Correspondence: "Selective Criticism" (on NGO Monitor’s conference), by Seth Freedman, Guardian Comment is Free, December 11, and Response from Gerald Steinberg, Executive Director, NGO Monitor (see also NGO Monitor’s Blog)
In his Guardian article on NGO Monitor’s conference, Seth Freedman demonstrated that we are doing our job – “promoting critical debate and accountability on human rights NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict”. He is right that “nobody gets a free ride” – the halo effect which has protected political superpowers like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from serious examination has no justification. When NGO reports and campaigns are based on false statements and personal ideology, the claim to promote universal human rights is left far behind. And when the 1500 groups that participated in the 2001 Durban NGO Forum sponsored by the UN hijacked these moral principles to demonize Israel, the cause of human rights was also mauled beyond recognition. NGO Monitor’s detailed research has demonstrated that NGOs select their agendas, and use legal terms such as “war crimes”, “collective punishment”, “violation of international law”, etc. in a highly selective way, and erase the context of terror. Freedman did not indicate any disagreement with the evidence and conclusion that such double standards are immoral. This is not illogical or a defensive Zionist or “Right wing” Israeli agenda (Seth — the terms Left and Right, particularly in this context, are very 20th century, but that is for another discussion.) In contrast to the NGOs, we are pluralists and invite officials whom we criticize to our conferences to present their side.
As for classical antisemitism themes and Holocaust language, I take his criticism seriously – while noting that this was only one aspect of my presentation, (which, for the record, did not mention Peace Now – Freedman got that and some other details wrong). Perhaps the association many post-Holocaust Jews made between Oxfam’s “blood orange” poster and the blood libel is overreaction, although Oxfam withdrew the signs and apologized for any offense caused. And maybe we are oversensitive to the echoes of theological antisemitism in the UK, such as linking Bethlehem, Palestinian suffering, and Israeli “aggression” plastered in the underground stations by Christian Aid during Christmas, as well as the cards sold by War on Want. However, the head of Christian Aid also apologized for the groups’ insensitivity (but yet not for their trustee, Rev John Gladwin’s recent comparison of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering).
The bottom line is that in his criticism and expression of a different view, Seth Freedman contributed to the public debate on the political and ideological impact of human rights NGOs. And that is the main point of NGO Monitor’s work.