Are NGOs like HWR keeping France in check?

Earlier this week I published an article on the rise of French Anti-Semitism and real threat of Pogroms in early 21st century France.

The article ends with “Amid the rising anti-Semitism in France, Non Governmental Organizations and Governmental agencies should be tasked in assisting the French Jewish community battling anti-Semitism.  The attacks on Jews in France may already be referred to as “Pogroms”.  I have personally extended invitations to former classmates, French Jews, some of whom have already begun to leave France for the United States and Israel.   It is my hope that the parallels in history between earlier Pogroms in Jewish history and the Pogroms seen in early 21st century France ends today.” - It is a call for action among Governmental and Non-Governmental organizations to battle the rise of anti-Semitism in France. 

Amidst the rising anti-Semitism in France, The Human Rights Watch should be tasked in assisting the French Jewish community battling anti-Semitism.  The reality is it will most likely not; seemingly preoccupied with its relentless criticism of both Israel and a splintering Arab world.  

To give a background into the organization; The Human Rights Watch, or HRW, was originally created under the label “Helsinki Watch” in 1978 to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accord. Since then it has slowly become an internationally celebrated organization devoted to striving to prevent discrimination, promoting political freedom, and putting an end to violence; particularly during and after war.  

The organization’s criticism of the recent rise in widespread French xenophobia came predominantly from extensive reporting into the French headscarf bans. According to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRW “The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice. For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, it is about religious obligation.”

On one hand, in recent years, the HRW has been critiqued for its (justified or not) unrelenting condemnation of many cultural facets of Arabic life and Islam. For example, the HRW is very vocal in its criticism of the way women are oppressed in Wahhabi Islam and more extreme interpretations of Islam  (mentioned in the Letters: Credible Approach on Human Rights).   It covered extensively the arrest and release of female Saudi activists seeking driving privileges.  

HRW has covered developments in Syria and Iraq.  It has reported on Human Rights violations by ISIS.  It has included reports of Kurdish children from Korbani being tortured by ISIS. The children had been kidnapped and abused for over 6 months.  Action came swiftly from the HRW, reporting on the abuses began as early as one month into their captivity with a call by HRW to ISIS The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) should immediately release the estimated 133 Kurdish boys it has held hostage in Northern Syria” and characterized the kidnappings as “war crimes”. 

HRW’s stance against capital punishment, minority rights, homosexuality, misogyny, and mass murder put it at odds with failing Arab states and emerging pseudo-states like ISIS.  Former HRW chairman and founder Robert L. Bernstein brought his concerns forward as early as 2009 when he mentioned that Human Rights Watch “has lost critical perspective" on events in the Middle East. According to him, the Middle East is populated by authoritarian regimes with far worse humanitarian records than Israel, yet Israel has been singled out for condemnation by the HRW.

In reference to Israeli defensive actions, in 2009, he came to Israel’s defense and urged the organization to find the difference between “wrongs perpetrated in self-defense, or wrongs perpetrated intentionally.” The organization really has not brought about a better understanding of the Arab world, but instead seems to solely exist to criticize Israel.

                  On the other hand, Tom Porteus, former director of the London branch of Human Rights Watch, rejected these claim as “an obvious double standard” and saying that “any credible human rights organization must apply the same human rights standards to all countries” . In other words, he believes that HRW’s criticism of Israel is just, and that the scrutiny applied is equal to other countries in the Middle East. He justifies himself by saying that the society, open or closed, must be subjected to “hold all to the same standards.”  This means, Israel, will draw greater criticism than countries that commit periodic atrocities, but behind closed doors, with severe limits on media and freedom of speech. 

                  Concerns over the ethics of the Human Rights Watch also extend into the West itself, with allegations of the HRW deliberately ignoring obvious cases of Anti-Semitism in European communities, even prompting a direct reference from the Spanish Foreign Minister in a Washington, D.C. address “NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International pay little attention to anti-Semitism.”

In terms of warfare coverage in the Middle East, Israel is vilified, and as a culture in general, Arabs are vilified. Israel’s defensive actions in the Lebanon war was highly criticized by HRW, with many accusing them of gross hyperbole, a tiny bully. But the HRW also reports extensively on fundamentalist Islam. Alleging that they are misogynistic, and criticizing their stances on women’sgay rights, and positions on capital punishment.  

HRW reporting has thus far been too distracted with Israel and the splintering Arab states.  HWR needs to begin covering the growing concern of anti-Semitism in France.  An article heading put out by The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, sums up the concern felt by many: Does Human Rights Watch Understand the Nature of Prejudice?