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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Human Rights Watch's employment of a man who trades and collects Nazi memorabilia as its "senior military expert" is a "new low" for the organization that frequently criticizes Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy director Ron Dermer said Wednesday.
"I thought that nothing could top a human rights organization trying to raise money in Saudi Arabia, but I was apparently wrong," said Dermer, referring to HRW's fundraising efforts in the kingdom earlier this year, using its reports against Israel as a sales pitch. "A war crimes investigator who is an avid collector and trader in Nazi memorabilia is perhaps a new low."
Dermer was referring to reports, both in the blogosphere and the press, that Marc Garlasco, HRW's senior military expert, who has written numerous reports condemning Israel, is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.
Omri Ceren, on a blog called Mere Rhetoric, wrote that Garlasco was "obsessed with the color and pageantry of Nazism, has published a detailed 430-page book on Nazi war paraphernalia, and participates in forums for Nazi souvenir collectors."
Dermer said the revelations made it "easier to understand how an organization that was initially called Helsinki Watch, and was dedicated to helping brave Soviet dissidents fight against tyranny, has turned into an organization that facilitates the assault of some of the worst regimes and terror groups against the very democratic countries that uphold human rights.
"Rather than defend the indefensible ties and statements of its employees, Human Rights Watch should restore its credibility as a human rights organization and help in the struggle to advance freedom and human rights around the world."
HRW issued a statement saying that Garlasco's family experience on both sides of WWII - his grandfather was in the German army and his great-uncle was in the US air force - led him to collect military memorabilia from that period.
NGO monitor, which on Tuesday issued a report on what it says were HRW's consistently faulty methodology and anti-Israel bias, issued a statement saying that Garlasco's background, "when combined with his central role in the condemnations of Israel under false banners of 'human rights' violations and 'war crimes,' show that he is entirely inappropriate as a human rights reporter."
According to NGO Monitor, Garlasco was involved in HRW's critical investigation into the Gaza Beach incident in 2006, the very critical report on white phosphorous use in the recent Gaza War, and the group's recent damning report of Israeli use of drones to deliver precision-guided warheads.
NGO Monitor head Gerald Steinberg said there was a moral problem with a collector of Nazi memorabilia serving as HRW's military expert.
"HRW is dealing with moral issues - that is their only claim to existence," he said. "So for an organization to have as senior military analysis someone with a Nazi fetish is very problematic. It is certainly insensitive."
HRW emphatically denied that Garlasco was a Nazi sympathizer because he "collected German [as well as American] military memorabilia."
HRW said the "accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch's rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government."
Garlasco, HRW said in a statement, "has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views."
According to the statement Garlasco's grandfather was conscripted into the German army during the war and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery.
"He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist," the statement said, adding that his Garlasco's great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.
"Garlasco own family's experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects [not from the Nazi Party or the SS]," the statement said.
HRW said Garlasco was the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to Web sites that promote serious historical research into WWII.
"To imply that Garlasco's collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime," the statement read. "These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians."
In a related issue, senior government officials said that the whole issue of NGOs and the support some of them receive from foreign governments will be discussed in the Knesset in November. The sources said possible "legislative responses" would be considered, one of which is expected to be the possibility that restrictions might be placed on foreign government aid to the NGOs.