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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Malaysian newspaper recently published an article headlined "Israel deliberately targeting civilians, says Human Rights Watch."
Turkish newspapers ran similar items, repeating HRW's statements that "Israel intentionally bombs civilians." During the Lebanon War HRW's press releases, opeds and interviews with officials were cited in hundreds of newspapers around the world, providing seeming legitimacy from a "neutral source" to the violent anti-Israel protests and calls for revenge.
For HRW and executive director Kenneth Roth, Israel is a highly emotional focus, and their reports are often biased and unreliable.
Roth's ideological objectives and slipshod methods are illustrated in an August 18 column published in The Jerusalem Post ("Indiscriminate Bombardment"). Rejecting claims that "the IDF was doing the best it could" or that Lebanese civilian deaths "were the result of Hizbullah hiding its rockets and fighters among civilians," Roth declared that this "assertion doesn't stand up to the facts." This modern blood libel accuses Israelis of "indifference to the taking of civilian lives."
But the factual basis for this article itself was glaringly absent.
Instead, Roth relied on the "halo effect," (the NGO version of "trust me"), claiming that HRW "investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanonâ€¦ In none of those cases was Hizbullah anywhere around at the time of the attack."
Lacking any verifiable evidence, Roth reassures his readers that HRW research techniques "cut through people's incentive to lie." These researchers "probed and cross-checked multiple eyewitnesses," who "were adamant that Hizbullah was not at the scene of the attack. We examined bombing sites for evidence of military activity such as trenches, destroyed rocket launchers and military equipment, or dead or wounded fighters...."
ROTH DOES not provide names, but it is likely that Lucy Mair, HRW's researcher for Israeli/Palestinian issues, was involved. A number of HRW's statements on the Lebanon war provided Mair's name and a Beirut phone number. Before coming to HRW, she published anti-Israel propaganda in pro-Palestinian platforms such as the "Electronic Intifada." This is hardly a credible biography for an "independent" researcher.
Furthermore, none of Roth's other claims can be checked, and they are totally inconsistent with the hard evidence, such as the 4,000 missiles launched by Hizbullah at Israeli civilians during this period.
Reporters from The New York Times, The New Yorker and elsewhere had no difficulty finding reliable detailed evidence of Hizbullah's activities in these areas, but HRW's "probes" and "searches" came up empty. Perhaps they were not looking very hard.
And in dismissing the justification for the IDF attack on Kana, Roth relies on confused interpretations of an article by an Israeli journalist, and denigrates video footage "trotted out" by the IDF "of Hizbullah firing rockets from a village." Instead, Roth makes the patently absurd demand for a video that would show "that Hizbullah was in a civilian building or vehicle at the time of an Israeli attackâ€¦"
Finally, Roth admits that "Hizbullah certainly should not be let off the hook" - as if the kidnappings and massive missile bombardments by terrorists are minor footnotes in terms of human rights. His claim that HRW has conducted "detailed investigations of the militia's obvious war crimes" is also inconsistent with the evidence. Of the 24 HRW statements and opeds during this war, as listed on NGO Monitor, most targeted Israel, and the only lengthy study, of over 50 pages, also focused on allegations against Israel. HRW's very limited criticisms of Hizbullah, like its statements on Palestinian terror, appear to be little more than fig leaves.
In assessing HRW's biased and unprofessional performance in the Lebanon War, previous examples provide a consistent picture. In October 2004, Roth flew to Jerusalem to publicize Razing Rafah, HRW's glossy 135-page publication condemning Israel's anti-terror operations in Gaza. The evidence in this report, which dismissed the impact of the weapons smuggling through tunnels from Egypt, was based largely on Palestinian "eyewitnesses" and claims by Marc Garlasco, HRW's "military expert."
Garlasco's published biosketch shows very limited military experience, particularly in the areas of tunneling and forensics that were emphasized in this report. Garlasco was also central to HRW's public relations campaign over the Gaza beach incident in June 2006, which supported the Palestinian version and blamed Israel. In this case as well, Garlasco relied on evidence provided by the Palestinian police, while ignoring details that were not consistent with his thesis.
With an annual budget of $50 million, Roth and his funders are obliged to insure that HRW's reports are accurate and free of ideological bias. In contrast, when these reports are instrumental in spreading anti-Israel sentiment in Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Europe and elsewhere, the result is the antithesis of the human rights objectives proclaimed by HRW.
Rather than the independent investigations of Israel that Roth always demands, it is his HRW's activities that need to be investigated.
The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University and the editor of NGO Monitor.