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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Learning when to shut up

Human Rights Watch has gotten a lot of bad publicity in these parts lately. Its Middle East chief, Sarah Leah Whitson, was 'caught' fundraising in Saudi Arabia with a blatantly anti-Israel appeal. Her deputy, Joe Stork, who has written many of the nastiest reports about Israel, including the most recent one, was exposed as having supported the Munich Olympic massacre and Saddam Hussein.

Some of you may be wondering, who is watching the watchers? We may finally have an answer to that question.
At a time when Jews are anxious about how Israel will fare in negotiations with the Obama administration over a peace deal with the Palestinians, the Stork and Whitson affairs present an unfamiliar problem to HRW: how to reassure liberal Jews, including HRW’s founder and one of its current board members, worried that the organization is playing into the hands of anti-Israel activists from New York to Riyadh. Whether or not its staff actively seek out ways to target Israel, as Netanyahu’s office claims, by appearing to focus so many of its resources on Israel—five reports have been issued already since the Gaza War, three of them criticizing the IDF’s conduct, and another report about Israel’s “wanton destruction” is forthcoming—and by hiring people like Stork and Whitson, HRW, under executive director Ken Roth, leaves those doubts unanswered. “Ken feels their facts are right, and the critics are wrong, next case,” said Sid Sheinberg, the former Hollywood mogul and vice-chair of HRW’s board. “I don’t believe that’s the way the Israelis should be treated.”

Founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch—mainly to help insure that dissident intellectuals were treated fairly by the Soviet Union in accordance with the Helsinki Accords—HRW has, over the past 20 years, come to occupy a diplomatic position of heft and responsibility, “somewhere between a permanent and a rotating member of the Security Council,” jokes one longtime U.N. watcher. Even harsh critics like Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University who also runs NGO Monitor, which tracks HRW and other NGOs in Israel, concede that HRW is unmatched as a voice for exposing grave human rights abuses, from Sudan to China. According to Roth, its work in Israel is no different from its work anywhere else. “We look at the worst abuse on both sides,” he said, pointing out recent reports on Hamas rocket fire and executions. “It’s not that we’re exclusively focusing on Israel. But if the question is, ‘Why are we more concerned about the [Gaza] war rather than on other rights abuses?’ Well, we’ve got to pick and choose—we’ve got finite resources.”


“They frequently say, ‘We’re trying to be evenhanded,’” said Robert Bernstein, the founder of Helsinki Watch and now a board member emeritus at HRW. “I don’t understand trying to be evenhanded, because to me Israel is interested and a believer in human rights and it stands out in the Middle East as practicing it in their country.” At its inception, he said, Helsinki Watch planned only to operate in closed societies—undemocratic, illiberal countries without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and other basic rights. Operating in open, democratic societies like Israel is complicated because, as Bernstein noted, there are domestic organizations, like B’tselem in Israel, that do “a beautiful job” of holding their own governments accountable. “If you could cover every human rights act, it would be fine,” Bernstein said. “But you can’t, so you have to make choices about what you cover, and once you make choices, you’re political, whether you want to be or not.” The overall result of HRW’s current work, he added, “is to say we’re being evenhanded in a way that makes it come out that both sides are equal abusers of human rights—I don’t agree with that.”


But critics like Sheinberg, the legendary Lew Wasserman’s longtime No. 2 at MCA, respond that even being right isn’t the same as succeeding as a rights organization. Recently a donor called Sheinberg asking whether it was too late to have his donation to HRW refunded in light of an an op-ed Whitson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, in which she bluntly compared Israeli settlers to thieves. For Sheinberg, the message was clear: “Don’t we know when it’s time to talk and when it’s time to shut up?”
Will the current Middle East group be replaced with a group that is less biased against Israel and more willing to look at abuses by the undemocratic countries of our region? We haven't seen any indication of that yet. But if people like Robert Bernstein and Sid Sheinberg get their way, perhaps Human Rights Watch will at least learn when to shut up.

There's more on this story here (via The Corner).


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Chrysler 300M said...

Simon Wiesenthal Center


Founded 1977, "The Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to repairing the world one step at a time. The Center's multifaceted mission generates changes through the Snider Social Action Institute and education by confronting antisemitism, hate and terrorism, promoting human rights and dignity, standing with Israel, defending the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations."

Official Website:

Los Angeles, CA

Founding Date:

Name Occupation Birth Death Known for
Roland Arnall
29-Mar-1939 17-Mar-2008 Ameriquest billionaire
Jeffrey Katzenberg
21-Dec-1950 Produced Shrek
Nelson Peltz
c. 1943 CEO of Triarc
Sid Sheinberg
14-Jan-1935 President and COO of MCA, 1973-95
Gary Winnick
13-Oct-1947 Founder of Global Crossing

who is the enemy ?

At 1:36 PM, Blogger abba said...

one of the first members of the helsinki group was natan sharansky as noted in his biography. look how far they have strayed!


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