Commentary Magazine


Topic: Human Rights Watch

It’s Time for HRW’s Ken Roth to Go

Ken Roth has now been executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than two decades; indeed, he has become an institution there. But if HRW is going to retain any credibility, it is time to demand Roth resign or be fired.

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Ken Roth has now been executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than two decades; indeed, he has become an institution there. But if HRW is going to retain any credibility, it is time to demand Roth resign or be fired.

Here’s the problem: On October 22, a car driven by a known Hamas activist slammed into a light rail stop, injuring several Israelis and Americans, and killing a three-month-old girl. The driver of the car tried then to flee on foot, but was shot (and has since succumbed to his wounds). Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Seems pretty cut-and-dried. Not to Roth, who wasted no time casting doubt.

This is what Roth had to say on Twitter:

“Palestinian deadly crash into train stop. Israel calls it ‘terrorist attack…typical of Hamas’ http://trib.al/EIkJp01 

To call the attack in Jerusalem simply a car crash is like calling the 9/11 attacks a plane crash, or to call ISIS’s enslavement and rape of Yezidi women as mere groping. The contempt with which Roth holds Israel is legendary. Five years ago, its founding chairman even took to the New York Times to lament HRW’s bias and politicization under Roth.

Let us, for a moment, consider that maybe the cause of the crash was uncertain and that Hamas hadn’t claimed responsibility. Seth Mandel has addressed some of the shoddy press reporting of the incident. But a serious human-rights organization and its executive director should do more than regurgitate instant press headlines. Cognizant of its reputation and wanting its statements to carry moral weight, it should slowly and carefully gather evidence before speaking. It is this sense of process that Roth once may have understood but now eschews.

While Roth’s tweets and statements about Israel and the Palestinians often take a polemical if not unhinged tone, they are only the tip of the iceberg. In early September, I compared a series of Roth’s tweets to each other and to HRW’s reporting regarding a massacre in Egypt and came to the unfortunate conclusion that Roth appeared to simply make up numbers as the politics suited him. Roth’s tenure is also marked by an incident in which his employee Sarah Leah Whitson held a fundraiser in Saudi Arabia promising to use Saudi money donated to counter the influence of “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” Take Roth’s inaction in that incident as an endorsement of her conspiratorial worldview. Under Roth, HRW also partnered with Al-Karama, a group whose founder ended up being designated an al-Qaeda financier. Rather than rescind, reinvestigate, and, if necessary, revise the reports in which Roth and HRW used the tainted information, Roth did nothing.

Directly because of Roth’s leadership, his statements, his decisions, and his tweets, HRW now is much less of a human-rights organization, and is instead a shrill and biased political advocacy group. This is a shame, because there is much human-rights work to be done. But so long as Roth tweets first and asks questions later and allows his Twitter feed to demonstrate a deep personal bias, then HRW cannot accomplish its mission. If Roth truly cares about the organization over which he has presided for 21 years, it is time for him to leave. If he does not have the grace to do so, then the onus is on HRW to let him go and start the hard work of rebuilding its reputation and instituting safeguards to ensure that never again will its employees’ political projects trump methodology and process.

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The Media and Anti-Semitism

This week is unfortunately a bit of a perfect storm of conditions that foster anti-Semitism. The High Holidays are approaching, Israel has just fought a war of self-defense, and new terrorist organizations are gaining a foothold in Western societies. Israel’s national Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued its travel warning for the season, expressing concern over the usual suspects as well as Western Europe. New York hasn’t been immune to the spike in anti-Semitic incidents, and last week Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pointed a finger at the media:

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This week is unfortunately a bit of a perfect storm of conditions that foster anti-Semitism. The High Holidays are approaching, Israel has just fought a war of self-defense, and new terrorist organizations are gaining a foothold in Western societies. Israel’s national Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued its travel warning for the season, expressing concern over the usual suspects as well as Western Europe. New York hasn’t been immune to the spike in anti-Semitic incidents, and last week Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pointed a finger at the media:

“When (the media) cover something, it tends to attract more attention,” Bratton told reporters following a security briefing for the Jewish High Holy Days at police headquarters.

“But we have seen this before, that when there’s attention paid to an issue, that it brings this about,” Bratton continued. “And when there’s continued attention — and the issue in Gaza, where it stretched over several weeks — we could see a continuing increase.”

Hate crimes are up, according to the city. Bratton tried to downplay recent incidents as “lone wolf” events, though New York State homeland security commissioner Jerome Hauer countered that “Anti-Semitism is rising at a rate we haven’t seen in a long, long time, and I think it will continue to grow.”

Anyone who followed Western coverage of the war in Gaza won’t be too surprised. But Bratton’s comments weren’t ill-phrased off-the-cuff remarks; they were part of a clear message from the NYPD on the role of the press in the uptick in hate crimes. Deputy Chief Michael Osgood focused a bit more on the correlation:

“On July first, the Gaza Strip becomes a major news story and stays consistent in the media through July and August, every single day, every single morning, front page of the New York Times, front page of the Wall Street Journal,” he said.

Around this time, “the group ISIS becomes a major news story and they stay consistent in the news media, [and] that creates what I call an emotional surge.”

Since that time, there has been an average of 18 anti-Semitic cases a month.

“A person who would normally not offend, now offends,” Osgood said, describing the effect of the news. “He’s moved by the emotions.”

It’s a bit refreshing to hear this from the police. The role of the media in stimulating anti-Semitism, especially when it comes to Israel, is no secret. Sometimes this takes the form of outright falsifying events in Arab-Israeli wars–Pallywood on the part of videographers and fauxtography on the part of photojournalists–which are usually the deadlier brand of propaganda. Witness, most famously, the example of the al-Dura affair.

But it’s worth pointing out here that there are very different types of war coverage. As I wrote earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal’s coverage was textured, original, investigative, and informative. The “paper of record,” the New York Times, offered just the opposite: coverage that essentially followed Hamas’s PR strategy. European media had similar coverage with even more violent results: attempted pogroms broke out in Paris and anti-Semitic protests could be found all over Western Europe.

The anti-Semitism is blamed on Israel’s actions, which the rioters see through the prism of the media. An excellent example of this vicious cycle is Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth. Jonathan Foreman wrote about Roth’s obsessively anti-Israel Twitter feed for the current issue of COMMENTARY. But even more noxious is the group’s role in pushing an anti-Israel narrative that supposedly comes with the credibility of a “human-rights” group.

It goes like this: HRW researchers get quoted by the New York Times accusing Israel of indiscriminate violence and targeting noncombatants–information that is crucial, in the Times’s own acknowledgement, in forming “the characterization of the conflict.” Then the Times tries to boost HRW’s flagging credibility–lest more people notice the group can’t be trusted–by crediting HRW as a key source in understanding “the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” Along the way, HRW will be cited in a Times opinion piece on how American support for Israel is unethical.

When Jews the world over suffer at the hands of angry anti-Semites, Ken Roth will come to their aid, blaming Israel in part for violent anti-Semitism in the West. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted, Roth tweeted the following, with a link to an article about it: “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war. Merkel joins.” Goldberg commented: “Roth’s framing of this issue is very odd and obtuse.” He added that “It is a universal and immutable rule that the targets of prejudice are not the cause of prejudice.” Roth defended his comments. On Twitter, he responded that, hey, he was just getting his news from the New York Times.

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Daily Beast Flogs Gaza Atrocity Story Even Human Rights Groups Won’t Touch

If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

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If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

The story revolves around the claim that during the height of the fighting in the terror tunnels along the Israel-Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces “executed” five Islamic Jihad terrorists who had supposedly peacefully laid down their arms. This is the tale left-wing Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld has been peddling for the last month but none except his employers at the Daily Beast have been biting on it. This troubles Rosenfeld, who complains bitterly in his latest story about the indifference of the world to the allegations as well as the lack of an official commitment by the IDF to investigate his claims.

But there are a couple of easy explanations for this that have nothing to do with any sympathy for Israel on the part of a media corps that is deeply hostile to the Jewish state or the willingness of groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to circulate biased attacks on the IDF.

The first and most basic problem with Rosenfeld’s story is that he has no real proof that any such execution took place.

Islamic Jihad hasn’t made any such claim. Though perhaps that can be explained by the fact that although Rosenfeld’s narrative tries to make the terrorists in question appear as if they were making a heroic, if futile last stand against the dastardly Israelis, the group isn’t likely to embrace any story that ends with fighters that are supposedly eager to embrace death meekly surrendering.

Nor has he a single eyewitness from either side in the fighting or any physical proof of the allegation. The best he can do is to quote at length the claims of a member of Islamic Jihad who says he heard communications with the six on an Islamic Jihad walkie-talkie before they supposedly cried out for mercy when they ran out of ammo and were attacked by Israeli army dogs. He also says he talked to another Islamic Jihadist that Rosenfeld has never met who saw some of the fighting. It’s quite a story, but it’s hearsay piled upon hearsay. And yet he claims this interview is enough to justify a second story about his allegations of atrocities in the town of Khuzaa.

The only thing he has to go on is the fact that he claims to have seen a pile of bodies of slain Islamic Jihad fighters in a Gaza house that was obviously the scene of vicious fighting. After asking around enough, he finally got a Palestinian to tell him a version of what he wanted to hear, but any credible journalist or a responsible editor would have said that this thin tissue of allegations isn’t enough to justify publication let alone a string of stories revolving around the same unsubstantiated allegations.

Another interesting aspect that should be pointed out about this is that virtually all atrocity stories about Israeli behavior tend to involve at least some partial corroboration from soldiers who were unhappy about what they observed. The IDF is a citizen’s army and if something truly appalling happened, the odds are that an Israeli can probably be found who protested or was unhappy about it. But Rosenfeld can find no Israelis who remember anything untoward. Indeed, if there is no IDF investigation (something that can be generated by even the thinnest of accusations) it is because he hasn’t given the army (or anyone else) any information that could be used to start one.

That Rosenfeld should seek to glorify Islamic Jihadists as heroic fighters who fought until their last bullet after which their Israeli adversaries cruelly killed them is also somewhat fishy. The whole focus of the Palestinian propaganda machine, ably assisted by their allies in the media, has been to portray events in Gaza as a case of a powerful Israeli military slaughtering civilians with impunity. During the course of the fighting, journalists operating in Gaza never photographed or filmed Palestinian fighters or their launch of thousands of rockets from the vicinity of schools, mosques, shelters, and hospitals. But Rosenfeld has decided to try and make the most vicious and extreme Islamist terrorists into martyrs without a shred of credible evidence.

Seen from that perspective, it’s little wonder that no one but Rosenfeld has expressed any interest in his scoop. Given the willingness of the international press to publish just about anything negative about Israel, it speaks volumes that Rosenfeld is alone in claiming that this tale is worthy of further investigation. The only question is why the Daily Beast, which has other highly credible foreign news reporters, continues to allow him to circulate an unsubstantiated atrocity story. Rosenfeld’s shameless propaganda is a new low point for the media in a summer of journalistic malpractice in Gaza.

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Does Human Rights Watch Make Up Its Numbers?

I wrote here yesterday regarding Human Rights Watch’s tendency to substitute polemic for research, and to force analysis through a political lens. At issue were questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths in Rabaa Square in August 2013, when military forces broke up a sit-in of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamad Morsi, a Brotherhood acolyte and Egypt’s first democratically-elected president before his ouster the month before. Make no mistake: hundreds of protestors died and, according to the Egyptian government, dozens of police as well.

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I wrote here yesterday regarding Human Rights Watch’s tendency to substitute polemic for research, and to force analysis through a political lens. At issue were questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths in Rabaa Square in August 2013, when military forces broke up a sit-in of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamad Morsi, a Brotherhood acolyte and Egypt’s first democratically-elected president before his ouster the month before. Make no mistake: hundreds of protestors died and, according to the Egyptian government, dozens of police as well.

Enter Human Rights Watch, and its publicity-seeking executive director, Ken Roth. Human Rights Watch launched an investigation into the massacre, as it should have, although from Roth’s tweets and public statements, it seems that he had already drawn his conclusions before the investigation had even begun. Nevertheless, despite his outrage, Roth’s initial tweets were somewhat restrained. For example, shortly after the massacre, he tweeted, “‘Democracy’ is not shooting people in the name of #Egypt majority. It requires operating within the limits of rights.”

After the Egyptian government denied Roth entry into Egypt on the first anniversary of the killings, he magically raised the casualties that Human Rights Watch attributed to the Egyptian government, declaring on Facebook, “I went to Cairo to present Egypt’s leaders with evidence that police slaughtered 1,000 people at Rabaa Square. They wouldn’t even let me out of the airport.” If Human Rights Watch is a serious organization, it should confirm those killed with visits to the morgue, interviews with the families, and confirmation with state records and visits to graves. It shouldn’t, with a magic wand and in a fit of pique, imply that the numbers are chosen arbitrarily depending on the mood of the analyst.

Initially, Human Rights Watch documented “at least 377 [deaths], significantly higher than the latest Rab’a death toll of 288 announced by the Health Ministry.” With time, that number grew. In its final report, Human Rights Watch put the death toll they could confirm at 817. That’s bad enough (and the Egyptian government, for what it’s worth, places the death toll in the 600-person range). But Roth’s Facebook post on the Human Rights Watch page seems to simply inflate the numbers by 25 percent. Raising the death toll in a fit of anger out of the disrespect a researcher feels at the hands of a foreign government does nothing but diminish the legitimacy of Human Rights Watch’s research.

Roth is fond of analogies as well but, again, with these he plays fast and loose. On August 13, 2014, he tweets, “Tiananmen in 1989, Andijan in 2005, and now #Egypt’s Rab’a in 2013–large-scale massacres that demand justice.” That’s true. Again, however, Roth’s bombast seemed to get the better of him, perhaps because his relatively dispassionate tweet didn’t get him the media coverage he hoped. Hence, just 17 days later, he tweeted, “17 NGOs press UN rights council to address #Egypt: bigger protester massacre than Tiananmen, mass arrests & torture.” So was Rabaa a bigger massacre than Tiananmen? Well, for this, it pays simply to look at old reports by Human Rights Watch from the days when it prioritized human-rights research and reporting above polemic. As the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square approached this past spring, Human Rights Watch released this, carefully sidestepping the question of deaths on that horrible day because Human Rights Watch doesn’t know how many hundreds died. On the 20th anniversary, Human Rights Watch mentioned “untold numbers” killed. In 2010, however, Human Rights Watch suggested 2,000 had been killed in and around Tiananmen. Perhaps my math is wrong, but I thought 2,000 was larger than 1,000 (or 817 or 377).

The point of this is not to diminish the horror of what transpired in Rabaa Square, nor the culpability of Egyptian forces who may have used unnecessary force (or the Muslim Brotherhood activists who apparently fired from within crowds in order to kill security forces and bring more casualties to some of the innocents in the square when government forces returned fire). Rather, it’s to point out that while human-rights advocacy is extremely important and, along with independent journalism, plays an important role in civil society, so flagrantly massaging numbers to support the politics or press release of the day is the hallmark of an organization gone bad, and simply enables governments across the globe to dismiss all Human Rights Watch work as unprofessional and politically biased.

Given the inconsistencies and exaggerations to which Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth appears prone, the Egyptian government would be within its rights to dismiss the Human Rights Watch report as inherently flawed. Let us hope that other organizations do a better job of shining light on an incident which so many wish would remain in the dark, because until that job is done credibly and professionally, many will get away with murder. And let us also hope that if Human Rights Watch is to salvage its reputation, it will start to pay heed to the consistency of numbers espoused by its staff.

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Should Human Rights Watch Be Trusted?

Human Rights Watch (HRW) likes to consider itself the authority on human rights and adherence to international law. Unfortunately, in recent years it has weathered a number of scandals and prioritized its own subjective worldview above any objective standard for measuring human rights. Five years ago, for example, HRW spokeswoman Sarah Leah Whitson held a fundraiser in Saudi Arabia promising to use the money to counter the influence of “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations,” never mind that Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most egregious violators of human rights.

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) likes to consider itself the authority on human rights and adherence to international law. Unfortunately, in recent years it has weathered a number of scandals and prioritized its own subjective worldview above any objective standard for measuring human rights. Five years ago, for example, HRW spokeswoman Sarah Leah Whitson held a fundraiser in Saudi Arabia promising to use the money to counter the influence of “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations,” never mind that Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most egregious violators of human rights.

Its founding chairman took to the pages of the New York Times to castigate the organization he created for prioritizing politics over mission. Iraqis of all stripes tend to despise HRW because HRW’s leadership refused to provide evidence and documentation about Saddam’s genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds for the trial of Saddam unless Iraqis agreed to forgo capital punishment. Blackmail and imperialism are both unbecoming for an NGO.

In this month’s COMMENTARY, Jonathan Foreman chronicles “The Twitter Hypocrisy of Kenneth Roth,” the executive director of Human Rights Watch, who throughout the recent Gaza violence put politics and polemics above both fact and devotion to the international humanitarian law he and HRW claim to uphold. During the conflict, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, highlighted Roth’s tweets which suggested Roth was even willing to cast aside the Geneva Conventions in order to support and advance the Hamas narrative.

Roth, however, appears not only a partisan in terms of his animus toward Israel, but also with regard to his embrace more broadly of political Islam. Because Roth wears his politics and polemics on his sleeve, and has seemed long ago to embrace detached neutrality when conducting research for HRW reports, the Egyptian government recently denied Roth entry into Egypt, where Roth hoped to unveil HRW’s report on the deaths of hundreds in a Cairo clash last summer.

Egypt acted correctly. Human Rights Watch may believe it wears the mantle of legitimacy in human-rights research and can be both a credible judge and jury, but that ship sailed years ago. The Egyptian government was able to quickly point out a number of well-documented factual errors. HRW, for example, claimed security forces did not provide adequate warning, but television footage showed warnings issued by loudspeaker and broadcast on television. HRW said 85,000 people were in the protest camp at the time the Egyptian police sought to disperse the crowds, but it is doubtful whether the Rabaa Square could accommodate that number. Nevertheless, the Egyptian government had timed the operation for hours when camp numbers were suppressed. And while HRW claimed there had been no investigation, former President Adly Mansour did order an inquiry; whether that inquiry is credible remains to be seen but, as Bahrain showed with the Bassiouni Commission, it would be silly to dismiss indigenous attempts at investigation and justice; in fact, encouraging countries to investigate themselves should be the paramount goal, one that trumps the jet-setting, headline-seeking culture that now infuses some of HRW’s top leadership.

Almost immediately after his return from Cairo, Roth started addressing his allegations against the Egyptian government in the most polemical ways. He took to the airwaves with Amy Goodman, an unabashedly partisan anchor, to accuse Egypt of engaging in a massacre worse than Tiananmen. Never mind that in Tiananmen, only one side was doing the shooting and one side was doing the dying, whereas in Cairo the Muslim Brotherhood was fighting. Here he is making the same accusations in an op-ed in an Australian paper. Roth’s prolific tweets from mid-August grow increasingly polemical and unprofessional. Letting Roth into Egypt would be akin to hiring a kleptomaniac as the night guard in a jewelry shop.

Now, make no mistake. I mourn the loss of life in Rabaa a year ago, although I am not so certain that the situation was as black and white as Roth finds it politically convenient to claim. Nor do I see the Muslim Brotherhood as having been committed to democracy. President Mohamad Morsi made that clear when he sought to take dictatorial power.

Admittedly, I shed no tears over Morsi’s ouster, and while I also consider the current NGO law difficult to justify, the Egyptian government—and every other government, for that matter—is entirely justified denying Roth and HRW researchers access until such a time as HRW upholds professional standards to separate polemic and politics from more serious assessment, investigation, and analysis. I have also known—and sat down with—many HRW researchers over the years and many are hard-working, professional, and committed to human-rights work. Unfortunately, HRW’s leadership seems to subordinate such concerns to their own personal agendas, eroding the credibility of the entire organization. Rather, if the truth will be known, it is essential that professional journalists do the job (and be allowed to do their job) rather than partisans claiming privilege under the cloak of an organization coasting on its former reputation.

Let us also hope that General Sisi can rectify Egypt’s myriad financial problems and overcome the pressures of those in the military who might be more comfortable with the old crony capitalist system rather than one which puts both Egypt’s economic stability and the Egyptian peoples’ opportunity on firmer ground. Let us also hope that the West will not cease its pressure on Sisi to implement substantial reforms, all the while providing the Egyptian government the means to counter a real al-Qaeda and the terrorist threat within Egypt’s borders. The two goals need not be mutually exclusive. One-thing is certain, however: true human-rights advocacy should mean more than the political polemic and individual self-aggrandizement which some in HRW now seem to embrace.

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A Disgraceful Attempt to Tie Israel’s Hands

For the sake of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the politically correct fictions necessary to sustain it, several facts must be ignored: that the Palestinian side regularly initiates rounds of violence to which Israel responds; that Mahmoud Abbas is decidedly opposed to full IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, since his own security team can’t protect it from Hamas; and that the international community asks far more of Israel than of anyone else, and indeed than is reasonable.

All of them come crashing into the open the moment violence intrudes. This week’s crisis over the three kidnapped yeshiva students highlights the way the press treats every action as if it were in a vacuum in order to hamstring Israel’s self-defense. As such, the New York Times paints the destabilizing act not as the Hamas-Fatah unity deal or the kidnapping, but Israel’s response. It’s especially risible since we don’t yet know the fate of the boys, and so an all-out search is both warranted and eminently reasonable. Yet here is the Times’s Jerusalem chief Jodi Rudoren:

The teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel, both 16, were last heard from Thursday night as they tried to hitchhike home from Jewish settlements in the West Bank where they study in yeshivas. The growing search for them and their captors further destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split.

What destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations in the eyes of the Times? The search for the kidnapped boys. What challenged the Palestinian government’s unity? The search for the kidnapped boys. The way Rudoren phrases that paragraph, it’s clear she–and those who share the Times’s world view–see the events of the past week as challenges to Palestinian unity rather than the result of Palestinian unity. If the unity government can survive only by being permitted to carry out terrorism against Israel without response or consequences, it is not so much a government as a sadistic terrorist gang.

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For the sake of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the politically correct fictions necessary to sustain it, several facts must be ignored: that the Palestinian side regularly initiates rounds of violence to which Israel responds; that Mahmoud Abbas is decidedly opposed to full IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, since his own security team can’t protect it from Hamas; and that the international community asks far more of Israel than of anyone else, and indeed than is reasonable.

All of them come crashing into the open the moment violence intrudes. This week’s crisis over the three kidnapped yeshiva students highlights the way the press treats every action as if it were in a vacuum in order to hamstring Israel’s self-defense. As such, the New York Times paints the destabilizing act not as the Hamas-Fatah unity deal or the kidnapping, but Israel’s response. It’s especially risible since we don’t yet know the fate of the boys, and so an all-out search is both warranted and eminently reasonable. Yet here is the Times’s Jerusalem chief Jodi Rudoren:

The teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel, both 16, were last heard from Thursday night as they tried to hitchhike home from Jewish settlements in the West Bank where they study in yeshivas. The growing search for them and their captors further destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split.

What destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations in the eyes of the Times? The search for the kidnapped boys. What challenged the Palestinian government’s unity? The search for the kidnapped boys. The way Rudoren phrases that paragraph, it’s clear she–and those who share the Times’s world view–see the events of the past week as challenges to Palestinian unity rather than the result of Palestinian unity. If the unity government can survive only by being permitted to carry out terrorism against Israel without response or consequences, it is not so much a government as a sadistic terrorist gang.

And that’s probably why the Times and their ilk don’t want to recognize this for what it is. If Hamas were behind it, supporters of the unity government would have egg on their faces, for they would have been proposing the unleashing of Hamas. But even if Hamas isn’t behind this kidnapping, the response to Israeli self-defense is still shameful.

Not that the Times is the only voice that can’t quite seem to confront the reality of the situation. Here are two tweets from the last several days from Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch. I thought the contrast was particularly disturbing. First on ISIS, the terrorist army on the march toward Baghdad:

ISIS in #Iraq reportedly tried not to alienate local population, unlike PM Maliki & his violent, sectarian repression http://trib.al/LqfFrjZ

That kind of moral equivalence should offer a preview of how Roth reacted to the kidnapping of Jewish boys:

Attending school at illegal settlement doesn’t legitimize apparent kidnapping of #Israel teens. They should be freed http://trib.al/lBrgfoF

Amazing, no? Roth has to begin his call to release kidnapped teens with an implicit condemnation of where they go to school (hint: in a town Roth believes should be Jew-free). The director of a group called Human Rights Watch has a pretty strange idea of who is entitled to which human rights and why. His first words about the boys are that they shouldn’t have been where they were in the first place. One wonders what other victims Roth would talk about this way.

What Roth and the Times seek is to tie Israel’s hands. Thus the Israeli response–to search for the kidnapped boys–is deemed a threat to Palestinian stability. It is never asked, apparently, what kind of stability it is that features the kidnapping of innocents, or why Israel should be obliged to help prop up such a government by abandoning its citizens to the terrorists.

Running interference for a terrorist group should be beneath a supposed “human rights” group, and propagandizing against Israeli self-defense should be beneath the standards of a Western newspaper. But Israelis continue to value human life far more than their critics do.

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Human Rights Watch Doesn’t Understand Terrorism

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is a prolific tweeter. And as with most policymakers, analysts, and activists who expound on Twitter, often their tweets can provide windows into their minds more illuminating than carefully edited essays.

Alas, from this recent tweet, it appears that Roth doesn’t really understand terrorism. He opines, in twitterese, “Abusive #Nigeria army is big part of why we have Boko Haram. Leahy Law key to ensure US aid doesn’t reinforce abuse.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Nigeria is an extraordinarily corrupt country and its army is often dysfunctional. Nor is the Nigerian army by any means a paradigm of human rights.

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Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is a prolific tweeter. And as with most policymakers, analysts, and activists who expound on Twitter, often their tweets can provide windows into their minds more illuminating than carefully edited essays.

Alas, from this recent tweet, it appears that Roth doesn’t really understand terrorism. He opines, in twitterese, “Abusive #Nigeria army is big part of why we have Boko Haram. Leahy Law key to ensure US aid doesn’t reinforce abuse.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Nigeria is an extraordinarily corrupt country and its army is often dysfunctional. Nor is the Nigerian army by any means a paradigm of human rights.

But even if the Nigerian army is complicit in human rights abuses, Boko Haram doesn’t exist as a protest against the army. It exists because of the influence of Saudi-funded preachers who have for decades sought to introduce radical theological interpretations into Western Africa and elsewhere in the world, some of which have taken root. The speech by Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, which I have previously written about and in which he justified his kidnapping of the still-missing Nigerian school girls, is quite illuminating. It is at once a rant against Christianity, a call for the re-institution of slavery and what in Shekau’s mind would be a perfect Islamist order, and finally a general condemnation of both democracy and the West.

Too many academics and diplomats—and it seems organizations like Human Rights Watch—prefer to ignore the ideology which underpins Islamist-inspired terrorism and instead see the world through the prism of grievance: That’s comforting, because it deludes its adherents into believing that they can resolve problems like Boko Haram simply by addressing concrete grievances. But it is also foolish and deluded because men like Abubakr Shekau, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hassan Nasrallah, Ismail Haniyeh, and Ali Khamenei put their own narrow, extreme, and radical religious ideology above all else. They welcome concessions or incentives simply because it makes their fight easier, but they will never embrace their hateful doctrines. When it comes to Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups, it is disappointing that men like Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch, the organization he represents, still ignore ideology and seem to believe that the fault lies more with the men and women putting their lives on the line to fight terrorism.   

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“Punished for Protesting” in Venezuela

Human Rights Watch has published a searing indictment of the Venezuelan regime’s brutal response to the recent protests in which 41 people lost their lives. Aptly entitled “Punished for Protesting,” HRW’s report is welcome for many reasons, not the least of them being the credibility that the NGO enjoys among liberal and left-wing opinion formers. Thanks to HRW’s efforts, it will be that much harder for the regime’s western apologists to stick to their portrait of chavismo as a noble exercise in wealth redistribution.

The report contains scores of harrowing testimonies from victims of abuse, medical professionals, journalists, and others. Particularly striking is the testimony of Keyla Josefina Brito, a 41-year-old woman from Barquisimeto, in the western state of Lara. On March 2, Brito and her 17-year-old daughter set out for a local butcher’s store just as the security forces were dispersing a demonstration. In the chaos, a female pedestrian was hit by a passing car. Brito and her daughter flagged down a truck and got inside with the seriously wounded woman and several others seeking to escape to safety. After driving a few blocks, the truck was stopped by the National Guard. All the passengers were detained, including the woman who’d been hit by the car and who required urgent medical attention. They then spent several hours in a detention facility where female National Guard members cut off their hair and beat them viciously with helmets, batons and fists. The women were also threatened with rape. Only when they agreed to sign a document confirming they had not been mistreated were they released.

Such outrages are not isolated instances, as HRW makes clear. Says the report:

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Human Rights Watch has published a searing indictment of the Venezuelan regime’s brutal response to the recent protests in which 41 people lost their lives. Aptly entitled “Punished for Protesting,” HRW’s report is welcome for many reasons, not the least of them being the credibility that the NGO enjoys among liberal and left-wing opinion formers. Thanks to HRW’s efforts, it will be that much harder for the regime’s western apologists to stick to their portrait of chavismo as a noble exercise in wealth redistribution.

The report contains scores of harrowing testimonies from victims of abuse, medical professionals, journalists, and others. Particularly striking is the testimony of Keyla Josefina Brito, a 41-year-old woman from Barquisimeto, in the western state of Lara. On March 2, Brito and her 17-year-old daughter set out for a local butcher’s store just as the security forces were dispersing a demonstration. In the chaos, a female pedestrian was hit by a passing car. Brito and her daughter flagged down a truck and got inside with the seriously wounded woman and several others seeking to escape to safety. After driving a few blocks, the truck was stopped by the National Guard. All the passengers were detained, including the woman who’d been hit by the car and who required urgent medical attention. They then spent several hours in a detention facility where female National Guard members cut off their hair and beat them viciously with helmets, batons and fists. The women were also threatened with rape. Only when they agreed to sign a document confirming they had not been mistreated were they released.

Such outrages are not isolated instances, as HRW makes clear. Says the report:

What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse. In 45 cases, we found strong evidence of serious human rights violations committed by Venezuelan security forces, which included violations of the right to life; the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; the rights to bodily integrity, security and liberty; and due process rights. These violations were compounded by members of the Attorney General’s Office and the judiciary who knew of, participated in, or otherwise tolerated abuses against protesters and detainees, including serious violations of their due process rights.

This account flies in the face of President Nicolas Maduro’s claim that the violence was largely provoked by the protestors whom, for good measure, he frequently denounced as “fascists” and agents of the CIA. The response of the authorities, HRW argues, had little to do with enforcing the law. Instead, the chavistas marshaled the police, the National Guard, the secret services, and a compliant judiciary to “punish people for their political views or perceived views.”

The HRW report is a boon for those U.S. legislators who have diligently tracked the erosion of basic human rights in Venezuela over the last fifteen years, first under Hugo Chavez and now under Maduro, his appointed successor. When the House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes later this week for a hearing on the Venezuelan abuses, there will be no shortage of pertinent questions to ask–including the issue, not addressed in “Punished for Protesting,” of alleged Cuban involvement in the repression, something that Florida Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly stressed. In making the case for sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved with the repression, Rubio has also criticized the current administration for its anemic stance toward the mounting crisis over which Maduro presides. “This current government in Venezuela acts as enemy of the United States,” Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon last month. “For those reasons alone we should care about what this government is doing, and so far under this administration the stance has been silence.”  

Maduro’s latest innovation–a “shopping card intended to combat Venezuela’s food shortages”­–will hardly allay the fear that his regime is further embracing the Cuban model of socialism. The measures accompanying the card will involve, according to Reuters, “fingerprint machines at checkout counters to keep track of supplies.” Small wonder, then, that his regime is beginning to crack from within: This week, Juan Carlos Caguaripano Scott, a captain in the National Guard, announced his decision to “break the silence” by charging the government with conducting “fratricidal war.”

While the death toll from the protests suggests that Venezuela has some way to go before reaching the depths of other authoritarian states, Scott’s words indicate that the potential to do so is there. With almost 80 percent of Venezuelans, among them supporters of Maduro, now acknowledging the country’s dire predicament, the question now is how much longer the outside world, most obviously the United States, can continue acting as a bystander.

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Alkarama Doubles Down on Al-Qaeda

I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

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I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

Such words seem nice, but they reflect a greater phenomenon among many Islamist movements: While many in the United States and the West assume that greater interaction breeds tolerance, often among the most ideologically-committed Islamists exposure to the West brings not bridge-building, but rather a greater understanding about how to speak to Westerners and liberals. If people say the right thing, too often the Western NGO community and diplomats assume those people mean it. Actions matter more than words, however, which is why the terror designation is so disturbing. Neither Naimi nor Alkarama have moved to address the evidence behind the designation. Let us be clear: financing a group, in any way, shape, or form that is committed to the violent eradication of the region’s states and which commits the most heinous terror atrocities targeting civilians does not advance human rights; it mocks them.

It is time for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United States Department of State to divorce themselves completely of Alkarama, and to withdraw and amend any reports which incorporated directly or indirectly information supplied by Alkarama. The old adage, “Garbage in, Garbage out” holds true. To continue to incorporate Alkarama research into these reports undercuts the entire corpus of those reports.

The situation gets worse, however. Readers of COMMENTARY need no reminder about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Alkarama now seeks observer status at the Committee. To do so would be to effectively grant al-Qaeda’s lobbyist a seat at the table. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may complain about the criticism the UN receives from Americans, Canadians, and others. But should he allow this to continue, he will do more damage to the UN and its human-rights committee than any secretary-general since the UN selected former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim to be secretary-general. Then again, for the UN, perhaps such decisions are now par for the course.

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Why Does HRW Support the Ummah Conference?

I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

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I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

In its 2009 report, HRW accused the United Arab Emirates of singling out Ummah Conference leader Hassan al-Diqqi and suggested that Diqqi’s detention was an example of a “human rights defender and government critic fac[ing] harassment, including criminal charges.” What the report omitted, however, was Diqqi’s repeated calls for violent jihad. Certainly, photos of Diqqi with the al-Qaeda-sympathizing Ummah Brigade in Syria do not depict a man committed to nonviolence or democracy, nor did the fact that he had established a training camp for Syrian jihadist fighters. Human Rights Watch also omitted the fact that Diqqi had authored a book advocating for violent jihad in 2002.

Then, in a 2011 report, HRW targeted Saudi authorities for arresting Saudi-based Ummah Party leaders. HRW described them as “political activists.” Perhaps they are political activists, if advocacy for al-Qaeda and support for its affiliates in Syria will, as HRW describes Saudi Arabia’s Ummah Party’s mission, serve the “promotion of human rights, including free speech the right to peacefully protest, and promotion of women and civil society….”

It’s not surprising that Alkarama would advocate so fiercely for the Ummah Conference, and falsely attest to that group’s moderation to Alkarama’s partners in Human Rights Watch. Alkarama was founded by five like-minded individuals: Designated terror financier Abd al-Rahman Omar al-Nuaimi and Khalifa Muhammad Raban who, like Nuaimi, is a Qatari citizen, and three leaders from Algeria’s Ummah Conference affiliate. Indeed, Mourad Dhina, one of the Algerian Alkarama founders and Ummah Conference members, was the supervisor of the executive office of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front from 2002-2004. Readers should remember the Islamic Salvation Front as the front group for the Armed Islamic Group, one side of the Algerian civil war that engaged in gross violations of human rights and committed atrocities in the conflict that claimed perhaps 100,000 lives.

As a private organization, HRW can ultimately do what it wants, even if it loses credibility by corrupting human-rights reporting by enabling radical partners to inject political agendas into their reports, effectively rendering them into tools of propaganda rather than human-rights advocacy.

So too can the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization which has made a mockery of its own mission, which in 2009 adopted an opinion against the United Arab Emirates for its arrest of al-Diqqi. (In 2010, Alkarama took credit for the UN opinion, showing how conscious their efforts are to use human-rights organizations to launder their own jihadist agenda.)

The problem is that many in the State Department, unaware or too lazy to read Human Rights Watch reports with a critical eye, effectively parrot the language inserted by Alkarama and other radical partners into annual State Department human-rights reports. Rather than get out of the embassy and investigate human rights on their own, U.S. diplomats charged with writing the Saudi chapter on human rights simply took HRW’s word for it when it came to the crackdown on Ummah Party leaders. In its 2012 human rights report, for example, the State Department wrote, “According to a Human Rights Watch citation of the request, they appeared to have been detained solely for trying to create a party whose professed aims included ‘supporting the peaceful reform movement.’” Make no mistake: Saudi Arabia can be guilty of tremendous human-rights abuses, but that does not mean those who are radical even by Saudi standards are any better. Often, they can be far worse.

Given Human Rights Watch’s rampant politicization across the Middle East from Morocco and the Western Sahara to the United Arab Emirates, perhaps it is time to mandate that the State Department cannot utilize any HRW findings or data until HRW restores its quality control and excises agenda politics from its reporting.

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Amnesty Doubles Down on Islamism

I had blogged here last week regarding how bizarre it was that Human Rights Watch would partner with Abd al-Rahman al Nuaimi, who not only founded Al-Karama, a self-declared human-rights organization, but also served as the secretary-general of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, a fiercely anti-American group whose statement of purpose reads:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.  And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion.

That Human Rights Watch would partner with al-Karama, accept their research apparently without a critical eye, and not withdraw or revise reports once Nuaimi’s apparent terror connections and anti-American, pro-jihadist agenda became clear is their shame.

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I had blogged here last week regarding how bizarre it was that Human Rights Watch would partner with Abd al-Rahman al Nuaimi, who not only founded Al-Karama, a self-declared human-rights organization, but also served as the secretary-general of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, a fiercely anti-American group whose statement of purpose reads:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.  And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion.

That Human Rights Watch would partner with al-Karama, accept their research apparently without a critical eye, and not withdraw or revise reports once Nuaimi’s apparent terror connections and anti-American, pro-jihadist agenda became clear is their shame.

Amnesty International, however, has behaved just as poorly in the wake of the scandal, if not worse. Nuaimi’s colleague Muhammad al-Roken is the head of al-Islah, the United Arab Emirate’s local affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. That Roken would endorse the founding statement of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign says a lot about who he is and for what he stands. He certainly is not a paradigm of non-violence.

Indeed, last year the United Arab Emirates disrupted a coup plot by Al-Islah and tried its members. Some were convicted, while others were released. Among those convicted was Roken who, with Nuaimi’s designation, we now know not only headed the Muslim Brotherhood chapter, but also was in close partnership with al-Qaeda. To Amnesty International, however, Roken is a martyr. Here are some recent Amnesty tweets demanding Roken’s release from prison. It almost seems that Amnesty International and its local UAE affiliate believe that politics trumps human rights. Roken’s fierce anti-Americanism illustrated in the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign’s statement seems to be exculpatory to Amnesty and its local affiliates, many of whom seem to share Roken’s politics, if not his ideology. It seems that rather than base their conclusions on rigorous and apolitical conceptions of human rights, the analysts at Amnesty International believe that intolerant Islamism should make politicians immune from the consequences of their actions. Releasing Roken would not only be a travesty of justice for those whom he targeted with extreme violence, but would also lead to more violence down the road as ideological terrorists seldom reform on their own personal recognizance.  

There are serious human-rights issues that the United Arab Emirates should address; as with many countries in the region, police abuse remains a problem and many South Asian expatriate workers there complain of unequal treatment under the law. The United Arab Emirates, however, has made progress and continues to address such issues. How sad it is that Amnesty International, like Human Rights Watch, would take such a political line and soil their own brand name by letting a political agenda trump a human-rights one.

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What Was Human Rights Watch Thinking?

I blogged here last week regarding the failure of Human Rights Watch to rescind and reinvestigate reports for which it had relied on information contributed by al-Karama, whose president the U.S. Treasury Department recently designated as an al-Qaeda financier. When it comes to any reporting, regardless of subject, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies. Human Rights Watch can certainly plead ignorance that it was not aware of al-Karama president Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaimi’s financial transfers. What Human Rights Watch should have been aware of, however, was Nuaimi’s other public activities.

Nuaimi was secretary-general of an organization called the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GAAC), an umbrella group which coordinated leading luminaries from al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Ummah Conference. Here is a statement from the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign explaining its mission:

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I blogged here last week regarding the failure of Human Rights Watch to rescind and reinvestigate reports for which it had relied on information contributed by al-Karama, whose president the U.S. Treasury Department recently designated as an al-Qaeda financier. When it comes to any reporting, regardless of subject, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies. Human Rights Watch can certainly plead ignorance that it was not aware of al-Karama president Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaimi’s financial transfers. What Human Rights Watch should have been aware of, however, was Nuaimi’s other public activities.

Nuaimi was secretary-general of an organization called the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GAAC), an umbrella group which coordinated leading luminaries from al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Ummah Conference. Here is a statement from the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign explaining its mission:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.

 And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion. The worst of its examples is the armed occupation of countries and peaceful peoples, similar to what has happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which have destroyed the core and foundations of society and shed the blood of women, children, and elders, and destroyed cities upon the heads of its residents, insulting human dignity, which all creeds and religions have honored, and ignoring agreements and covenants. This is all in addition to what is carried out by the Zionists in occupying the lands of Palestine and killing and displacing its resilient people, and insulting their rights and desecrating their holy sites for more than half a century.

 This vicious aggression sets humanity back to the despised era of colonialism when colonizing countries attacked the dignity of weak peoples, stole their wealth, undermined their positions, and this legality of the villain was superior. And in resistance to this aggression, the signatories of this statement announce the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign as a vessel uniting the efforts of the children of the ummah, and to remind [the ummah] of its obligation for victory, and to raise [the ummah’s] awareness for its right of self-defense, and to combat the aggressor in a legal manner through effective tools.”

So, Human Rights Watch chose as its partner a man who accepted uncritically the most vile conspiracy theories and had dedicated himself to advancing the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and similar groups. His vessel, in this mission, was not only the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign but also Human Rights Watch, utilizing the group to defend the Muslim Brotherhood and its adherents, and to castigate and tar those who sought to combat the group through legal means. Hence, when the United Arab Emirates in just one instance disrupted a plot by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islah group to stage a coup, al-Karama swung into action and, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, simply attacked the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights Watch got used, plain and simple. It’s the biggest misstep by a human-rights advocacy group since the American Friends Service Committee shilled for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s. At least when the true ideology and actions of the Khmer Rouge were exposed, the American Friends Service Committee had the decency to acknowledge its error. As for Human Rights Watch, its researchers speak Arabic and so it was either aware of the activities of its partner’s president, or it was negligent in its most basic assessments. Either way, it should be deeply embarrassed. Withdrawing any report which al-Karama touched should only be the beginning. Perhaps it is time for Kenneth Roth, the organization’s executive director, to submit himself to the questioning of his board and to explain just how Human Rights Watch came to partner with a man whose views are outlined so starkly in the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign manifest.

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Human Rights Watch Should Rescind Reports

It should be terribly embarrassing that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) partnered with al-Karama, a group whose Qatari leader now appears to have been an al-Qaeda financier. National-security reporter Eli Lake, who broke the story, wrote:

On Wednesday [December 18], the Treasury Department issued a designation of [Abdul Rahman Umayr ] al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group’s representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama’s representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.

It’s bad enough that HRW and AI partnered with such groups, for if they cannot accurately assess their own partners, then it raises questions about how well they can assess others. It is possible that the leadership and analysts at HRW and AI were blinded by their own politics. After all, if al-Karama criticized the right targets, then why should HRW or AI criticize its motives?

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It should be terribly embarrassing that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) partnered with al-Karama, a group whose Qatari leader now appears to have been an al-Qaeda financier. National-security reporter Eli Lake, who broke the story, wrote:

On Wednesday [December 18], the Treasury Department issued a designation of [Abdul Rahman Umayr ] al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group’s representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama’s representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.

It’s bad enough that HRW and AI partnered with such groups, for if they cannot accurately assess their own partners, then it raises questions about how well they can assess others. It is possible that the leadership and analysts at HRW and AI were blinded by their own politics. After all, if al-Karama criticized the right targets, then why should HRW or AI criticize its motives?

What is truly reprehensible, however, is that given the questions now surfacing with regard to al-Karama, Human Rights Watch has not rescinded the reports in whose development it had partnered with al-Karama. Take the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which last year successfully busted a coup plot by al-Islah, the local affiliation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Human Rights Watch condemned the UAE and accused it of torture in a study that it conducted in conjunction with al-Karama. Now it seems that its partner’s leader was committed not only in rhetoric but also fact to advancing al-Qaeda’s goals. Can HRW really, in hindsight, take seriously the group’s work which castigated a government which has cracked down on al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood? Frankly, it seems plausible that al-Karama’s leadership wanted to use HRW’s mantle to castigate those it saw as ideological enemies.

Now, the UAE isn’t the only target of al-Karama/HRW partnership. And it is possible that human-rights violations did occur in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. But, if HRW is a professional organization that wants to uphold the highest standards of analysis, it should begin 2014 with a recall of any and all reports to which al-Karama researchers or the organization contributed and, if necessary, apologies to governments like the United Arab Emirates. The sanctity and impartiality of human-rights research should trump political advocacy and the desire to avoid organizational embarrassment. What HRW and Amnesty International should not do, alas, is obfuscate and delay, the very strategy in which they now seek to engage.

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Why Do Human Rights Groups Punish Access?

Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

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Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

Not much has changed. So far in 2013, HRW has issued 14 press releases condemning Israel for various policies or abuses, and six press releases condemning the Palestinian Authority or Hamas leadership in Gaza. All five commentaries HRW published bashed Israel, or called on other countries to take a harsher line toward the Jewish state.

Compare that with Jordan (nine press releases, and four commentaries, three of which called for more acceptance of Syrian refugees); Lebanon (nine press releases and two commentaries, both of which focused on Syrian refugees); or Qatar (two press releases and five commentaries). True, there was more focus on Egypt and Syria this past year, but comparing countries with coups and civil wars to the region’s only democracy underscores the point. So too does the fact that criticism of Saudi Arabia has increased as that kingdom has granted human-rights groups more access.

Israel is not the only country penalized by the access it grants outsiders. King Muhammad VI has steadily liberalized Morocco since taking the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hassan II. Since that time, HRW has issued four reports critical of Algerian human-rights abuses (and a fifth critical of Algerian cooperation with the United States), while it has issued three times that number criticizing Morocco. Make no mistake: Algeria has a far worse human-rights record, with a downward trajectory while Morocco has acknowledged past abuses and worked—quite successfully in most cases—to overcome them.

Nor is it just the Middle East where this pattern exists. In the past five years, HRW has issued four reports about Colombia where human rights have steadily improved, but only two about Venezuela, where Venezuela’s socialist leaders have pushed human rights into the gutter. Likewise, over the past five years, HRW has issued one report about Belarus but five about Georgia.

The U.S. State Department is guilty of the same pattern when it writes its annual human-rights reports. Here, there is no better example than the discrepancy in how the State Department treats Morocco, a loyal and increasingly progressive U.S. ally, and the Polisario Front, an autocratic Cold War throwback which imprisons not only Sahrawi tribal members in refugee camps in the Western province of Tindouf, but also Mauritanians and Algerians it has captured in order to swell refugee numbers. The Algerian government and Polisario both have a policy of refusing to allow residents to return home to Morocco, which has welcomed anyone who wants to come (there are very limited family visits, but usually Polisario holds family members hostage to ensure that men and women return to their spouses and children rather than remain in Morocco). While historically, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat handled the Polisario camps, in recent years the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has taken over the responsibility. Herein lays the problem: The U.S. Embassy in Algiers is either unable to visit the camps, or unwilling to antagonize the Algerian government with which it must work for fear of making an issue of the camps. The end result is that the State Department annual human-rights report is hypercritical of Morocco, effectively punishing it for its openness, while giving the Polisario Front effectively a clean pass by omission.

That the lesson governments might take from the practices of both human-rights organizations and the State Department is that the way to a clean bill of health is to restrict access is unfortunate. Human-rights officials might enjoy hanging out more in Casablanca, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, and Bogota rather than spending their time being harassed by police and security services in Minsk, Gaza, Caracas, Algiers or Tindouf, but they are doing themselves and their organizations a disservice by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, countries like Israel, Morocco, Colombia, and Georgia seem committed to doing the right thing regardless of how their critics treat them. Still, that the pattern of punishing access exists is undeniable and should provide pause for the human-rights organizations, for the existence of such a pattern corrupts the end result and gives countries reason to dismiss all reporting as arbitrary and not based on set standards.

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Appointment Shows Obama Unserious on Snowden

Whatever his motivation, Edward Snowden has done more damage to United States national security than any leaker or spy for well over a half century. President Obama’s statements on the case have been ambivalent. While the United States has charged Snowden under espionage statutes and pressured allies and adversaries alike not to grant Snowden refuge, Obama’s quip that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” signaled a White House desire to downplay the case.

In recent days, the organization which has most rallied to Snowden’s defense has been Human Rights Watch, an organization that purports to defend human rights apolitically, but in recent years seems to have let leftist politics and Saudi fundraising drive its positions. So with Human Rights Watch (HRW) somewhat rallying around Snowden on tenuous grounds, what does the Obama administration do?

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Whatever his motivation, Edward Snowden has done more damage to United States national security than any leaker or spy for well over a half century. President Obama’s statements on the case have been ambivalent. While the United States has charged Snowden under espionage statutes and pressured allies and adversaries alike not to grant Snowden refuge, Obama’s quip that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” signaled a White House desire to downplay the case.

In recent days, the organization which has most rallied to Snowden’s defense has been Human Rights Watch, an organization that purports to defend human rights apolitically, but in recent years seems to have let leftist politics and Saudi fundraising drive its positions. So with Human Rights Watch (HRW) somewhat rallying around Snowden on tenuous grounds, what does the Obama administration do?

Reward Tom Malinowski, the Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, by nominating him to a plum State Department post. The Senate confirmation process is about oversight but, alas, the Senate for more than a generation and across administrations has not shown that it takes its role and responsibility seriously. Let us hope that some senators put two and two together and grill Malinowski on his Snowden position and his work at HRW when he has his hearing. Credibility matters.   

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World Silent as Hamas Demolishes Houses

The indefatigable Tom Gross highlights this story compiled from the Palestinian press:

Ma’an and other Palestinian news agencies report that the Hamas government in Gaza has renewed its policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian families in order to seize land for government use. 120 families are to lose their homes in the latest round of demolitions – a far greater number than the number of illegally built Palestinian homes Israel has demolished in recent years – and unlike Israeli authorities, Hamas doesn’t even claim these homes were built illegally or with dangerous structures. Yet western media and human rights groups have been virtually silent about these destructions of Palestinian homes by Hamas.

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The indefatigable Tom Gross highlights this story compiled from the Palestinian press:

Ma’an and other Palestinian news agencies report that the Hamas government in Gaza has renewed its policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian families in order to seize land for government use. 120 families are to lose their homes in the latest round of demolitions – a far greater number than the number of illegally built Palestinian homes Israel has demolished in recent years – and unlike Israeli authorities, Hamas doesn’t even claim these homes were built illegally or with dangerous structures. Yet western media and human rights groups have been virtually silent about these destructions of Palestinian homes by Hamas.

As Gross points out, this past February, Hamas undertook another wave of demolitions in Gaza City’s Hamami neighborhood. Maybe Hamas leaders need land to build more luxury villas like their PLO predecessors did. Perhaps it’s time for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others to show they really stand on principle, and aren’t simply using the Israel-Palestinian conflict to score cheap political points or, in the case of Human Rights Watch, advance their prospects for fundraising in Saudi Arabia.

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U.S. Must Use Leverage Against Maliki

Michael Rubin and I have been disagreeing about the nature of Iraq’s government and specifically about Prime Minister Maliki: Is he a well-intentioned leader who is trying, in all good faith, to increase the power of the central government in Baghdad so as to govern the country effectively, or is he a budding dictator who is trying to establish a sectarian Shi’ite regime with the aid of Iranian agents? I wish the answer were the former but I fear, alas, that it is the latter. More evidence of his alarming tendencies comes from Human Rights Watch, which can hardly be accused of being a Sunni mouthpiece. Its latest report finds:

Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.

Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions, one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-to-door with long lists of names of people they wanted to detain. The government has held hundreds of detainees for months, refusing to disclose the number of those detained, their identities, any charges against them, and where they are being held.

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Michael Rubin and I have been disagreeing about the nature of Iraq’s government and specifically about Prime Minister Maliki: Is he a well-intentioned leader who is trying, in all good faith, to increase the power of the central government in Baghdad so as to govern the country effectively, or is he a budding dictator who is trying to establish a sectarian Shi’ite regime with the aid of Iranian agents? I wish the answer were the former but I fear, alas, that it is the latter. More evidence of his alarming tendencies comes from Human Rights Watch, which can hardly be accused of being a Sunni mouthpiece. Its latest report finds:

Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.

Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions, one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-to-door with long lists of names of people they wanted to detain. The government has held hundreds of detainees for months, refusing to disclose the number of those detained, their identities, any charges against them, and where they are being held.

That certainly doesn’t sound like the actions of a prime minister interested in upholding the rule of law or in establishing a sound basis for Iraqi democracy. The tragedy is that, in the days when there were still U.S. troops in Iraq, the U.S. commanding general undoubtedly would have gone along with the U.S. ambassador to Maliki’s office and read him the riot act over such egregious misconduct. Similar Iraqi torture operations had been uncovered in the past and disbanded under American pressure.

With our troops gone, we have now lost a good deal of leverage to influence the actions of the Iraqi government. We must use what leverage we still have–Iraq is counting on arms sales from the U.S. to deliver F-16s and other valuable systems–to try to keep Maliki in check. But it won’t be easy. It may not even be possible. For all our disagreements about Maliki, Michael and I at least agree that withdrawing American troops entirely was a mistake, and one for which we–and the long-suffering people of Iraq–are likely to pay a steep price.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Tunisia’s Anti-Israel Eliza Doolittle

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

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RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

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