The Supposedly Neutral Organization Turning “Human Rights” into a Weapon against Israel

July 29, 2020 | Gerald Steinberg and Maayan Rockland
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Writing of the tyranny of France’s revolutionary regime, the English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke described “the rights of men” as “that grand magazine of offensive weapons” in which could be found the most “effectual instrument of despotism.” For a 21st-century illustration of his claim, one need only look to Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization that has become mired in obsessive hatred of Israel, while all-too-ready to ignore the crimes of actual despots when politically convenient. Yet governments, the media, and the United Nations tend to take the reports of HRW and similar organizations as objective and reliable.

Gerald Steinberg and Maayan Rockland detail how the group defames the Jewish state, beginning by pointing to the role of such individuals as Sarah Leah Whitson, who served for sixteen years as the head of HRW’s Middle East operations:

In May 2009, Whitson went to Saudi Arabia seeking donors, emphasizing HRW’s “work on Israel and Gaza, which depleted HRW’s budget for the region,” and the need to stand up to “pro-Israel pressure groups.” . . . Whitson often echoed classic anti-Semitic tropes and Jewish conspiracy theories, particularly on Twitter. In January 2015, she commented on the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s display of “death and torture in Syria,” stating that the Holocaust Museum should “also show pic[tures] of death and destruction in #Gaza.” Recently . . . Whitson, [in her tweets about Israel], invoked the classic blood libel: “Such a tiny taste. Missing a tablespoon of blood.”

Or take the case of Zena al-Tahhan, another HRW Israel “expert,” whose tweets cross the line from anti-Israel propaganda to outright praise of terrorism:

Tahhan’s Twitter posts reflect deep involvement and experience in propaganda, political activism, and acceptance if not endorsement of terror and violence. In January 2015, for example, she compared the terror attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, which killed seventeen, to the “battle of Shuja’iyya” during the 2014 Gaza war,  commenting that “seventeen died and they called it a massacre; . . . 120 were slaughtered [while fighting] courageously and they called it a battle.” She called the use of the term “massacre” to refer to the Charlie Hebdo attack a “hypocrisy.”

Steinberg and Rockland encourage the Israeli government to shift away from its inconsistent and ad-hoc responses to HRW’s propaganda, and take a more systematic approach:

[I]t is important to counter the soft-power influence HRW enjoys among liberal government officials, particularly in Western Europe, and in international institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court. To be effective, [Jerusalem’s] strategy should include transmission of detailed information on the deep bias and lack of credibility under the facade of researching and promoting a universal and neutral “human-rights” agenda.

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