Rattling the Cage: The smearing of human rights organizations

From the way the PMO is denouncing Human Rights Watch, you'd think the organization was an anti-Semitic, pro-Hamas propaganda machine that was financed by the Saudis.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
From the way the Prime Minister's Office is denouncing Human Rights Watch, you'd think the New York-based human rights organization was an anti-Semitic, pro-Hamas propaganda machine that was financed by the Saudis. In a news feature last Friday titled "Israel vs. Human Rights Watch," The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon quoted Ron Dermer, director of policy planning for the Prime Minister's Office, giving Israel's official view of all these human rights reports, especially from HRW, about Operation Cast Lead. "The reports of these organizations are an attempt to undermine Israel's legitimate right to self-defense," Dermer said, adding that those who are attacking Israel for defending itself against terrorists using civilians as human shields are playing Hamas's game. "Every NGO that participates in this adds fuel to the fire and is serving the cause of Hamas." (In other words, you're either with us - all the way, no matter what we do - or you're with the terrorists. And remember, Israel values the right to dissent.) The catalyst for this campaign was the discovery that in May, HRW officials went fund-raising in Saudi Arabia. Meeting with a group that included an important Saudi cleric, they described HRW's work in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, including its reports on Operation Cast Lead and the opposition it faces from "pro-Israel pressure groups," according to a story in the Saudi Arab News. "Grossly immoral," said Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, an organization whose sole activity is to tear down human rights organizations that are critical of Israel. (It was NGO Monitor that first picked up on the Arab News item.) Said Prime Minister's Office spokesman Mark Regev: "A human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women's rights group asking the Taliban for a donation." Sinister, isn't it? Now we know why Human Rights Watch writes all those terrible things about the way we treat Palestinians - because it's bought and paid for by the Islamofascists! But before we lobby Congress to list HRW as a terrorist front, let's see if it really is as one-sided against Israel as we think. Let's see what it has to say, for instance, about Saudi Arabia. "Human rights conditions remain poor in Saudi Arabia," begins HRW in its 2009 report. Some highlights: Foreign workers in the kingdom "suffer a range of abuses and labor exploitation, sometimes rising to slavery-like conditions." Migrant domestic workers "endure a range of abuses including forced confinement in the workplace, food deprivation and psychological, physical and sexual abuse." Regardless of nationality, "detainees, including children, are commonly the victims of systematic and multiple violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest and torture and ill-treatment in detention. Saudi judges routinely sentence defendants to thousands of lashes, often carried out in public. In 2008, the kingdom carried out 88 executions as of mid-November." "Official tolerance for incitement to violence contrasted with intolerance toward dissident opinion." "Saudi Arabia systematically discriminates against its religious minorities." Incidentally, this report was published in January - months before HRW's fund-raising trip. Whoever those potential donors were, they probably weren't the Saudis who hold the whips. The kingdom's regime, I imagine, is not a big fan of Human Rights Watch. Continuing on the issue of whether HRW is biased against Israel, let's look at a report it published in April about Hamas's attacks on its own people during Operation Cast Lead. Titled "Under Cover of War," it begins: "This 26-page report documents a pattern since late December 2008 of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maimings by shooting and extradjudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces." One of the many examples given is an attack by four armed, masked men on the al-Najjar family, in which they killed the father and wounded 10 others. "The victims ranged in age from a 12-year-old girl, Ahlam Hisham al-Najjar, who was shot in the leg, to Zakkia al-Najjar, 70, Ahlam's grandmother, who was shot in both legs. 'After the gunmen left, I saw a sea of blood,' said Amar Hisham al-Najjar, 25. He told Human Rights Watch that the gunmen shot his father Hisham in the chest, the abdomen and the legs." The report doesn't let Fatah off, either, and makes it clear that Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence didn't begin with Operation Cast Lead: "Internal political violence in Gaza and the West Bank is not new. Over the past three years, Hamas and its chief rival, Fatah, which controls the West Bank, have carried out arbitrary arrests of each other's supporters and subjected detainees to torture and ill-treatment." So much for Human Rights Watch's "serving the cause of Hamas." So much for its "grossly immoral" relationship with Saudi Arabia. The truth known to everyone outside the right-wing echo chamber is that HRW, like Amnesty International, like the International Committee for the Red Cross - all of which have slammed Israel's actions in Operation Cast Lead - are impartial, credible sources of information. They go after everybody - Israel, Saudi Arabia, Hamas, Fatah, Iran, Syria, the US, Britain - whoever and wherever human rights are being violated. Can the same thing be said about NGO Monitor? NGO Monitor doesn't have a word of criticism for Israel, nor a word of acknowledgment, even grudging, for any detail in any human rights report that shows Israel to be less than utterly blameless. In fact, on the subject of Israel's human rights record, NGO Monitor doesn't have a word of disagreement with the Prime Minister's Office. So who's one-sided in this? Who's got the "agenda"? Who's believable and who's not? In any country but this one, the answer's so obvious there's nothing to discuss. But this country, unfortunately, lies deep inside the right-wing echo chamber.