Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Human Rights (sic) Watch: The Big and Little Hands Always Point Against Israel

By Barry Rubin

Want proof of extreme and unprofessional anti-Israel bias on the part of so-called human rights’ groups? Look no further. Human Rights Watch has now revealed its prejudice in two different, but equally shocking, ways.

First, the group sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia where it sought to raise money with the regime and elite there, in part by pointing out that it directs much (most?) of its fire against Israel. While the group keeps denying this, the excellent reportage of Jeffrey Goldberg shows how hollow ring its claims. You can see his account here.

Second, the organization’s own reports show its double standards.

In a recent report on the Israeli air force’s drones in Gaza, it flatly alleged that what might well be errors (if indeed they happened at all) are war crimes, strongly implying that they were expressions of malicious indifference to human life.

Here’s what they wrote this year about Israeli UAV strikes in Gaza, “Precisely Wrong”:

“In the incidents investigated by Human Rights Watch, Israeli forces either failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that the targets were combatants, apparently setting an unacceptably low threshold for conducting attacks, or they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians and to target only the former. As a result, these attacks violated international humanitarian law (the laws of war).”

BUT, here’s what they wrote—in a very different manner--last year about U.S. and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan in “Troops in Contact”:

“The fact that civilians die or are injured in an airstrike does not necessarily mean the airstrike violated the laws of war, as long as the precautions required by the laws of war were taken and applied in good faith. Beyond the human tragedy, high civilian casualties-regardless of whether they were the result of lawful or unlawful conduct-should always be cause for concern by a military force, as the damage to an armed forces' reputation and good-will among the population can be considerable. This is particularly true in a country such as Afghanistan where loyalties are often malleable.”

Notice any difference in tone? There’s a willingness to credit good faith; a degree of nuance and context, a difference in sensitivity to legitimate concerns.

And even that’s not all. According to the Watch itself, in Afghanistan they are pardoning the killing many hundreds of innocent civilians by airpower alone – if you count ground fire, the total mounts into the thousands, according to their calculations, many times more than even the group claims (rightly or probably wrongly) that Israel was allegedly responsible for.

Moreover, the Watch’s Middle East advisory committee noticeably has no Israelis on it—despite the fact that Israel is their main target and the group has been repeatedly criticized for being unfair for Israel. A characteristic of dishonest Israel-bashing nowadays is that those responsible don’t even try to conceal their bias.

Oh, wait, there is one, sort of: the chair, an Israeli Arab (or Palestinian if you wish) Shibley Telhami.

While Telhami is no radical, he never misses a chance to blame Israel for everything—and everyone else for nothing—in the region. Last time I saw Professor Telhami we were on a panel in which he explained—a half-dozen years after September 11—that the only issue that really shaped public opinion and anti-Americanism in the region was (you guessed it) the Arab-Israeli conflict.

And there are lots of people on the board known for being unfriendly, or even outright hostile, toward Israel. At least one senior staff member has dedicated his entire career to wiping Israel off the map and destroying U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Human Rights? Not the main purpose of this organization.

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