Harvard prof. defends rights groups on Israel

Prof. Henry Steiner says Israel's actions must be put in the context of the threats it faces from its neighbors.

The founder of Harvard University's human rights program criticized the UN's treatment of Israel as "shameless", while defending organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from charges of systemic anti-Israel bias. Prof. Henry Steiner, on a trip to the region this week, acknowledged that some groups have unfairly targeted Israel, but said that among most of the well-established groups there was "no conscious effort" to demonize Israel. "Israel is in the position of occupier and dominant power, and the occupier and dominant power will always draw more attention for violations," he said. "As long as the occupation continues... there will be very close scrutiny of the character of the occupation." Despite this, Steiner said that Israel's actions must be put in the context of the threats it faces from its neighbors and that on the whole "Israel is a remarkably open country when it comes to speech and advancing positions and having open debate." He expressed concern that the UN's new human rights structure would suffer "all of the fragility of the old system," declaring that thus far "Israel has been treated shamelessly" in the UN. He also criticized the International Court of Justice's advisory ruling declaring the separation fence illegal. "That opinion is so lacking in security consideration," he said, "it erodes the substance and character of the opinion and much of its worth." But he also chided Israel for not defending itself before the body. Steiner gave the inaugural lecture Sunday of the Human Rights Forum at the Hebrew University's Minerva Center for Human Rights.