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August 25, 2006

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, is at it again, twisting the facts in a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, his third in recent weeks attempting to defend his organization’s slanted reporting against Israel …..

Filed under: Israel, Organisationer — limewoody @ 9:54 am

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, is at it again, twisting the facts in a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, his third in recent weeks attempting to defend his organization’s slanted reporting against Israel against and to disparage critics who see it for what it is. Mr. Roth is a clever man, but he and his organization are in the wrong here. The record extends back to before the current round of fighting.

Mr. Roth begins his letter by patting his own organization on the back for supposedly debunking claims of an Israeli massacre at Jenin. Yet it’s a false boast. A New York Times article on Jenin quoted a Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Peter Bouckaert, saying of Israel: “We have no doubt that extremely serious violations of the laws of war were committed. The evidence is certainly strong enough to warrant a war crimes investigation.”

When the United Nations finally issued a report absolving Israel, Mr. Bouckaert was quoted by the French wire service AFP as accusing Israel of obstructing the U.N. investigation and of having engaged in “very serious abuses,” including “deliberate and unlawful killing of civilians.” As recently as June of this year Mr. Bouckaert had a letter in the New Republic saying that Human Rights Watch “concluded that the army committed serious violations of the laws of war during its Jenin operation — some of them amounting to prima facie war crimes.” It’s an awfully fine distinction Mr. Roth wants credit for: Human Rights Watch didn’t accuse Israel of a massacre in Jenin, just of deliberately and unlawfully killing civilians and engaging in “war crimes.”

Mr. Roth goes on to deny a “rush to judgment” in Qana. But only hours after the attack, Mr. Roth and Human Rights Watch issued a press release headlined “Israel Responsible for Qana Attack, Indiscriminate Bombing in Lebanon a War Crime.” The press release claimed the Israeli attack killed “at least 54 civilians,” a death toll that subsequently was revised downward to 28. Mr. Roth denies that he rushed to judgment, but he found Israel guilty of a war crime in a press release issued only hours after the attack.

Mr. Roth claims the Israel Defense Force “admitted that on the day of the attack there was no evidence of Hezbollah activity or rocket fire from Qana,” as if that were somehow dispositive. But the same IDF statement, according to a report in the New York Times, said that more than 150 rockets had been launched against Israel in the previous weeks from in and near Qana. Days after the Israeli strike on Qana that Mr. Roth decided in a matter of hours had been a “war crime,” the New YorkTimes reported “The Israeli military said the rockets that hit Haifa were fired from the Lebanese village of Qana, and that the military had hit and destroyed the launcher shortly afterward.”

The executive director of Human Rights Watch seems to think that even if hundreds of rockets are being fired from a Lebanese town at Israeli cities on the days before and after an Israeli attack, the Lebanese town should be immune from attack so long as no rockets were fired in the hours immediately preceding the attack. That standard is unrealistic for Israel, which has to plan its military operations in advance and is trying to defend itself from a terrorist group trying to kill Israeli civilians. The alternative to air strikes is ground operations in which Israeli soldiers risk being ambushed. How many Israeli ground troops does Mr. Roth think should die to satisfy his qualms about the timing of Israeli air raids?

Mr. Roth tries to parry a complaint about the imbalance of Human Rights Watch’s work in “Israel and the Arab world” by claiming, “A recent survey of Human Rights Watch’s work in the region showed that publications on Israel lagged behind those on each of Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Turkey.” Well, it may come as news to Mr. Roth, but Iran and Turkey are not part of the “Arab world.” And much of Human Rights Watch’s work on Iraq was devoted to criticizing the actions of American Marines and the Bush administration, which only further underscores the organization’s bias. Anyway, Israel is hardly in Egypt or Sudan’s league as a human rights abuser, so it’s hard to see why Mr. Roth thinks anyone should be mollified by this non-response.

Mr. Roth claims to have half a staff member out of 230 devoted to researching Israeli “abuses.” How, then, one wonders, can he have been so sure, in a matter of hours, that Israel had committed a “war crime” at Qana? How can he be so certain that in “two dozen cases” there was “no evidence of Hezbollah”? He’s trying to have it both ways — claiming, on the one hand, that he’s got lots of authoritative researchers investigating Israeli war crimes while, on the other hand, claiming that he only has one person devoted half-time to Israel.

Mr. Roth calls “moral equivalence” a “false charge,” yet he recently wrote, “under international humanitarian law, just as Israeli abuses in Lebanon did not justify reprisals against Israeli civilians, so Hizbullah’s war crimes did not justify Israel shirking its duty to protect Lebanese civilians.” He wrote to us that Human Rights Watch “never identifies the aggressor or the defender.”

A similar slipperiness obtained on a recent television appearance by Mr. Roth on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a Fox News Channel program that bills itself as a “no-spin zone.” The host, Bill O’Reilly, called Mr. Roth “an honest guy.” On the program, Mr. Roth, pressed by Mr. O’Reilly, said he thought Hezbollah was a terrorist group. Yet none of Human Rights Watch’s extensive material on the conflict in Israel and Lebanon refers to Hezbollah as a terrorist group. It calls Hezbollah a “militia.”

Also in the “no-spin zone,” Mr. Roth said, “With Israel, though, I don’t believe that they’re deliberately trying to kill civilians as a matter of policy.” Yet in a letter to The New York Sun, he accused Israel of “slaughter,” writing, “whether by design or callous indifference, Israeli bombing has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians.” In testimony to the U.N. Human Rights Council, his organization said, “In a few cases, the timing and intensity of the attacks, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.”

Also in the “no-spin zone,” Mr. Roth referred to a “20 page report” that he said his organization had put out on Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, blaming a New York Sun editor for missing the report as a result of not having looked at the Human Rights Watch Web site recently. In fact, a Human Rights Watch spokeswoman has since acknowledged that Mr. Roth was mistaken, and no such 20-page report existed.

Mr. Roth bragged on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “we know how to cut through lies.” It’s training that might be useful for Human Rights Watch’s board and donors in dealing with Mr. Roth. Some of them are starting to wise up. Mortimer Zuckerman, whose charitable trust is listed in the 2005 Human Rights Watch annual report as having given between $25,000 and $99,999 to Human Rights Watch, told us he thought Human Rights Watch’s treatment of Israel’s actions in Lebanon was an “outrage.” “Human Rights Watch has lost all moral credibility,” he said.

Don’t expect a similar recognition anytime soon from the quasigovernmental European foundations that are a big source of Human Rights Watch’s funding. Or from the chairman and two members of the Human Rights Watch “Middle East Advisory Committee,” Columbia professors Gary Sick, Lisa Anderson, and Jean-Francois Seznec, who accepted a free trip to Saudi Arabia from the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, a junket so ethically dubious that the Columbia journalism school faculty voted not to send anyone. Mr. Roth and Human Rights Watch may be able to fool some of the people all of the time, as Lincoln once said. But it hasn’t been able to fool all of the people. The leadership of the American Jewish community has long since figured out Human Rights Watch’s game. Its founder, Robert Bernstein, as previously noted here, has been telling his friends of his private agonies over the behavior of the organization he helped bring to life. And when the history of this period is written, the record will show that during the war against Israel and the Jewish people, Human Rights Watch and Kenneth Roth joined in the effort to demonize the Jewish state at a time when righteous individuals were trying to defend it.

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