11 February 2012

Human Rights Watch Founder Disses HRW

This is now old news, because the report is dated October 2009. It started in the New York Times, not noted, I understand from American watchers of these things, for its sympathy for Israel these days: indeed, some have bracketed the NYT with The Guardian for the well-known sympathy for Israel both have shown in the recent past. That last sentence, by the way, is a dictionary definition of the use of irony - in practice, the opposite of what one means.

The item was then picked up by NGO Monitor, and thus, it's here. I thought it worth rescuing this old story because we're all in danger of mistaking form for substance, and an organisation called Human Rights Watch sounds as though it should be monitoring breaches of such things. Not anymore, according to the founder, Robert L. Bernstein. He founded it in 1978 and was the founding Chairman for 20 years and, at the time of writing, had been Founding Chairman emeritus for 10 years. But the organisation, Bernstein says, "[having] had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters[has more] recently...been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state."

Well, nothing new there: plenty of organisations and groups are doing that, all over the place. Why worry about one more, we might ask ourselves. Because, Bernstein continues, "we (the original HRW, that is) always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform. That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights."

You'll get the point that Bernstein sees Israel as one of those capable of correcting the abuses and failings, unlike closed, undemocratic societies. Indeed, he more than makes the point when he goes on to note that "Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Of course, Bernstein goes on to draw the obvious lesson concerning the Arab societies that surround Israel.

By Brian Goldfarb.

Update: An Open Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. Read it and see for yourself what HRW turned into these days...

And thanks to Petra Marquardt-Bigman for the tip.