Human Rights Watch head slammed for tweet on Iran’s attack on Saudi

The Head of HRW called Iran's attack on Saudi Arabia “far better than the Saudi crown prince’s attacks on Yemen.”

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/PIERRE ALBOUY)
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018
Head of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth was slammed on Tuesday for a tweet that said Iran’s attack on Saudi oil installations was “far better than the Saudi crown prince’s attacks on Yemen.”
The tweet was in response to a Reuters article that showed Iran had avoided hitting civilians or Americans in its attack, so as not to provoke a response from Saudi Arabia or the US.
Ali Shihabi, a commentator on Middle East politics, asked “about Syria’s innocent 500,000 casualties that” Iran has contributed to causing. Thousands replied to Roth, who has led the organization since the early 1990s. His tweet only received several hundred retweets and likes, but thousands of replies, a Twitter phenomenon called being “ratioed” in which a tweet elicits more responses than support.
Several hours after the Iran tweet, he wrote a second tweet noting, “of course this isn’t meant to condone the Iranian supreme leader’s brutal repression at home, as his forces gun down protesters.” Iran has cut off the Internet and killed more than 100 protesters in a week of suppression.
Critics complained that Roth had said little about Iran’s regime suppressing protests. Salman al-Ansari of the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee wrote that the tweet set “a new standard of hypocrisy.”
Iyad el-Baghdadi, a writer and activist, noted that it was not a good tweet, “especially in the aftermath of an absolute massacre by the Iranian regime in Iran.” Anshel Pfeffer, author of a book on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a writer at Haaretz, wondered “what is it about the need of HRW’s senior staff to tweet their approval of leaders currently mowing down 100s of protesters.”
By Tuesday morning, the tweet had received only 324 likes and more than 1,000 responses. A review of his account noted that it appeared to be the most responded to tweet in recent days.
While Roth refers to the Iranian leader as the “supreme leader,” he seems to call Israel’s prime minister just “Netanyahu.” For instance, on November 21, he tweeted: “The long-awaited shoe drops. Now will Israel seize this opportunity to abandon Netanyahu’s policy of systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation.” On November 22, he claimed that Netanyahu “convinced [US President Donald] Trump to rip up the Geneva Conventions,” and in a second tweet called Netanyahu and Trump a “cabal.”
Roth tweets about Israel more than almost any other topic. From November 20-26, he tweeted or retweeted 32 posts about Israel, some of them related to the deportation of a member of his staff, but many related to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or tweets focused on Netanyahu.
In the same period, the second largest number of tweets were about China (28), while Iran was a distant third (10), and then Egypt and the US. Iraq, where hundreds of protesters have been killed by the security forces, received only one tweet, while Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and continued occupation of Afrin received only one.
It isn’t the first time Roth has been critiqued for a tweet that appeared to compare two terrible things and make the worse one out to be better.
On June 12, 2014, he wrote that “ISIS in Iraq reportedly tried not to alienate the local population, unlike [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and his violent, sectarian repression.” ISIS was already known as a religious extremist organization with roots in Al-Qaeda’s crimes in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS murdered 1,500 Shi’ite Iraqi cadets the same day as the tweet, and expelled minority Shi’ites and Christians from areas around Mosul. In August 2014, ISIS mass murdered thousands of members of the Yazidi minority and sold thousands of women into slavery.