Monday, February 08, 2010

Human Rights Watch Has No Sense Of Irony (Updated)

The dust has not yet settled on the issue of the funding provided by New Israel Fund (NIF) to many of the NGO's that testified against Israel to the Goldstone Commission. Check out Joe Settlers research in his post Follow The Money.

Human Rights Watch has pushed back in response to Israel's investigation of the relationship between New Israel Fund and these NGO's:
The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.
The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF), which supports a wide range of Israeli civil rights and social welfare organizations, including some that provided information to the United Nations fact-finding mission under Justice Richard Goldstone that investigated abuses by both sides in last year's Gaza conflict.
"What we're seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "One of Israel's outstanding strengths has been its vibrant civil society and its flourishing public debate, so these developments are particularly worrying."

..."The government's encouragement of attacks on NIF and Breaking the Silence should not be seen as aberrant or in isolation," said Whitson. "A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging."-

What makes the righteous indignation of Human Rights Watch particularly ironic is that the issue at stake here is the danger that the source of NGO funding can potentially lead to bias and loss of objectivity--a distinct possibility that is so well illustrated by Human Rights Watch itself.

Last July, I posted the following about what Human Rights Watch was doing in order to raise money from Saudi Arabia:

It all started in May when the Arab News reported on a delegation from Human Rights Watch visiting Saudi Arabia where they were given a 'welcoming dinner' in Riyadh:
HRW presented a documentary and spoke on the report they compiled on Israel violating human rights and international law during its war on Gaza earlier this year.
"Human Rights Watch provided the international community with evidence of Israel using white phosphorus and launching systematic destructive attacks on civilian targets. Pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations have strongly resisted the report and tried to discredit it," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division.
Whitson pointed out that the group managed to testify about Israeli abuses to the US Congress on three occasions. "US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel and the Hamas authorities in Gaza to cooperate with the United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations of serious Israeli violations during the war on Gaza. The mission will be headed by the reputable Justice Richard Goldstone."
At the dinner, Hassan Elmasry, a member of HRW's International Board of Directors, requested funding for the group.
In June, David Bernstein wrote about what Human Rights Watch was doing recently in Saudi Arabia:
A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?
No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations."[emphasis added]
Jeffrey Goldberg picked up on the story in the Atlantic and notes that Whitson wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal rebutting Berstein's claim that while in Saudi Arabia, HRW said "not a word during the trip about the status of human rights in that country." What Whitson does not address, however, is the accusation that she tried "to extract money from potential Saudi donors by bragging about the group's 'battles' with the 'pro-Israel pressure groups'?"
Goldberg wrote to Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch to find out if that particular claim was true. After exchanging numerous messages with Roth in search of a straight answer, Roth finally responded:
That's certainly part of the story. We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception. It wasn't a pitch against the Israel lobby per se. Our standard spiel is to describe our work in the region. Telling the Israel story--part of that pitch--is in part telling about the lies and obfuscation that are inevitably thrown our way.
Goldberg, who also writes that "I'm not one of the people who believes that Human Rights Watch is reflexively anti-Israel," concludes:
In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers. It appears as if Human Rights Watch, in the pursuit of dollars, has compromised its integrity. [emphasis added]
Back at The Volokh Conspiracy, where David Bernstein has blogged about reaction to his Wall Street Journal article--which started out as a post on the blog--Bernstein takes a slightly softer approach:
I'd put it differently then Goldberg. There's no evidence that HRW's pursuit of dollars has compromised its integrity, at least not yet. Rather, HRW's pursuit of dollars has starkly revealed the underlying biases that it previously has denied having. But really, anyone who has been paying attention shouldn't be surprised that HRW's credibility onIsrael-related issues approaches zero. [emphasis added]
One thing seems certain, HRW seems incapable of rational discourse on the topic of Israel when they should be doing their utmost to present an image of neutrality.

Not all NGOs go to Saudi Arabia to make their pitch for funding, but from the report below from NGO Monitor (available as a Word document), it is clear that the funding of these NGOs--a number of them based in Israel--rely to an enormous degree on foreign countries, resulting in these NGOs being nothing more than foreign agents who know exactly what they need to say in order to keep the money coming.

It is all very well for HRW to lecture about tolerance of dissent, but Israel is under no obligation to tolerate dissent-for-hire, neither from Human Rights Watch nor anybody else.

UPDATE: Evelyn Gordon notes that apparently, those reacting against Israel's investigation into NIF believe that
it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.
It is understandable that NIF and some of its supporters would criticize the scrutiny that NIF now finds itself--as Gordon notes:

Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?
The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

It is the search for these facts that Human Rights Watch is so quick to label dissent.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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