April 28, 2021
Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday castigating Israel. The hatchet job is only the latest chapter in an anti-Israel campaign by the once reputable watchdog group, which five years ago tapped a longtime anti-Israel activist as its director in that region.
HRW frequently levels baseless accusations against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, while victims of authoritarian regimes in Iran, Syria, and Yemen consistently get a pass.
Here are five things you should know about Human Rights Watch and its outrageous report.
- Flawed Report
The 217-page report with 867 footnotes gives the appearance of a weighty and well documented discourse. But its arguments are baseless and sometimes border on antisemitism.
It points to Israel’s Law of Return—the assurance offered to Jews around the world that they will always find a haven and a home in Israel—as an example of Israel’s discrimination, ignoring the fact that similar laws exist in numerous democracies around the world and implicitly challenging Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
The report also accuses the Israeli government of human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, but fails to note Hamas’s stated intention to wipe Israel off the map or Israel’s need to defend itself against a constant barrage of terrorist attacks from next door. In fact, the words “Palestinian terrorism” do not appear a single time in the entire document.
- The Man Behind the Report
The report’s primary author is Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel/Palestine director, who signed a pledge in 2015 to “honor the BDS call.” The founder and leader of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement has stated openly that his movement aims to see Israel dismantled as a Jewish state and BDS activists have achieved notoriety around the world for attacking Jews and Jewish institutions.
Israel expelled Shakir for violating a 2017 law that bars BDS supporters from entering the country. At the time, then-Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said Shakir “reveals the true face of boycott activists… even when they present a false pose of ‘human rights activists.’”
An analysis of Shakir’s Twitter activity by the watchdog group NGO Monitor between June 2018 and February 2019 showed 970 tweets on issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of those 970 tweets, 18 condemned alleged Israeli attacks on Palestinians, but not one condemned terrorist attacks against Israel.
- Faces of HRW
The animus toward Israel and disregard for antisemitism extends to the organization’s highest levels. In 2004, Executive Director Ken Roth declined an invitation from former Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky to participate in the Global Forum on Antisemitism, dismissing deepening concerns about antisemitism in Europe by writing that “we tend to focus on violence… For [antisemitism] to be a human rights violation one would need to see governments in Europe either embracing antisemitism [or] condoning antisemitic violence.”
Two years later, Roth criticized Israel’s conduct in the Second Lebanon War with an antisemitic slur of his own. “An eye for an eye – or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye – may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law,” he wrote in July 2006.
“To suggest that Judaism is a "primitive" religion incompatible with contemporary morality is to engage in supersessionism, the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much anti-Semitism,” The New York Sun wrote in an editorial at the time.
In 2009, HRW bizarrely defended its senior military analyst Marc Garlasco following revelations that he was an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia and had even authored a book about Nazi-era medals. According to The Guardian, Garlasco once commented that a leather SS jacket made “my blood go cold it is so COOL!”
Eventually, HRW stopped defending Garlasco. He was suspended and HRW announced an investigation into the matter. Shortly thereafter he resigned from the agency. But none of the vehemently anti-Israel reports he produced, including about the alleged use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, have been removed from circulation or recalled for review.
Khulood Badawi, currently HRW’s “Israel and East Jerusalem Consultant,” lost her job with the UN Office for Coordinated and Humanitarian Affairs after tweeting a photo of a Palestinian girl who, Badawi said, “had been killed by the IDF during the 2012 shelling of Gaza.” In fact, the photo—tweeted under the caption “Long live Palestine”—had been taken six years earlier and had nothing to do with Israel. HRW hired her after her record of anti-Israel propaganda was already widely known.
- Hostility and Hypocrisy
Hostility and hypocrisy are HRW’s hallmarks when it comes to Israel. While HRW keeps tabs on human rights abuses in 100 countries around the world, Roth focuses much of his social media vitriol on Israel.
The former federal prosecutor shares false news articles with unverified sources, refers to Israel’s actions in Gaza as “war crimes” and “indiscriminate,” and denies that Hamas uses its own citizens as human shields. He also insults those who speak out against the rise of global antisemitism.
Human Rights Watch disregards repeated rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas and flare-ups of aggression from Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. Both proxies of Iran have openly declared their intentions to wipe Israel off the map and murder Jews. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. But you won’t hear that from HRW.
- Failing Their Founder
Even HRW’s founder, before his death, was appalled by what he saw happening to his beloved organization. Robert Bernstein, chairman of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 1998, lamented that HRW had drifted from its mission of monitoring closed societies and authoritarian regimes. He questioned the misguided rationale that led HRW to disproportionately target the only democracy in the Middle East rather than regimes that repress, imprison, and kill their own citizens.
“Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields,” he wrote. “Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world.”