Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 19, 2009

Who Will Watch the Watchers?

For years it has been clear to those who bear the brunt of criticism from human rights watchdogs like Amnesty and the UN Human Rights Council, that something is wrong with the international system aimed at exposing gross violations and war crimes. The overwhelmingly disproportionate criticism heaped on Israel and other democratic states, and the near blindness to the brutal oppression that takes place in dozens of other countries, especially Arab states, makes the entire pretense of international human rights law look like a sham.

But last week, one of these bodies was caught with its pants down. Two months ago, the Saudi-based newspaper Arab News described a fund-raising event for Human Rights Watch held in the Saudi kingdom, where high-level Saudi dignitaries were treated to a powerful presentation where the organization not only petitioned the brutal elites for funding, but paraded the fact that they were doing battle against pro-Israel pressure groups in the West — a clear repudiation of their purportedly objective status. Credit for exposing them goes to NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, who published a report on the dinner in May; but it only caught the attention of major Western media this past week, with a piece by David Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal, followed by another by Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

The last piece, by Goldberg, is the most damning, because for the first time Human Rights Watch goes on record admitting both the fundraising and the explicit anti-Israel appeal. Because it details the email exchange between Goldberg and the executive director of HRW, Ken Roth, it’s really worth reading the whole thing, first how he tries in vain to dodge the question, and then how he admits it (“That’s certainly part of the story. We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception.”)

All this is very damning for an organization that for years has tried rebuffing accusations of being blatantly anti-Israel. As one commentator writing at the (British) Spectator put it, “Whatever Israel’s faults, there is something deeply wrong about a human rights organisation trying to raise money in a religiously oppressive monarchical state out of criticising a liberal democracy. It does make one wonder how people committed to human rights can get it so wrong.”

It also makes one wonder how the world can continue to take such organizations so seriously.

For years it has been clear to those who bear the brunt of criticism from human rights watchdogs like Amnesty and the UN Human Rights Council, that something is wrong with the international system aimed at exposing gross violations and war crimes. The overwhelmingly disproportionate criticism heaped on Israel and other democratic states, and the near blindness to the brutal oppression that takes place in dozens of other countries, especially Arab states, makes the entire pretense of international human rights law look like a sham.

But last week, one of these bodies was caught with its pants down. Two months ago, the Saudi-based newspaper Arab News described a fund-raising event for Human Rights Watch held in the Saudi kingdom, where high-level Saudi dignitaries were treated to a powerful presentation where the organization not only petitioned the brutal elites for funding, but paraded the fact that they were doing battle against pro-Israel pressure groups in the West — a clear repudiation of their purportedly objective status. Credit for exposing them goes to NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, who published a report on the dinner in May; but it only caught the attention of major Western media this past week, with a piece by David Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal, followed by another by Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

The last piece, by Goldberg, is the most damning, because for the first time Human Rights Watch goes on record admitting both the fundraising and the explicit anti-Israel appeal. Because it details the email exchange between Goldberg and the executive director of HRW, Ken Roth, it’s really worth reading the whole thing, first how he tries in vain to dodge the question, and then how he admits it (“That’s certainly part of the story. We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception.”)

All this is very damning for an organization that for years has tried rebuffing accusations of being blatantly anti-Israel. As one commentator writing at the (British) Spectator put it, “Whatever Israel’s faults, there is something deeply wrong about a human rights organisation trying to raise money in a religiously oppressive monarchical state out of criticising a liberal democracy. It does make one wonder how people committed to human rights can get it so wrong.”

It also makes one wonder how the world can continue to take such organizations so seriously.

Read Less

Foreign Policy as Speaking Engagement

There is a joke supposedly making the rounds these days in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Bureau:

What do Americans do when something breaks down in their home — when the sink is blocked up, the toilet overflows, a fuse burns out? Simple: They ask Barack Obama to give a speech and the problem is solved.

In this morning’s New York Times Book Review, there is some unintended humor along the same lines. Reviewing Dennis Ross and David Makovsky’s “Myths, Illusions and Peace,” Adam LeBor praises the authors for analyzing the deficiencies of “neoconservative” and “realist” policies and proposing a third way: “engagement without illusions” (EWOI).

Apparently, what EWOI means in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is . . . giving a speech:

[Ross and Makovsky's] approach can be advantageous when, for example, countering the neoconservative myth that America’s best interests are served by disengaging from the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo has shown how American pressure can, in a matter of days, reanimate a moribund process.

Ironically, LeBor’s review comes at the end of a week demonstrating the limits of EWOI, as it became painfully obvious that neither Obama’s Cairo speech, nor his personal visit to Saudi Arabia, nor his bow before the King, nor his public distancing from Israel (and telling Jewish leaders that distance is the path to peace) has produced any movement at all from Saudi Arabia.

According to the New York Times, administration officials say Obama “was frustrated by his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, when he met with King Abdullah and failed to extract any meaningful gestures toward Israel to revive the peace process.”

This led to Hillary Clinton’s effort this week to reanimate the peace process with . . . a speech. In her address to the Council on Foreign Relations, she put forward a watered-down request that Arab states take some steps — “however modest” — to reach out to Israel. The administration’s supposedly superior approach to the peace process has devolved into publicly pleading with Arab states to do something — it can be as modest as they want — lest the administration have to admit its engagement has been based on an illusion.

There is a joke supposedly making the rounds these days in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Bureau:

What do Americans do when something breaks down in their home — when the sink is blocked up, the toilet overflows, a fuse burns out? Simple: They ask Barack Obama to give a speech and the problem is solved.

In this morning’s New York Times Book Review, there is some unintended humor along the same lines. Reviewing Dennis Ross and David Makovsky’s “Myths, Illusions and Peace,” Adam LeBor praises the authors for analyzing the deficiencies of “neoconservative” and “realist” policies and proposing a third way: “engagement without illusions” (EWOI).

Apparently, what EWOI means in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is . . . giving a speech:

[Ross and Makovsky's] approach can be advantageous when, for example, countering the neoconservative myth that America’s best interests are served by disengaging from the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo has shown how American pressure can, in a matter of days, reanimate a moribund process.

Ironically, LeBor’s review comes at the end of a week demonstrating the limits of EWOI, as it became painfully obvious that neither Obama’s Cairo speech, nor his personal visit to Saudi Arabia, nor his bow before the King, nor his public distancing from Israel (and telling Jewish leaders that distance is the path to peace) has produced any movement at all from Saudi Arabia.

According to the New York Times, administration officials say Obama “was frustrated by his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, when he met with King Abdullah and failed to extract any meaningful gestures toward Israel to revive the peace process.”

This led to Hillary Clinton’s effort this week to reanimate the peace process with . . . a speech. In her address to the Council on Foreign Relations, she put forward a watered-down request that Arab states take some steps — “however modest” — to reach out to Israel. The administration’s supposedly superior approach to the peace process has devolved into publicly pleading with Arab states to do something — it can be as modest as they want — lest the administration have to admit its engagement has been based on an illusion.

Read Less




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