Politics & Policy

Israel & Us

In “Human Rights Schizophrenia” (May 23), Gerald Steinberg says he “agree[s] with…every word” of Human Rights Watch’s reporting on China, Sudan, Syria, and Iran, but dismisses its work on Israel as the product of “an emotional anti-Israel agenda.”  Could it be that an organization whose intense commitment to objectivity and fairness has brought it global respect and influence somehow loses its bearings when it comes to Israel?  Or might the problem lie in the eye of the beholder? 

Steinberg, in a moment of candor, asks the same question.  Might it be, he wonders, that he “blindly oppose[s] legitimate criticism of Israel.”  His quick rejection of that possibility is, perhaps, a bit hasty.  After all, Steinberg has created an entire organization devoted single-mindedly to condemning anyone who dares to criticize Israel’s human-rights record.  In the hundreds if not thousands of pages he churns out, this supposedly dispassionate observer has not once found a criticism of Israel to be valid.

Bias aside, Steinberg might be worth listening to if he could cite facts to back up his charges.  Yet his arguments are most striking for their liberal license with the facts.  To put it bluntly, he makes things up.  Here are just a few examples of his concoctions: 

‐He suggests that Human Rights Watch lay behind the Durban race conference’s description of Israel as an “apartheid state” even though the organization has never used that term in reference to Israel and issued a widely reported condemnation of the document at Durban that did use it.

‐He charges that Human Rights Watch has “focused one-third of its entire Middle East effort on condemnations directed against Israel”–more, he says, than even its work on Sudan.  In fact, as a review of the organization’s website shows, Human Rights Watch since the beginning of the year 2000 has published 119 reports, letters or press releases on Israel.  That compares with 261 for Iraq, 170 for Sudan, 133 for Egypt, 121 for Iran, 107 for Turkey, hundreds on abuses by other Middle Eastern states, plus 75 on Palestinian abuses, including the definitive study of suicide-bombing attacks on civilians. Numbers aside, Human Rights Watch believes that its fairness should be judged by the quality of its reporting, not the quantity.

‐He quotes Human Rights Watch as contrasting “all powerful and aggressive Israel” with “Palestinian victimization”–clauses that a search of the organization’s website shows that it never used.

‐He claims that Human Rights Watch’s board members “imposed a control mechanism on activities dealing with the Middle East”–a pure flight of fantasy that doesn’t have even a remote basis in reality.

‐He asserts that Human Rights Watch “press[ed] the U.N. resolutions referring Israel’s security barrier to the misnamed International Court of Justice”–again, complete fiction.

There is no question that Israel faces serious security threats.  Its decision to meet those threats by sometimes overstepping the ample latitude provided by international human rights and humanitarian law has done enormous damage to its reputation and global esteem.  Are such transgressions really in Israel’s interest?  The question deserves serious consideration on the basis of a carefully assembled factual record.  Steinberg’s fairy tales do Israel no favor. 

Iain Levine

Program Director

Human Rights Watch

New York, N.Y.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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