NGO accuses HRW of Israel obsession

J'lem watchdog: While HRW condemns IDF actions in Gaza, rocket attacks are labeled as "retaliatory."

idf checkpoint 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Human Rights Watch has systematically condemned Israel for "collective punishment" in the Gaza Strip, undermining its stated agenda of promoting human rights universally, according to a report released this week by the Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor. The report, which provides a detailed analysis of HRW's publications and statements in 2007, compares the group's coverage of Israel with the way it treats other countries in similar situations, and concludes that its continued condemnations of Israeli actions are disproportionate and reflect a "clear, identifiable political bias." "This report shows, yet again, that any claim of even-handedness by Human Rights Watch is hollow," said NGO Monitor's executive director, Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gerald Steinberg. "Their exclusive condemnation of Israeli 'collective punishment' is discriminatory, and should end immediately. HRW's continued disproportionate focus on Israel is not only an injustice, but it also allows some of the worst human rights abusers in the Middle East, countries like Syria and Libya, to escape serious scrutiny." "The idea that we exclusively condemn Israel is absurd," said HRW Middle East Division Deputy Director Joe Stork. "We do criticize the Israeli blockade of Gaza as collective punishment, and solidly so. But I haven't seen this report from Mr. Steinberg, and he seldom has anything useful or truthful to say - you can quote me on that." But citing Russia's 1999 policy of denying power, water, food or any humanitarian assistance to Chechnya - an action NGO Monitor says was far more widespread than Israel's blockade of Gaza - the report says that situation was not described as "collective punishment" by Human Rights Watch. Furthermore, the report points out that Azerbaijan's 1994 blockade of Armenia was supported by HRW, on the grounds that Armenia was "financing a war." The report also mentions that while HRW condemns IDF actions against Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks from Gaza, the attacks themselves are labeled as "retaliatory," thus faulting Israel for the violence on both sides. "That's absolutely false," said Stork. "We do not characterize these attacks as such, and if it's quoted in the report, it's been taken out of context. I'd be surprised if they're quoted at all." While Stork could not point out any other country HRW had accused of "collective punishment," he stood by his organization's use of the term, and its application to Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip. "When that's what the crime is, that's what we call it," he said. "When the shoe fits. Collective punishment is completely appropriate to describe the Israeli blockade of Gaza."