Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul Martin

Double-Standards Watch

For a few months, a “human rights activist” named Mohammad Othman was held by Israel in something called administrative detention, which allows suspects to be held for a short period of time without a trial, but with judicial oversight. Othman’s detention earned this rebuke from Human Rights Watch, titled with a stern demand: “End Arbitrary Detention.” Of course, many nations, both democratic and undemocratic, practice administrative detention. And why the presumption that it was “arbitrary”? Never mind. The statement reads:

Israeli authorities have detained Othman without charge for more than two months on what appear to be politically motivated grounds. … Othman has no criminal record and, to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, has never advocated or participated in violence. …

“The only reasonable conclusion is that Othman is being punished for his peaceful advocacy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. [Emphasis added to weasel-phrasing]

Is that really the only reasonable conclusion? I would actually characterize this as a fantasy conclusion, or at least one of many possible conclusions. If the Shin Bet or IDF were interested in punishing people for “peaceful advocacy” in Israel and the West Bank, there would be tens of thousands of activists in detention. But there aren’t. The fact of the matter is that Whitson has no idea why he was detained, and neither does anyone else outside the Israeli security establishment and courts — but her ignorance of the facts doesn’t stop her from accusing Israel of grave abuses. I would say that the only “reasonable conclusion” here is that Whitson is a shrill and fanatical political activist who has no business working for a human-rights organization.

As it happens, there was another person detained in the area around the same time — a British journalist named Paul Martin, who traveled to Gaza to testify on behalf of a Palestinian accused by Hamas of “collaborating.” Martin was promptly arrested and thrown in jail as a “security threat.” Whitson’s response? She waited until Martin was released and then issued a short statement that is exquisitely deferential to Hamas, containing none of the allegations and passion of her Othman statement. “Journalist’s Detention Violated Due Process,” the title reads.

“We are relieved at Martin’s release, but we are also concerned that Hamas has produced no evidence to justify his detention,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

For Israel, there are accusations, demands, and denunciations. For Hamas, there is polite “concern” that “due process” rules weren’t followed, as if Hamas has any pretensions to due process in the first place. This is Human Rights Watch.

For a few months, a “human rights activist” named Mohammad Othman was held by Israel in something called administrative detention, which allows suspects to be held for a short period of time without a trial, but with judicial oversight. Othman’s detention earned this rebuke from Human Rights Watch, titled with a stern demand: “End Arbitrary Detention.” Of course, many nations, both democratic and undemocratic, practice administrative detention. And why the presumption that it was “arbitrary”? Never mind. The statement reads:

Israeli authorities have detained Othman without charge for more than two months on what appear to be politically motivated grounds. … Othman has no criminal record and, to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, has never advocated or participated in violence. …

“The only reasonable conclusion is that Othman is being punished for his peaceful advocacy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. [Emphasis added to weasel-phrasing]

Is that really the only reasonable conclusion? I would actually characterize this as a fantasy conclusion, or at least one of many possible conclusions. If the Shin Bet or IDF were interested in punishing people for “peaceful advocacy” in Israel and the West Bank, there would be tens of thousands of activists in detention. But there aren’t. The fact of the matter is that Whitson has no idea why he was detained, and neither does anyone else outside the Israeli security establishment and courts — but her ignorance of the facts doesn’t stop her from accusing Israel of grave abuses. I would say that the only “reasonable conclusion” here is that Whitson is a shrill and fanatical political activist who has no business working for a human-rights organization.

As it happens, there was another person detained in the area around the same time — a British journalist named Paul Martin, who traveled to Gaza to testify on behalf of a Palestinian accused by Hamas of “collaborating.” Martin was promptly arrested and thrown in jail as a “security threat.” Whitson’s response? She waited until Martin was released and then issued a short statement that is exquisitely deferential to Hamas, containing none of the allegations and passion of her Othman statement. “Journalist’s Detention Violated Due Process,” the title reads.

“We are relieved at Martin’s release, but we are also concerned that Hamas has produced no evidence to justify his detention,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

For Israel, there are accusations, demands, and denunciations. For Hamas, there is polite “concern” that “due process” rules weren’t followed, as if Hamas has any pretensions to due process in the first place. This is Human Rights Watch.

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