Summary:  Following a pattern of behavior demonstrated at the 2001 Durban conference, "human rights" NGOs adopted the Palestinian agenda, and joined the campaign against US President Bush’s support for Israel’s proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

On 14 April 2004, US President George W. Bush expressed his support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, following a meeting between the two leaders in Washington. Sharon’s proposal was subsequently rejected in a referendum of Likud members. The concept later received official backing from the international Quartet – the UN, EU, USA and Russia – at a meeting on 4 May.

Immediately following the Sharon – Bush meeting, the Palestinian Authority condemned the disengagement plan, issuing harsh protests and attempting to mobilize international support for their position. Following a pattern of behavior seen at the 2001 Durban conference, the major “human rights” NGOs responded swiftly by supporting the Palestinian agenda and engaging in a concerted campaign of political advocacy and opposition to the disengagement plan.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement “Israel: Bush Should Press Sharon on Rights Violations” on 13 April, even before Bush’s endorsement of the Sharon plan. Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at HRW (who has a long history of radical opposition to Israeli policies on issues unrelated to human rights) stated: “Civilian settlements in territories under military occupation violate international humanitarian law, so an Israeli initiative to end those settlements in the Gaza Strip is welcome. But the United States should not accept a quid pro quo in which Sharon seeks to consolidate or expand illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” HRW’s statement went on to criticize Israel’s security fence and called on President Bush “to tell Prime Minister Sharon that the United States expects Israel to end policies amounting to collective punishment.” This is another example of HRW’s exploitation of human rights norms, and the systematic use of entirely subjective and highly accusatory terms such as “collective punishment” to discredit Israeli security policies. The absence of any reference to the Palestinian terrorism that led to these policies also reflects this organization’s political agenda.

Taking a similar political approach, Christian Aid, one of Britain’s most powerful “charities” produced a press release “’Disengagement plan’ is another blow to Middle East peace” on 16 April. As in the many other examples (“Christian Aid’s Political Campaign Continues: ‘Peace Under Siege’" – NGO Monitor Oct. 2003 ; Christian Aid’s (UK) Principles Compromised by Anti-Israel Ideology – NGO Monitor May 2003) this declaration reflected the highly politicized rhetoric of this organization: “Another blow was dealt to the people of the Middle East with President Bush’s endorsement of Israeli plans to keep settlements in the West Bank and dismissal of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.” Christian Aid quoted Bernard Sabella of the Middle East Council of Churches and Mustafa Barghouti of the highly politicized Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees who said: “It is an assault on international legitimacy and the UN Resolutions.” Christian Aid then interpreted comments by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as “implicit criticism of Sharon’s plan and US legitimization of Israeli policy, which is clearly in breach of international humanitarian law.”

The press release, lacking any context or explanation concluded: “Within hours of the joint US-Israeli statement, Israeli forces launched a fresh attack on the refugee camp of Rafah in southern Gaza.” In addition, according to the Guardian, Christian Aid joined Oxfam and Cafod in sending a letter on these issues to British Prime Minister Tony Blair following the Bush-Sharon meeting. (“Spurned Blair in plea to Bush”)

Although its full contents were not made public, the published portion stated: “President Bush’s support for the current Israeli Prime Minister’s policy of unilateral actions is in contravention of international law and could usher in a new era of instability as Palestinians are denied their right to negotiate a viable solution. Excluding a Palestinian voice from the negotiating table is setting a dangerous precedent that could have implications across the region.”

All three organizations responsible for the letter demonstrated a lack of transparency, with no publication of the full text of the letter or the analysis that led to its content. And, as in keeping with their practice, they also used subjective legal sounding terms to demonize Israeli policy.

Amnesty International, published a long and detailed open letter to President Bush on 29 April. The letter expressed particular concern over Bush’s support for “Israel’s decision to maintain and expand Israeli settlements on occupied territory”, its “denial of the right of return to Palestinian refugees”, the “construction of the fence/wall inside the West Bank”, and the “policy of extraducially executing wanted Palestinians.”

The text then went on to critique each aspect of Israeli policy in relation to the letter sent by President Bush to Ariel Sharon in support of the disengagement plan. Amnesty, like HRW and the three UK “charities” used very aggressive political rhetoric to demonize Israeli policy without mention of Palestinian terrorism that produced these responses.

In summary, these examples demonstrate that degree to which these major international NGOs continue to exploit human rights rhetoric to support extreme anti-Israel positions, as demonstrated in the 2001 Durban conference.