Wednesday, September 09, 2009

B'tselem And PCHR Criticize Israel--But Are Ireland And Norway Getting Their Money's Worth?

As I have written before (I'm OK, Euro-K), a number of countries see fit to help finance groups that criticize Israel. You have to wonder whether these countries are getting their money's worth--especially Ireland and Norway, who appear to have hedged their bets.

IMRA notes the names of the countries that provide financial backing to B'tselem and PCHR (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights):
B'tselem's funders include the governments of UK, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland and the New Israel Fund; PCHR's funders include EU and the governments of Norway, Ireland and Denmark.
If they're going to double down on condemning Israel, you would think that they would get their money's worth.

No such luck. According to NGO Monitor, the results of the two organizations is wildly different:

· Although both organizations claim to use meticulous research methods, their conclusions differ enormously. PCHR claims 1,167 non-combatants were killed, B’tselem puts the figure at 773.

True, the two groups stick 'meticulously' to their own agenda, but apparently when you fund groups to condemn Israel--your results may vary.

This make it difficult to take seriously what Seth Freedman writes in the Guardian:
According to the IDF, 89 minors and 49 women lost their lives during the attack; according to B'Tselem's research, 252 minors and 111 women died as a result of the military offensive. In line with its usual reluctance to co-operate with certain human rights groups, the army refused to provide B'Tselem with details of how it arrived at such markedly lower casualty numbers, raising more questions than answers about the methodology employed and the veracity of its own fact-finding operation.

B'Tselem, on the other hand, has been entirely open about the way it carried out its extensive study, making available its complete findings on its website and opting out of the opaque, oblique practices so often endorsed by armies and governments when discussing the events of war. However, the mere fact that B'Tselem appears to have nothing to hide [except perhaps for how much foreign governments are paying them--DA] will not stop the naysayers laying into it with flailing fists as soon as they get their hands on the report.
Unfortunately for Freeman's critique, openness does not determine the accuracy of the report--regardless of how detailed the report. As it so happens, behind the wildly fluctuating numbers given by Israel's critics is the questionable methodology:

· The timing of these publications indicates an attempt to impact the findings of Judge Richard Goldstone’s UN investigation prior to the report’s imminent release.

· B’tselem adopted controversial International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) guidelines which use a highly disputed and unworkable definition of the standard for those “taking a direct part in hostilities”. This means that people who are closely involved in Hamas' offensive infrastructure are exempted. Many ICRC legal consultants withdrew support for these guidelines on this basis.

· Although B’tselem has improved its credibility compared to previous reports, by listing casualties’ affiliations to terrorist factions, these same individuals such as Hamas senior military leader Saeed Sayam are still not classified as combatants.

· PCHR’s definition of a “non-combatant” is even more problematic, and only includes those holding a weapon at the precise moment of death. Consequently, PCHR classifies known terrorists as civilians, such as Hamas activist Nizar Rayan.

· PCHR’s consistently hostile agenda towards Israel, including promotion of anti-Israel boycotts, places its’ research in clear contravention of the International Bar Association’s London-Lund Guidelines on fact finding which demand unbiased investigators.

Applying Freedman's critique to B'tselem, looking at its criteria results in "raising more questions than answers about the methodology employed and the veracity of its own fact-finding operation."

Of course, Ireland and Norway could have gone with with Human Rights Watch--the best human rights group that money can buy--but that is a problem too, as David Bernstein puts it:

From what I can tell, the various revelations over the last few weeks about Human Rights Watch--the fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, the anti-Israel activist backgrounds of its Middle East staff, the contemptuous attitude toward pro-Israel critics (who often turn out to be right) contrasted with the obsequious attitude toward anti-Israel critics, and so on--has cost the organization its credibility among a very broad swath of Israeli and Western pro-Israel public opinion, including the moderate left.

From now on, every HRW report on Israel is going to be greeted with "you mean the Saudi-funded HRW," or "you mean the report written by the woman [HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson] who is a great admirer of Norman Finkelstein and lobbied Kofi Annan against Israel in the middle of the Second Intifada" or "you mean the report written by the guy [Stork] who supports the anti-Israel boycott movement and has been venting his hostility to Israel for almost forty years" or "you mean HRW, the organization that fails to take down from its website anti-Israel reports even when it has admitted they are inaccurate," and so on.
And let's not forget Human Rights Watch's go-to man, Marc Garlasco:

Marc Garlasco is the “senior military analyst” in HRW’s Emergencies Division, following seven years serving in various roles with the Pentagon that include senior intelligence analyst on Iraq, and performing target selection and damage assessment in Serbia and Iraq.

Garlasco’s statements are framed by a strong anti-military sentiment, which suddenly appeared in parallel with his departure from the Pentagon (White 2008), as well as emotional sympathy for the Palestinians as victims. He is an avid collector of Nazi paraphernalia [see here] – his internet moniker is “Flak 88” and he has published a book on the subject of Flak badges (see Garlasco 2008).

Although the level of his expertise and experience are obscure, Garlasco consistently presents himself and is presented as an “expert” on weapons and military technology. He has no combat experience, and his various Pentagon positions were apparently not concentrated on dealing with the details of weapons systems. This has not prevented him from making public statements and authoring reports that project the pretense of both a detailed knowledge of weapons such as unmanned drones and white phosphorous, and an understanding of the implications of their use under international law. [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing.

These are pertinent issues that have been taken by NGO Monitor and others with the accuracy of these groups that claim to be independent and impartial groups, yet are funded by European countries.

Thus when Freedman, no doubt echoing the request of many, declares:
Those behind B'Tselem's report are calling for their research to be used as part of a wider investigation into whether or not Israel committed war crimes during Cast Lead. Such a request should not be brushed under the carpet, either by Israeli officials or by those employed by quasi-governmental thinktanks to drown out dissenting voices whenever the IDF's tactics and behaviour are questioned. [emphasis added]
Mr. Freedman, like others, conveniently confuses substantiated criticism with "brushing under the carpet" and "drowning out dissenting voices".

Freedman, like many critics forget Patrick Moynihan's admonition:
You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.
And I suppose Ireland and Norway are entitled to their money's worth--too bad they didn't get it.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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2 comments:

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Even when reading the summary B'Tselem provides of their study it's a great deal more credible sounding than PCHR. B'Tselem makes the important point that just because more civilians were killed, does not mean Israel did anyhting wrong.

I think the Red Cross guidelines for determining what an "active combatant" is are useful--with the exception of some grey zones it creates. I think the mistake would be to use the Red Cross guidelines to be an exhaustive list of all legitimate targets. There's an important distinction and this is where B'Tselem may fall short.

Daled Amos said...

Fair enough--so we have a starting point.

It would be nice if B'tselem would maintain a true appearance of propriety not taking money from external sources, such as countries that criticize Israel.