Analysis: The halo drops from Human Rights Watch

By Noah Pollak, August 20, 2009
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Over the past few years, non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch has managed to portray Israel as one of the greatest human rights violators on earth. The group has produced dozens of heated condemnations of Israel over the Gaza blockade yet only criticised Egypt, which also maintains the blockade, a few times in passing — and Egypt has not even been under rocket attack.

During the 2006 Israel-Hizbollah war, HRW officials repeatedly accused the IDF of intentionally targeting civilians, a claim utterly without substance.

Operation Cast Lead, which concluded eight months ago, provided HRW with a new opportunity. According to HRW, pretty much everything the IDF did — from its use of drones, to artillery, to white phosphorous, to its rules of engagement — was a war crime.

Three separate reports about Cast Lead have been produced and carry incendiary titles, such as “Rain of Fire” and “Remote Control Death”.

This week, it was revealed that Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East deputy director and the editor and head promoter of the white flags report, is a former Marxist radical.

The latest report on Gaza, “White Flag Deaths”, claims that IDF soldiers shot in cold blood women and children who were waving white flags.

How does HRW know? Well, the group’s “investigators” were tipped off by some anti-Israel journalists and NGOs and then conducted interviews after the war.

Did the IDF confirm the charges? No. Does HRW have any video evidence of these killings? No. All they have is stories. But it seems that being Human Rights Watch means never having to justify your claims.

Until now, perhaps. This week, it was revealed that Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East deputy director and the editor and head promoter of the white flags report, is a former Marxist radical.

He attended a hate-Israel conference sponsored by Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the 1970s. He was the editor of an anti-Israel journal that celebrated terrorism and condemned Zionism as racist and imperialist. He has even
justified the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

But the real scandal surrounding Joe Stork is not his opinions — many people see the world in his hateful and distorted hues. The scandal is that he was hired by Human Rights Watch. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli group NGO Monitor showed that HRW made a fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia in which the group’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, told her audience that HRW needed their money to battle “pro-Israel pressure groups”.

A minor firestorm ensued in which HRW was closely scrutinised — a process it usually prefers to be applied to others.

And again, it turned out that HRW is not the bastion of objectivity it would have us believe. Ms Whitson came to HRW while on the board of the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, an Arab organisation that frequently bashes Israel.

But the net result of these revelations is positive. Because of them, the public battle over Israel’s reputation will improve.

Finally, the false halo has been dislodged: the group’s extremism and hostility to the Jewish state has been exposed like never before.

It will likely be a long time — probably never — before the BBC stops giving top billing to HRW’s slander du jour about Israel. But from now on, such slanders can be confronted by an informed and sceptical public.

Last updated: 10:20am, August 20 2009