Human Rights Watch can't decide whether Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel off the map are a human rights violationwhether genocide is still genocide when it's directed at Jews....
Some at the nonprofit want to denounce Iran's regime for inciting genocide. "Sitting still while Iran claims a 'justification to kill all Jews and annihilate Israel' . . . is a position unworthy of our great organization," Sid Sheinberg, the group's vice chairman, wrote to colleagues in a recent email.
Asked in 2010 about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel "must be wiped off the map," Mr. Roth suggested that the Iranian president has been misunderstood.
"There was a real question as to whether he actually said that," Mr. Roth told The New Republic, because the Persian language lacks an idiom for wiping off the map. Then again, Mr. Ahmadinejad's own English-language website translated his words that way, and the main alternative translation—"eliminated from the pages of history"—is no more benign. Nor is Mr. Ahmadinejad an outlier in the regime. Iran's top military officer declared earlier this year that "the Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel."
Mr. Roth's main claim is legalistic: Iran's rhetoric doesn't qualify as "incitement"—which is illegal under the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948—but amounts merely to "advocacy," which is legal.
"The theory" to which Human Rights Watch subscribes, he has written in internal emails, "is that in the case of advocacy, however hateful, there is time to dissuade—to rebut speech with speech—whereas in the case of incitement, the action being urged is so imminently connected to the speech in question that there is no time to dissuade. Incitement must be suppressed because it is tantamount to action."
Mr. Roth added in another email: "Many of [Iran's] statements are certainly reprehensible, but they are not incitement to genocide. No one has acted on them."
So if genocidal talk isn't causing genocidal action in "real time," Human Rights Watch must sit on its hands. That approach seems to miss the purpose of both the Genocide Convention—to stop genocide before it happens, not simply litigate it afterward—and of human-rights activism generally. Human Rights Watch says its mission is "strategic, targeted advocacy," but apparently the organization needs to see a genocide in progress before condemning the rhetoric of its perpetrators.
For decades Human Rights Watch has done brave reporting behind the Iron Curtain, in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, communist China and other dark corners. Yet its silence on Iran's genocidal rhetoric fits a pattern toward Israel.But Leftist Jews will go on supporting 'Human Rights Watch.' At least until the Muslims come after them.
What could go wrong?