Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Scribblings: A notable absence

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Tzvi Fleischer


Personnel is Policy

As Gerald Steinberg demonstrates in this month’s “Deconstruction Zone” opposite, the venerable non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has effectively discredited itself among knowledgeable observers when it comes to the Middle East in recent years. Instead of impartially monitoring human rights as defined by international treaties, it has not only developed a relentless focus on Israel, but also engaged in what has come to be called “lawfare”. This involves using terminology taken from international law, but stretching or completely re-writing the concepts involved to attack an opponent, in this case Israel. The recent claims about white phosphorus use highlighted by Steinberg is a classic example. No one knowledgeable in international law has ever previously claimed that the use of phosphorus for smoke and illumination, as opposed to as incendiary devices, is illegal. The International Red Cross has since confirmed that it is not. But HRW has suddenly “discovered” a new “law” against its use for these purposes in populated areas, just so they can create a storm by alleging a “war crime” by Israel.

Why has this happened at HRW? It’s very simple. As the saying goes, personnel is policy and virtually all senior employees of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division came to the job with a history of anti-Israel activism. Almost all of them, in fact, already belonged to organisations which declared Israel an “apartheid state”, demanded boycotts of Israel, and/or supported Palestinian terrorism against Israel.

The division is run by Director Sarah Leah Whitson and Deputy Director Joe Stork.

Before coming to HRW, Whitson was associated with the radical left-wing NGOs MADRE and CESR (Centre for Social and Economic Rights), both of which take an extreme anti-Israel line. MADRE, for instance, claims Israel is guilty of apartheid, and supports Palestinian terrorism on the grounds that Palestinians have the “right to resist military occupation.” At HRW, Whitson has demanded boycotts and sanctions against Israel, and in a 2007 article referred to Hamas as the “Islamic resistance” and treated its attacks as a response to Israeli aggression and “war crimes” (while condemning Hamas “responses” targeting civilians).

Prior to joining HRW in 2004, Stork was editor of the Middle East Report published by MERIP (the Middle East Research and Information Project). MERIP openly distributed PLO buttons, flags and posters; did laudatory interviews with Palestinian terrorist leaders; and spoke positively of “Palestinian resistance” and Palestinian terror attacks like the Munich Olympics massacre and the Ma’alot school massacre of 1974. Stork himself repeatedly condemned “the origins of the State of Israel and its war with the people of the Middle East” in the Middle East Report.

From 2005-2007, the division employed Lucy Mair. Mair had previously written for “Electronic Intifada”, a website which rejects Israel’s right to exist and supports terrorism. She also worked for CESR, mentioned above.

In 2008, the division hired as an associate Nadia Barhoum, a Palestinian-American activist who was previously an officer for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California, Berkeley. SJP calls Israel an “apartheid state”, demands an absolute right of return for the descendents of the 1948 refugees, and calls for boycotts and divestment against Israel. Barhoum herself, in her words and actions, has indicated she supports all three of these positions.

So next time you hear a claim about Israel or the Middle East from Human Rights Watch, it is worth remembering that it was not written by some faceless NGO dedicated to human rights. It was written by a group of veteran anti-Israel political activists whom that organisation has placed in charge of the human rights henhouse.


A Notable Absence

Israel bombed at least six mosques during the first week of its Gaza campaign. The silence about this has been pretty deafening. In a world where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in Denmark can cause widespread rioting and violence, there were almost no protests. Even Hamas itself did not make a point of campaigning against the destruction of places of worship or demanding international intervention on their behalf. Only a few Western anti-Israel activists, far from the action, used the destruction of these mosques as an examples of Israel’s “crimes”.

Why? Because it was absolutely clear that Hamas was caught red-handed using mosques as weapons storage centres and military command centres. Video released by Israeli forces proves this – as secondary explosions followed Israel’s attacks. Moreover, Gazans know the score as well. According to reports, they knew better than to try to take shelter in mosques because they knew they were essentially Hamas military bases.

Anyone who doubts that Hamas ignores all rules of warfare should remember its abuse of Gaza’s mosques, and the fact that no one has even seriously tried to allege that they were simply innocent houses of worship. And perhaps some of the Muslims who are offended by disrespect paid to their religious symbols should consider speaking up about what Hamas has been doing to Islamic places of worship in Gaza.

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