Thursday, 6 May 2010

Love of the Land: Human Rights Watch: Their Master’s Voice

Human Rights Watch: Their Master’s Voice

Benjamin Kerstein
The New Ledger
04 May '10

Having just returned from being locked for almost an hour in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center mall while a surprisingly large robot fired three 12-gauge shotgun shells into a suspicious package, which was then disposed of by a man in a Kevlar body suit, I was not, I confess, in a mood to indulge those who make light of Israel’s security concerns. Shortly after, my feelings were compounded by reading Benjamin Birnbaum’s excellent piece in The New Republic on the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch and its treatment of Israel. It is doubtful that a better, or more important, piece of classic muckraking journalism will be published in the coming months.

The piece takes as its impetus the recent controversy between the organization’s staffers and some of its board members, in particular, its founder Robert Bernstein, who recently published a New York Times op-ed denouncing the organization’s attitude toward Israel. Its real value, however, is its exposure of the personalities behind the organization; the faces behind the impersonal reports and press releases that constitute the public face of HRW.

Perhaps the most fascinating and disturbing of these is Sarah Leah Whitson, who runs the section charged with assessing Israel’s human rights record, along with that of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. As far as one can tell, Whitson does not seem to posses any expert credentials in the field of human rights or the laws of war; her bio at the HRW website states only that she received degrees at Berkeley and Harvard Law School, with no indication of her particular field of study. What is certain is that she is a former corporate lawyer and professional activist who has apparently been a lifelong partisan of the Arab cause. Shockingly, and despite her sensitive position, which one imagines would require at least the pretense of impartiality, Whitson seems to make no secret of her sympathies. “As I stepped into her office,” Birnbaum writes, “I noticed that a poster for Paradise Now, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, hangs on her door and that two photos of bereaved Gazans hang on her wall.” Birnbaum them questions her about specific accusations of bias on the part of HRW.

“For people who apply for jobs to be the researcher in Israel-Palestine, it’s probably going to be someone who’s done work on Israel-Palestine with a human rights background,” she explained. “And guess what? People who do work with a human rights background on Israel-Palestine tend to find that there are a lot of Israeli abuses. And they tend to become human rights activists on the issue.”

(Read full article)

Love of the Land: Human Rights Watch: Their Master’s Voice

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