A little over a decade ago, the late Robert L. Bernstein wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, expressing distress for the toxic turn the organization he founded was taking. He wrote, “Human Rights Watch had as its original mission 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.”
He did not deny that open societies, like Israel, have flaws, but that they also have apparatus in place to correct them whereas closed societies do not. He highlighted the great number of mechanisms that Israel has in place (separate courts, free press, etc.), to be a free, open and democratic society. Yet, he charged that, “Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields…Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.”
Indeed, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has long ago parted from its initial noble mission and arguably has been actively working against it.
Human Rights Watch has been intensifying and undermining the organization’s initial goals in a way that not only harms Israel, but also harms the people in those closed societies
Bernstein founded HRW to help people who are being abused and who desperately need advocacy.
Yet almost 10 years ago, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth accepted money from a Saudi billionaire on the condition that Human Rights Watch would not “support advocacy of the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa.” And so, HRW would stay quiet as gay men in Iran are forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery even when they identify as a male, lest the Iranian regime execute them (which they often do). And Iran is only one of the 13 countries that punishes by death anyone with LGBTQ identity, most such countries are in the Middle East and North Africa – the region Roth agreed to remain hush on for that period. Last year HRW stated that they regret their previous decision to have accepted that money and that they returned the money to the donor.
Yet, under the leadership of this man, HRW has intensified its anti-Israel hysteria, despite Israel being a safe haven for people who are LGBTQ. This obsession comes not only at the expense of the Jewish democratic state, but also of citizens trapped in closed societies with abusive regimes that get overlooked, the very people Bernstein founded HRW to help.
HRW employed anti-Israel propogandist, Khulood Badawi, whose tactics were even too outrageous for the United Nations.
On April 27, 2021, HRW released a report arguing that Israel is an apartheid state. Some politicians have been parading it around to reinforce their own antisemitism with a seemingly credible veneer.
The International Legal Forum unpacked HRW’s smears against Israel by detailing the alleged human rights organizations’ misleading statistics and their distortion of facts. The International Legal Forum carefully details, here, how Israel is both a nation state of the Jewish people while simultaneously being a liberal democracy, guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious identity. Israel celebrates minorities who are in high status positions, including leadership in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Israel’s imperfect but spectacular record speaks for itself, with MASHAV inspired programs that help developing nations battle food insecurity with agricultural technology developed in Israel, and with medical personnel from Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) performing lifesaving surgery for children from developing areas (including from Gaza and under the Palestinian Authority), while also training foreign doctors on how best to provide post-surgical care. Those are just a taste of many examples of Israel’s global lifesaving contributions.
As Israel’s record speaks for itself, so does the record of Human Rights Watch. Under Roth’s leadership, HRW employed anti-Israel propogandist, Khulood Badawi, whose tactics were even too outrageous for the United Nations. The UN refused to renew Badawi’s contract as Information and Media Coordinator, due to her spreading lies on social media about Israel.
And recently, in keeping with HRW anti-Israel rhetoric, Roth tweeted in response to Israel being bullied at the UN, “If the Biden administration wants to reduce the number of resolutions on Israel at the UN Human Rights Council, it should end the US practice of vetoing resolutions on Israel at the UN Security Council...” He did not respond to me when I asked, “What if the Biden administration wants to increase the number of Human Rights Council resolutions to one (1) from zero (0) against Iran, Qatar, Syria, North Korea, China, Venezuela, etc.? How would they go about doing that?”
Israel is not the only democracy Roth has targeted. He has also condemned Western nations for hesitating or refusing to repatriate women who left their countries to support their husbands who were murderers for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). And, he referred to ISIS terrorists as “fighters.” “Why is the Canadian government letting 46 Canadians languish in a desolate and dangerous camp in northeastern Syria . . . just because a relative was an ISIS fighter?”
Human Rights Watch has led a smearing campaign against a democracy that has been unable to rest from protecting itself from constant jihadi threats which included waves of violence from the Intifadas (lessened after Israel built the security barrier). Yet, it whitewashes jihadi terror, expresses sympathy for those who have uprooted their lives to support such terror, hires dishonest propogandists, accepted money to deny advocacy for gay, lesbian and transgender people, and condemns democracies for protecting their citizens against adults who’ve supported the Islamic State.
That’s the lens through which Human Rights Watch should be considered while the organization continues to endanger the citizens of a democracy, Israel, at the expense of citizens who desperately need recognition and advocacy.
Faith Quintero is the author of Loaded Blessings, a family saga that alternates between Inquisition era Spain and modern-day Israel. It’s among the Federalist’s top books of 2019 list and a Montaigne Medal finalist for the Eric Hoffer awards. The Montaigne Medal is an additional distinction, awarded to "the most thought-provoking books." Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithQuintero7