Global human rights are in a predicament. The UN Human Rights Council has turned into the Dark Regimes Rights Council. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya have an automatic majority. Non-governmental organizations, such as HRW, were supposed to stand against such bodies. Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Department, Sara Leah Whitson flew to Saudi Arabia recently to raise funds for HRW. And they don't even understand that they have a problem. This is how non-governmental bodies have transformed antagonism towards Israel to the main issue. They are biased to the extreme. They place Israel in the same category as Sudan, and publish weak protests on the suicide and rocket industries, just to discharge a perfunctory obligation.
Recently, I wrote an article entitled "Author of Report Against Israel Supported Munich Massacre" which dealt with Joe Stork, the man who presented the severe Human Rights Watch (HRW) report last week (13.8.09) which said that 12 Palestinian civilians, including children, were shot to death by IDF soldiers even though they were waving white flags.
The article received widespread coverage and many references, and apparently struck a very sensitive chord with the organization. Up until now, the organization did not respond to claims of anti-Israel bias; on occasion, it arrogantly belittled the claims. This time the organization deviated from its habit. Two days later (18.8.09), Stork sent a letter to Maariv in which he tried to deal with the claims that were made against him. The letter is presented in full below, both for reasons regarding the right of response and in order to make it clear that the letter, in effect, only strengthens the claims against the organization in general and against Stork in particular. Following is Stork's letter in full, with remarks added in order to set the record straight.
"The Israeli government and Ben-Dror Yemini ['Author of Report against Israel Supported Munich Massacre'] seem to share a “shoot the messenger” approach when it comes to addressing painstakingly researched criticisms of the Israel Defense Forces’ actions in Gaza. Instead of addressing these detailed findings, they spread malicious misinformation about me and my organization, Human Rights Watch."
Stork is right. One must deal with the message, not the messenger. But sometimes, in extreme cases, there are grounds for focusing on the messenger. Let us assume that a former Ku Klux Klan activist would issue a report against Afro-Americans. Would the report be important or the messenger? The comparison is not far off the mark in the current case. Stork opposed the recognition of Israel and was even one of the founders (!) of a group that admired the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich. Stork also recommended that the left-wing body should withdraw if the PLO decided to negotiate with Israel. May we not doubt the objectivity of such a man?
"On August 13, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing instances in January in which Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian civilians who were waving white flags to convey their civilian status. Government spokespersons sought to dismiss the report by calling Human Rights Watch biased. But to date no critic has disputed the facts about the seven incidents in the report, in which soldiers shot and killed 11 unarmed civilians, including four children and five women."
And indeed, it is becoming clear that HRW carried out negligent and non-serious work. All of the incidents appearing in the report were known to the IDF. The report itself did not add anything. Moreover, the claim that, "no critic has disputed the facts about the seven incidents," is a total lie. On the contrary, regarding five of the seven incidents, it was decided to open Military Police investigations, meaning that the IDF is carrying out a serious inquiry. If there are discrepancies - they are being thoroughly examined.
HRW adopts the opposite method. Videos have been published of Hamas personnel exploiting civilians and hiding behind white flags. These were even published on You Tube. Is there even one word about this in the HRW report? Of course not.
In the same video, it should be pointed out, the terrorist hides in a house from which civilians are waiving white flags. The terrorist was apprehended. The civilians were not hurt. It is no coincidence that the film's findings were not refuted in the HRW report because when the target is painted in advance - the delegitimization of Israel - the facts will not confuse Stork and his people. While photographic testimony that refutes the findings of the report receives no comment, the testimony of Palestinians living in the shadow of Hamas's reign of terror receive top billing. Is this testimony serious? NGO Monitor responded to this and refuted HRW 's claims. But Stork, as is his custom, takes no notice.
Many claims have been made against Israel. Israel did not ignore them. On the contrary, many of these claims were refuted in detail, in a 163-page Foreign Ministry report that was issued on 29.7.09. The HRW report, which was issued two weeks later (13.8.09), ignores most of them, just as the video was ignored because this is what HRW does. Stork is not even interested in checking; he wants delegitimization.
"Now, again instead of addressing our research, Mr. Yemini has launched a personal attack on me, which the Israeli government has dutifully translated and distributed. The quotes he attributes to me are more than 30 years old. Most of them I do not recognize, and they are contrary to the views I have expounded for decades now. For instance, selective excerpts about the Munich massacre come from an unsigned editorial that appeared 37 years ago where at the time I was one of seven volunteers that produced the publication. All my work since then shows that I would never support such an attack. For nearly 40 years, I have been documenting, writing, and speaking out on injustices by virtually all of the governments and many non-state armed groups in the Middle East. This work is readily available - including at Middle East Report magazine, which I edited through 1995, and at Human Rights Watch since then - but Mr. Yemini did not include these many statements, undoubtedly because they did not support his claims. Had he looked at the hundreds of statements, articles and reports I’ve written since the 1970s, he would have found exposÃ©s of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime and my report for Human Rights Watch on war crimes by Palestinian suicide bombers. I have dedicated much of my adult life to the protection of human rights for all and to fighting the idea that civilians can be attacked for political reasons. Ma'ariv and Mr. Yemini owe me an apology."
Indeed, it is clear that Stork does not deny even one of the claims that I raised. He simply claims that there are his remarks from many years ago. Has Stork disavowed his very problematic past with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)? Indeed, in an article he wrote in 1993 on US-Israel relations, Stork expresses very similar positions to those he expressed in his MERIP days. Moreover, many footnotes in the same article direct the reader to remarks written in MERIP years before. This means that not only has there been no turning point but a reiteration and continuation of the past. And it should be clear that Stork was for the Israelis just as the KKK activist would be for the Afro-Americans.
Let us continue. Stork claims that HRW published condemnations of Saddam Hussein and Palestinian suicide terrorists. This is the case, there indeed were additional reports. But these reports do not pass the proportionality test. Among countless human rights violations around the world in which Israel has a marginal and small place, HRW sees fit to issue countless reports precisely on Israel, a disproportionality that indicates a pre-selected goal and Stork's special logic. Even when HRW issues a condemnation of a Palestinian action, Stork adds clarifications of his own [in a 2001 BBC report]: "Most of the [Palestinian] security officers have been in Israeli jails." The Stork of the past is no different from the Stork of today.
Stork's headline-grabber has to do with the equivocal support issued by MERIP in the wake of the Munich massacre: I was "one of seven volunteers," he tries to claim. Not exactly. Stork was one of MERIP's founders and the chief editor of the journal which published a statement in support of the massacre. It is a pity that Stork does not read his own CV as it appears on HRW's official website. The determination that the action was "an important boost in morale" for the Palestinians is part of the sequence of other remarks, including opposition to recognizing Israel, encouraging Arab countries to struggle against Israel, etc.
I believe that today, Stork would not issue a statement in support of massacring athletes. But Stork has merely gone from the highest rung on the anti-Zionist ladder to the next one lower down. He is still on the same scale. He was and remains in the ranks of the anti-Israel Left. NGO Monitor and Prof. Gerald Steinberg will soon publish a book that analyzes a decade's worth of HRW publications and the people behind them, including Stork himself. But Stork is above criticism. It is possible to assume that he did not bother to study NGO Monitor's detailed response to the HRW report. This allows Stork to claim that there were no responses. That is what he does. When Steinberg previously issued a biting and substantive criticism, Stork arrogantly responded that he is not at all interested in criticism against him.
Israel, in contrast to Stork, takes notice of the criticism against it. It checks itself. Not all criticism of Israel deserves to be dismissed. Israel also makes mistakes. But Stork is a special personality. He is both radically anti-Israeli and unwilling to be criticized. Is it possible to accept the "criticism" of such a man?
Stork is not alone. When he began to work at HRW, he had no special expertise in the field. His only talent was a series of articles that were exceptionally hostile to Israel. This is not surprising. Sarah Leah Whitson, arrived at HRW after having been in a pro-Arab body. This is legitimate. Is there a chance that someone from the Anti-Defamation League would be accepted to HRW?
Israel is contending with the Hamas regime, the official covenant of which is the closest thing to Nazi ideology. This is a group that calls for the elimination of the State of Israel, the malicious murder of Israeli citizens, gratuitous Jew-hatred, and many of its speakers talk candidly about taking over the West. How exactly is a democratic country supposed to confront such an entity, indoctrinated in the ideology of hatred, incitement and murder? Why is Europe permitted to fight the Taliban - which threatens Germany or Spain much less - with much harsher measures, but Israel is prohibited from fighting a body like Hamas?
It is permitted to criticize Israel. But HRW has lost the moral right to do so. He who in the past has called for the elimination of Israel; he who supports, directly or indirectly, the boycott of Israel, cannot become an objective critic. There is a need for an international struggle for human rights. But bodies such as HRW hurt this important struggle. They become the prop of the world's darkest regimes. Instead of saying unequivocally that such a regime, such an ideology, such an element - has no right to exist, HRW is waging a struggle that is not a criticism of Israel, but rather wild slander against Israel. True, there is marginal criticism against Hamas. But criticism of Israel is the main point. And therefore, for the sake of returning human rights to its proper standing, it is time for HRW to cleanse its ranks.
The very existence of a group like Hamas is a crime against humanity. Stork and HRW find it difficult to understand this. On the contrary, in their crude attack, in their delegitimization of Israel, they are parties to this crime.
Ben-Dror Yemini is a senior editorialist in Maariv.