For Ken Roth and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the new year has begun much as the previous one ended - with exposure of another false accusation against Israel. In a vitriolic op-ed published on December 30 in the IPS’s online publication Foreign Policy in Focus, and reproduced widely, Roth accused Israel of “a campaign to undermine . essential rules for protecting civilians caught in war.”
The article is based on falsehoods and distortions, including the allegation that MK Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister and current leader of the opposition, urged Israeli forces to avoid distinguishing between combatants and civilians in the Gaza war. Roth highlighted Livni’s statement in the Knesset, “They don’t make a distinction, and neither should we” - a quote that would be quite damning, if it were accurate. But like most of Roth’s HRW’s claims regarding Israel, this one is more fiction than fact.
Had Roth and HRW’s “researchers” checked the transcript instead of again repeating distortions manufactured by the Palestinian NGO known as Al Haq (see NGO Monitor’s analysis), they might have avoided this mistake. The transcript shows that Livni was criticizing MK Ahmed Tibi’s Knesset statement for heightening tensions between Israeli Jews and Arabs. When read in context, Livni clearly was not referring to the citizens of Gaza; rather, she was encouraging Israelis to embrace a common identity in the face of indiscriminate attacks from Gaza.
This discrepancy was exposed by NGO Monitor and others (including bloggers David Bernstein on Volokh Conspiracy and ElderofZiyon). HRW then revised the text of the op-ed and removed the article from the home page, as well as the Israel, Israel Commentary, and Middle East pages. (As of January 11, the Foreign Policy in Focus version had not been changed.) HRW’s website added the following “explanation,” which exacerbated the distortion:
“Human Rights Watch updated this article following suggestions that the quote of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is ambiguous on whether she meant that Israel will not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Other statements from Livni support the argument.”
But there is no ambiguity in Livni’s statement. Instead of acknowledging his error, and apologizing, Roth makes another unsupported allegation of “other statements from Livni.” And the revised diatribe tries to divert attention by adding a different quote allegedly made by ex-Prime Minister Olmert.
This is yet another sordid episode confirming HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s admonition that the organization has lost its “moral force” and is abusing its reputation and resources in order to turn Israel into a “pariah state.” In particular, Roth’s vitriol reflects a deep personal animosity towards Israel, rather than a commitment to universal human rights. During the 2006 Lebanon war, Roth angrily (and ignorantly) attacked Israel’s defense against Hizbollah as based on and “eye for an eye,” resulting from the “morality of some more primitive moment.”
And as in the case of HRW’s fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, the “senior military analyst’s” Nazi memorabilia collection, and the incongruence of appointing intensely anti-Israel ideologues Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork to run the Middle East division - HRW and Ken Roth have been caught in another embarrassment. This behavior further erodes the organization’s credibility, and underlines the urgency of an independent investigation of HRW, as called for by the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.