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October 21, 2009
Human Rights Watch denounced by its founder
Paraphrasing King Lear's agonizing insight
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child! Away, away!
Robert Bernstein has a similar reaction with one of his rebellious, thankless children, Human Rights Watch, an organization he founded and ran for twenty years. Established
to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.
As a result he is finally telling his thankless child "away! away!" in a very public way--announcing his disappointment in an op-ed in the New York Times , a major outlet of his group.
As a founder of Human Rights Watch and its active chairman for 20 years, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group's critics.
And what did his baby, lovingly brought about with the best of intentions, do that caused the father to so publicly disavow it? Bernstein, the former chief executive of the publisher, Random House, was quiet when one of the organization's staffers Joe Stork , who is now their Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa division, set up the Middle East Research Information Project (MERIP) to specifically criticize Israel while glorifying the "revolutionary potential" of Arab violence.
When Middle East director Sarah Whiston journeyed to Saudi Arabia for funding, promising to further discredit Israel, there was deafening public silence. Bernstein uttered not a peep after it was publicly disclosed that their chief military analyst, Marc Garlasco, had a bizarre hobby--collecting Nazi memorabilia.
Maybe he was distressed privately; airing his concerns to the individuals involved and discussing the problem at board meetings. Understandable. Parents usually initially rationalize their children's rebellious behavior; later desperately seeking any type of help to change the child's errant ways.
And it is difficult to disown one's own child. But finally the child's serpent tooth turned deadly and Bernstein had to act.
But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.
The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.
Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world - many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch's Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
Bernstein says that Human Rights watch has lost "critical perspective" on the conflict and that "Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields." He calls Iran's policy "incitement to genocide" and a violation of " the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
He also takes the organization to task for them being fully aware of Hamas and Hezb'allah tactics that make war from populated areas, and that HRW turns a blind eye to the arms flowing into the region that will only serve to start the violence all over again.
But like any parent, Bernstein cannot totally renounce his offspring; he hopes that his child will reform and become responsible.
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. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.
Ah parents! An organization that is now disparagingly referred to as Human Wrongs Watch seems to far gone to redeem. Away! Away!