The contention by longtime Human Rights Watch board member Kathleen Peratis that "there is no bias against Israel at Human Rights Watch" rings hollow ("Tyranny Has a Witness," January/February). Although the group claims in your article that "nothing is published without independent verification," Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published misleading reports about Israel based on unreliable sources.
An August 2009 HRW report claimed that Israeli Defense Forces in the previous December had killed eleven Palestinian Authority Arab civilians who were holding "white flags" in the Gaza Strip during the Gaza War's Operation Cast Lead. The report was based on the testimonies of a few Palestinian civilians whose credibility was never established. The report further neglected to mention that it is a common tactic of Hamas terrorists to shoot and then raise white flags to protect themselves from retaliation.
In September 2009 HRW continued to defend reports written by senior military analyst Marc Garlasco that Israel used white phosphorous weapons in Gaza, even though the organization had suspended Garlasco after published revelations that he is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia. This was the last straw for HRW founder Robert Bernstein, whose October 2009 New York Times editorial, quoted in your story, accuses Roth and his colleagues of "helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state."
Bernstein went on to accuse HRW's leaders of knowing that "Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve."
Bernstein's point, cited in your story, that a distinction should be made between open and closed societies in no way insinuated that open societies should not be criticized. Rather, Bernstein complained that HRW has ignored "the plight of citizens [of Arab countries] who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide."
Phil Jacobs '79
Spring Valley, N.Y.
The fact that George Soros is now a major contributor to Human Rights Watch makes me wary of the organization's credibility. Soros supports mostly extreme anti-American, anti-Israel, kooky, far-left organizations that seem to share a desire to weaken the Western world.
Soros is the money behind Moveon.org, which has helped move a once sane and basically patriotic Democratic party into a shrill hater of American values, prosperity, and defense. Soros also supports the extreme, anti-Israel Jewish organization J Street. Based on writings by investigative journalist Aaron Klein and others, we know that Soros, through his International Crisis Group, has also been funding extreme Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, whose battle cry is "Kill the Jews," and whose aim to spread Islam and Sharia law by violence throughout the world.
Human Rights Watch has already blackened its reputation with its reporting about Israel. Now that Soros is supporting Human Rights Watch, it would be foolish for anybody to believe a word that comes from that organization.
Peter E. Goldman '60
North Miami Beach, Fla.
The carefully researched, well-documented, thoughtful criticism that Human Rights Watch has received for many years as a result of its long-standing obsession with Israel merits a good deal more of an answer than the glib dismissal offered by Kenneth Roth and his board member the "self-described Zionist" Kathleen Peratis.
NGO Monitor, whose objective is "to end the practice used by certain self-declared 'humanitarian NGOs' of exploiting the label 'universal rights values' to promote politically and ideologically motivated agendas," issued a report in January titled "HRW in 2010: More Bias, Even Less Credibility." It notes, among other things, that in 2010 Human Rights Watch put out fifty-one documents on "Israel and the Occupied Territories," more than the number focusing on Iran (forty-four), Egypt (thirty-four), Saudi Arabia (thirty-three), and Iraq (twenty-five). One of the three major reports on Israel published in 2010 was 166 pages long; NGO Monitor notes that "ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report." When this is added to the organization's support of sanctions and boycotts against Israel, the conclusion of any fair-minded person must be that Human Rights Watch has a severe problem with Israel.
Interestingly, Human Rights Watch does not like to be watched. Responding to NGO Monitor's recent criticisms, HRW purged all employee names from its website except department heads. One would think, and expect, that those HRW staffers who supposedly spend "years gaining the trust of local activists and human rights groups to collect sensitive information" and "document the facts in an objective, dispassionate way," as the BAM article notes, would welcome an assessment of their work.
Willis J. Goldsmith '69
New York City
Your puff piece on Kenneth Roth '77 would have been more complete and balanced if it had spent a few paragraphs detailing how Human Rights Watch has consistently faulted Israel for every Palestinian complaint since 1948. If the Brown Alumni Magazine will provide a photo of the damage to civilians and property caused by thousands of rockets fired by Palestinians into Israel over the past sixty-plus years, I will be delighted to caption it for you.
Your article ends with Mr. Roth stating that "governments behave better when they are watched." I would suggest that groups like Human Rights Watch might behave better if they did some extensive research into the real reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before they launch any more critical reports on Israel's being the principal cause.
Sheldon P. Siegel '56
The good work done by Human Rights Watch is compromised when it ignores bias in its own employees. Joe Stork, the deputy director of HRW's Middle East/North Africa Division, regularly reports on HRW investigations concerning human rights violations in the Arab--Israeli conflict. When I knew Mr. Stork in the 1980s, he worked for a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel organization in Washington, D.C. We should consider any investigation involving Mr. Stork as potentially tainted by his prejudices.
Ken Goldstein '68
Several weeks after your article on Kenneth Roth '77 appeared, HRW appointed a man named Shawan Jabarin to its Mideast Advisory Board, the body responsible for overseeing reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2008, an Israeli court uncovered that Jabarin is a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States and in thirty other countries (Harold Evans, "Alleged Terror Activist Lands Human Rights Post," The Daily Beast, February 15, 2011).
The PFLP is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings inside Israel, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of women and children, as well as many aircraft hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s, which resulted in dozens of deaths. As fellow alumni we should all be asking what a man responsible for the planning of the murder of innocent women and children is doing advising a human rights organization, and what this exposes about the nature of Human Rights Watch and its persistent hunt for Israeli blame.
Michaella Matt '07
Editor Norman Boucher replies:
Whether or not Human Rights Watch is unfair to Israel is a legitimate area for debate. But, to be fair, a more complete understanding of some of the facts mentioned in these letters seems in order. Civilian deaths as a result of Operation Cast Lead, which was a response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and the movement of arms into Hamas areas, are a matter of fact. The surprise Israeli air strikes on December 27, 2008, were effective and deadly. As many as 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis were killed during Operation Cast Lead, and both sides agree that at least 700 of the dead Palestinians were Hamas fighters. Civilian deaths during the attacks were also high, a fact corroborated by credible journalists in the area. Israeli officials at the time said that the attacks were planned and carried out to avoid as many civilian deaths as possible, and that one of the tactics Hamas fighters use is to blend in with civilians, thus using them as human shields. Whoever bears the ultimate responsibility for these civilian deaths, they did happen.
As for George Soros, although he may not be "the money behind Moveon.org," which was founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, it is true that he has provided support to opposition groups in Egypt, Algeria, and other Middle East countries—some of the same groups that have been part of the tidal wave of change in that region this year.
Joe Stork and Shawan Jabarin were both associated with anti-Israel groups in the 1980s, but Kenneth Roth has said that neither holds those views any longer. In fact, The Daily Beast article by Harold Evans that Michaella Matt '07 quotes as proof of Shawan Jabarin's terrorist links also includes this paragraph: "An independent view of the controversy was afforded by Benjamin Pogrund, a Jerusalem journalist and author who has for years worked for peace. He commented that a previous connection with the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] was not necessarily damning. 'A Palestinian colleague with whom I have cooperated in a lot of dialogue activity was a member and was jailed for it years ago. However, he is now a leading worker on the West Bank for peaceful co-existence.'" At the same time, Pogrund added, "HRW needs to be ultra-careful and ultra-cautious here."