Human rights watchers with poor visibility

Those charged with preventing Nazi horrors should not make light of them

By Mark Gardner, October 15, 2009

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are the guardians of society’s universal human rights, their mission anchored upon the horrors of Nazism. So you would expect them to have zero tolerance for anything associated with Nazism. Not so, it seems.

When Marc Garlasco, HRW’s “battlefield analyst”, was shown by pro-Israel lobby groups to be an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia; a wearer of Iron Cross sweatshirts; the author of a book sold by; and to use “flak88” as his Internet pseudonym and car number plate, HRW’s first reaction was to shoot the messenger and refuse even to question Garlasco’s behaviour.

Their response was: “This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign”— the alleged campaign being one to protect Israel from HRW scrutiny. “To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies”, the HRW added, “is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war”.

HRW belatedly suspended Garlasco. The announcement is on their website, atop the earlier denunciation of his critics.

It says HRW is “looking into the matter... and an inquiry is under way. Garlasco has been temporarily suspended… with full pay pending the inquiry. This is not a disciplinary measure…”

Meanwhile, on the Amnesty website, an Amnesty press officer blogged, “After HRW, is Amnesty International next? Are we set to be outed as a hotbed of Holocaust-deniers? Will key Amnesty researchers be unmasked, shown to be furtive collectors of David Irving DVDs?”

“Rather than sinking to such scurrility,” the press officer railed, “Israel ought to confront these serious criticisms head-on”. If Israel and Hamas ever faced the International Criminal Court, its chief prosecutor would be accused of “a fetishistic interest in the leather boots worn by members of Himmler’s Waffen-SS units.”

Blogs are less formal than the sober, official statements made by actual organisations but I fear these playground-level jibes are not unrepresentative of Amnesty’s instinctive reaction to the Garlasco controversy, and diminish the right of Jews (especially those deemed to be pro-Israeli Jews) publicly to express their fears about antisemitism.

This is part of a wider trend, visible across the spectrum of the political left and its media; the slippery slope that leads from anti-Israel antipathy to an instinctive suspicion and rejection of mainstream Jewish sensibilities. As Jews, we may call this antisemitism, but it is perhaps better identified as an anti-Jewish impact of anti-Israel hostility. This is not semantics: if we want a trade unionist or a Guardian writer to change his or her ways, shouting “antisemite” is unlikely to achieve it.

It is, however, the self-declared human-rights organisations that bear the heaviest moral burden to behave decently towards Jews and treat carefully issues of antisemitism. This is the legacy of their chosen heritage. And Jews have played a prominent role in the development of the human rights movement. Indeed, if these organisations do not rapidly address and reverse the current trend, they risk betraying not only Jews, but also their own founding principles.

Mark Gardner is the CST’s director of communications. He blogs at

Last updated: 5:47pm, December 10 2009


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