HRW HAS LOST ITS WAY Published (after editing) in The Forward May 27 2005

I sympathize with opinion columnist Leonard Fein’s pain at seeing Human Rights Watch struggling to defend its contribution to anti-Israel boycotts and false allegations of war crimes ("Monitoring The Monitor," May 20). But the NGO founded as Helsinki Watch, which once led opposition to Soviet human rights abuses, is no longer "highly regarded and respected," as Fein writes. In the process, the universal human rights principles that emerged from the Holocaust have been corrupted by a narrow ideological agenda.

Ironically, Fein’s own words illustrate NGO Monitor’s importance in exposing these abuses. In our correspondence prior to his May 20 column, Fein echoed Human Rights Watch’s standard justifications. But he apparently soon came to realize that the excuses are untenable. Fein stopped trying to refute NGO Monitor’s report on Human Rights Watch’s role in the 2001 conference in Durban, which revived the "Zionism is racism" and "apartheid" campaigns. And what remains of the attempt to defend Human Rights Watch’s Middle East staff conveniently omits the references to their previous experience in Israel-bashing. NGO Monitor exposed the credentials of Lucy Mair, who before joining Human Rights Watch wrote for the Electronic Intifada website, where she liberally used terms such as "apartheid."

Fein accepts the central argument that the heads of NGO superpowers are not immune to the requirement for accountability. But while Fein accepts Human Rights Watch’s claims at face value, others can examine the detailed quantitative analysis on NGO Monitor’s Web site. In contrast to Human Rights Watch reports on Israel, our analyses, covering dozens of NGOs, are documented. The huge growth in traffic and desperate efforts to silence the debate reflect the importance of this analysis.

NGO Monitor also demonstrates that exploitation of human rights norms is not limited to words. It is also reflected in Human Rights Watch’s support of campaigns to further isolate Israel, from the academic boycott in the United Kingdom to the commercial boycott of Caterpillar Corporation. Is this an example of the "legitimate criticism" that Fein tries to justify?

Gerald Steinberg
NGO Monitor
Jerusalem, Israel

To the Editor:

Leonard Fein’s bizarre defense of Human Rights Watch’s anti-Israel agenda and attack on NGO Monitor (May 20, 2005) reminds me of Fein’s March 16, 2001 Forward column. After years promoting Yassir Arafat as a genuine partner for peace and castigating Israeli leadership for its skepticism of the PLO chief and terror-master, Fein finally acknowledged in 2001 that he had allowed himself to be so carried away by the "prospect of peace" that he had blinded himself to Arafat’s actions and intentions.

Fein’s May 20, 2005 column is of a piece with his pre-2001 pro-Arafat pieces: confronted with embarrassing evidence that he has backed the wrong horse, Fein defends the broad ideals he is allegedly promoting, while attacking the messenger of an uncomfortable truth. Yes, human rights, like peace, are lofty goals. And surely Fein is disconcerted when NGO Monitor shows that HRW is promoting demonization of the Jewish State rather than human rights in its Israel reporting, just as Fein was once disturbed at the Israeli government’s evidence of Arafat’s promotion of terrorism.

The "errors" Fein claims to have found in NGO Monitor’s reports may be charitably characterized as silly and are unworthy of comment. Unfortunately, Fein’s stubborn refusal to discuss Human Rights Watch’s anti-Israel agenda is not. How many years will it be before Fein sheepishly acknowledges this error?


Avi Bell