; “unprecedented repression”; “the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians”; “unlawful, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of explosive weapons”; and blocking Palestinians “from exercising their right to return.”

Hassan also condemned EU officials for expressing “categorical support for the Israeli government to act militarily” and the EU and European governments for supposed “double standards” in not pushing for ICC prosecution of Israelis; for not “reconiz[ing] – let alone proposed measures to address – Israeli officials’ commission of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians”; and for voting against the UNGA resolution on an International Court of Justice case against Israel. 

HRW demanded that European governments sanction Israel by “Suspend[ing] military assistance and arms sales to the Israeli government so long as its forces commit widespread, serious abuses amounting to war crimes against Palestinian civilians with impunity.”

This letter was an expansion of earlier themes from Hassan, who expressed her dismay to Euronews on October 26 that the EU had not shown “same level of condemnation” towards Israel that it had toward Hamas.