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Monday, November 02, 2009

LA Times bashes the critics

In Friday's Los Angeles Times, Scott MacLeod bashes Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein for Bernstein's criticism of the organization that he founded. A few responses to this attack are below.
Bernstein is just plain wrong that the organization's Middle East program focuses on Israel's alleged human rights violations while ignoring those committed by Arab governments and the Iranian regime. Even a quick glance at Human Rights Watch's website, where recent reports are posted, shows that the majority of those on the Middle East relate to countries other than Israel. According to Human Rights Watch, it has produced 1,776 total documents on the Middle East since 2000 -- 250, or 14%, of which were devoted to Israel.
No, MacLeod is just plain wrong. There are 16 countries covered by Human Rights Watch's Middle East division. 14% is a disproportionate number, especially when one considers that none of the other countries covered is free. How many reports has Human Rights Watch produced on Saudi Arabia? How many on Syria? How many on Iraq while Saddam was in power? How many on Egypt, which has been governed by a 'state of emergency' for 27 years? How many on Iran?

As Professor Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor points out in an as yet unpublished article:
Fortunately, weighted studies exist which better reflect the basis for Bernstein’s concerns at HRW’s recent misguided agenda. Analysis of HRW’s Middle East activities from 2004-8 reveals that their output during this period consistently focused more on condemnations of Israeli defense against terror than on serial human rights abusers such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

In 2008 specifically, HRW’s focus on Israel was second only to Saudi Arabia and far more than on Libya, Syria, and other chronic human rights abusers. Unlike HRW’s misleading claim that only 15% of its Middle East and North Africa reporting is devoted to Israel (a level which is unjustified in this region), analyses do not simply aggregate all HRW publications as equally significant. This detailed study recognizes the important differences between publications, such as a lengthy published report accompanied by press conferences (the norm when HRW attacks Israel) in contrast to one-page website postings that attract little attention.

Adding more evidence to this number crunching approach, NGO Monitor also studies the use of language, demonstrating that since 2005, HRW has used particular damning and unjustified terminology in attacking Israel. In a region replete with despotic regimes, the only democracy in the Middle East was condemned for “violations of human rights law” or similar terms 33 times in 2008, compared to thirteen such citations for the Palestinians, six for Hezbollah and five for Egypt.
Appallingly, MacLeod then slips into attempting to defend the human rights records of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Hamas, Hezbullah and Iran.
Bernstein describes a Middle East "populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records," most of which "remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent." Without excusing any of them, the reality is not so simple.

Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, for example, is hardly Saddam Hussein's Iraq; the Saudi ruling family cannot be equated with the Taliban either. When it comes to Israel, Mubarak has maintained the 1979 peace treaty throughout his 28 years in power; Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah sponsored the 2002 peace initiative proposing a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace accord.

Bernstein argues that the militancy of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah "continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve." He does not mention the role that Israel's long military occupation of Palestinian lands has also played in perpetuating Palestinian misery.

Bernstein shouts alarm over the fact that Hamas and Hezbollah receive support from the Tehran regime, which he asserts has "openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere." Not to sidestep the appalling behavior of any of the three, but the reality is more complicated. Hamas and Hezbollah are not Iranian puppets. Each has genuine and substantial popular support within their constituencies and throughout the Middle East -- popularity, incidentally, that is the result of fighting Israeli occupation.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's infamous assertion in 2005 that the "occupying regime" in Israel should be "wiped off the map" did not call for the annihilation of Jews in Israel or anywhere else. Iran itself is home to about 25,000 Jews who are determined to remain there. Ahmadinejad's threat can reasonably be ascribed to rhetorical bombast more than to plans for another Holocaust.
I wonder if MacLeod discussed his claims about Egypt with the country's remaining Christian Copts. I wonder if he ever tried to take a bible into Saudi Arabia, or for that matter to enter Saudi Arabia with a Jewish friend (if he has any). I wonder if MacLeod has ever visited Gaza or southern Lebanon and held an off-the-record conversation with members of the local population to see what life is like in an Islamic caliphate. And I wonder whether MacLeod would be willing to stake his life on his assertion that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't really mean what he says.

Read the whole thing. It's appalling.


At 9:30 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its wishful thinking combined with ignorance and erroneous assertions. None of which make the case for HRW but which to the contrary detract from its credibility.

At 3:25 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I love the irony of his defense of Egypt: "Mubarak has maintained the 1979 peace treaty throughout his 28 years in power". Hello, 28 years in power??? And this is okay, why?


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