Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday night attacked the anti-Israel bias of human rights organizations.
"We must expose the hypocrisy of human rights organizations that turn a blind eye to the most repressive regimes in the world, regimes that stone women and hang gays, and instead target the only liberal democracy in the Middle East," Netanyahu said.
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He did not specifically address a 166-page report accusing Israel of human rights violations in the West Bank, issued earlier in the day by the international group Human Rights Watch, which was entitled, "Separate and Unequal." It called on the United States to financially penalize Israel by deducting the funds spent on settlements from its financial assistance to Israel.
Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev, however, attacked the report, which he characterized as "anti-Israel." "Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have seen a series of documented cases in which a blatant anti-Israel agenda has polluted the reports of HRW," Regev said.
Its methodology was wrong and it ignored the "fundamental facts on the ground," Regev said. He added that, "this is unfortunately yet another one sided report." Jerusalem based HRW researcher Bill Van Esveld defended the report, stating that it was not anti-Israel, but rather was an attempt to constructively criticize its treatment of the Palestinians who live in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli control, and in east Jerusalem.
There are "easy fixes" the Israeli government could take to address these issues, said Van Esveld.
In its report, HRW called on the US to "avoid offsetting the costs of Israeli expenditures on settlements by withholding US funding from the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank." The US already deducts money from its loan guarantee program to Israel, whose funds are earmarked for civilian use. Military assistance, which makes up the bulk of US funding to Israel, is not similarly penalized.
HRW also called on Congress to investigate donations to settlement activity made by American tax-exempt non-governmental organizations and charities. It also asked Congress to reexamine the tax-exempt status of such donations.
The US and Europe, it said, should also ensure that settlement-made products are not given preferential tariff treatment.
The Israeli government should "immediately suspend discriminatory policies that privilege settlers and harm Palestinians, and afford Palestinians treatment that is at least equal to that afforded to settlers," the report stated. It further called on Israel to remove its citizens from the West Bank, which it believes that Israel has illegally settled.
The report stated that Israel, "appears to be the only country to contest that its settlements are illegal." Its treatment of the Palestinians in Area C and east Jerusalem, stated the report, violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law because its actions against the Palestinians are based on "race," "ethnicity" and national origin.
The report took Israel to task for limiting Palestinian access and movement and for discriminatory practices when it came to allocation of resources such as land and water.
"Average Israeli per capita consumption of water including water consumption by settlers is 4.3 times that of Palestinians in the occupied territories (including Gaza), according to the World Health Organization. In the Jordan Valley, an estimated 9,000 settlers in Israeli agricultural settlements use one-quarter the total amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people," the report stated.
It also chastised Israel for settlement construction and for demolishing Palestinians homes and displacing Palestinians.
Israel, the report said, has defended its treatment of Palestinians, on the grounds that it is necessary for security reasons.
"But no security or other legitimate rationale can explain many instances of differential treatment of Palestinians, such as permit denials that effectively prohibit Palestinians from building or repairing homes, schools, roads, and water tanks; repairing a home does not under any stretch of the imagination constitute a security threat," stated the report.
But while the report used interesting case studies to highlight well-known issues with respect to the West Bank and east Jerusalem, it relied on data compiled by other organizations. Most of the data had already been published and in some cases it was outdated.
The report also made no mention of the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction and measures the Netanyahu government has taken to improve movement and access for the Palestinians.
NGO Monitor attacked the report for relying on flawed data and in some
cases misquoting it. It also noted that its independent research, which
included interviews with 66 Palestinians but only 8 Israelis, was
"anecdotal and lacked credibility." "Presenting information in this
manner only serves to reinforce the myth of Palestinian victimization a
tactic that does not foster an environment conducive to peace and mutual
understanding," said NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg.
According to NGO Monitor, the 166-page report on the settlements is the
longest one issued by Human Rights Watch in the last two years.
"Human Rights Watch has issued more reports and documents on Israel in
2010 than on any other country in the region," said NGO Monitor, which
explained that the settlements report was the third one issued about
Israel this year.
It noted that the HRW's five-year report, issued in 2007, on systemic
Saudi Arabian abuses is only 52 pages long, while its report on Syria in
the past decade, issued this past July, was only 35 pages.
NGO Monitor said that the head of the HRW¹s Middle East and Africa
Division Sarah Leah Whitson in 2009 actually went to Saudi Arabia to
raise funds, selling the message that HRW¹s role is central in
countering "pro-Israel pressure groups." Regev said that HRW has a
problematic history of unfairly attacking Israel.
He noted that in October 2009, its founder Robert Bernstein wrote an
op-ed in The New York Times, saying, "in recent years Human Rights Watch
has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of
international law than of any other country in the region." Bernstein
said that Israel was a country of 7.4 million with 80 human rights
organizations and a free press.
"Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million
people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little
or no internal dissent," Bernstein wrote.
Marc Garlasco, who had been a senior analyst for HRW, resigned in
February following reports he was an enthusiastic collector of Nazi
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip also attacked the report.
"It seems that HRW, an organization infamous since one of its senior
Middle East analysts engaged in collecting Nazi memorabilia, is now
producing by itself Goebbels-like propaganda," he said.
"How seriously can you take a report that claims that Israel displaced
31% of the Palestinians in Area C? That is, of course, complete
nonsense," he added.