Israel received support from a most unlikely source Tuesday, with a harsh condemnation of the Human Rights Watch group by its own founder, Robert Bernstein. Writing for The New York Times, he charged the group with “issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
HRW was in the forefront of accusing Israel of war crimes in the three-week Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign in Gaza, and has continually condemned Israeli retaliation for the thousands of Hamas rockets and other terrorist attacks on Israel.
Bernstein emphatically stated that “Hamas and Hezbollah…go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields,” a situation that was stated as largely unproven in the recent Goldstone report for the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Bernstein accused his own group’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, who was chairman of the group until he stepped aside in 1998, pointed out that HRW has condemned Israel more than any other country. Undermining the group's anti-Israeli stance, he stated that the Jewish State “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."
“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.” Bernstein echoed Israeli complaints that HRW has ignored “the plight of [Arab] citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide.”
“These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere,” he wrote. “This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
In what was a virtual repetition of Israeli government statements from the past several years, he noted that “There is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.
“In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers."