The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized the persistently anti-Israel non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), for its efforts to raise funds from donors in Saudi Arabia and doing so by highlighting its long record of anti-Israel activism. According to Arab News, Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of HRWs Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division, and Hassan Elmasry, a member of both the HRW Board of Directors and the MENA advisory committee, attended a welcoming dinner and encouraged prominent members of Saudi society to make up the shortage of funds due to the global financial crisis and the work on Israel and Gaza, which depleted HRWs budget for the region.
Ms. Whitson reportedly sought to entice wealthy Saudis by touting HRWs manufactured evidence of Israel using white phosphorus and launching systematic destructive attacks on civilian targets, and by invoking the fact that pro-Israel pressure groups that strongly resisted the report and tried to discredit it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus spokesman Mark Regev said that a human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women’s rights group asking the Taliban for a donation If you can fundraise in Saudi Arabia, why not move on to Somalia, Libya and North Korea? For an organization that claims to offer moral direction, it appears that Human Rights Watch has seriously lost its moral compass (Herb Keinon, PMO slams ‘biased’ human rights NGOs, Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2009).
Human Rights Watch, originally founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch to work for on behalf of human rights in oppressive societies like the Soviet Union, evolved after the Cold War and the end of apartheid South Africa into an organization claiming expertise in international law and armed conflict. It has found it lucrative to focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict in league with UN bodies dominated by tyrannical, anti-Israel regimes and individuals and their Western supporters.
In recent years, HRW has given support to, and often provided the impetus for, anti-Israel UN resolutions and demands for investigations of alleged Israeli war crimes. During the Palestinian terrorist wave beginning in 2000, HRW dignified the 2002 2002 Jenin massacre myth and during the 2006 Lebanon war, HRW officials called for international investigations of Israeli war crimes and violations of international law.
When Palestinian suicide bombers were murdering hundreds of Israelis, HRWs Executive Director Kenneth Roth merely called for sending police into Gazas slums to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to trial. In 2006, Roth condemned Israels response to Hizballah rocket attacks and kidnapping of soldiers as an eye for an eye approach resulting from the morality of some more primitive moment.
More recently, the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed HRW board member Richard Goldstone to head a slanted inquiry into the Gaza war with the purpose of castigating Israel, not Hamas. (Goldstone resigned from HRW, and his name was quickly removed from the website, after the essential conflict of interest was pointed out by NGO Monitor, a group that studies the performance of NGOs with regard to impartiality and professional discharge of their obligations as human rights organizations).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, Human Rights Watch has been exposed for being a group that has allowed itself to be corrupted into being an organization that sings the tune called by its preferred pipers, in this case, Saudi donors.
The ZOA believes that no genuine human rights organization would solicit funds in deeply repressive, human right-abusing societies, using as a selling point its record of hostility to a democratic country with which that repressive regime is in conflict. To do so merely exposes its inherent bias and extremism as well as its undermining of the cause of human rights.
HRW has had very little to say over the years about truly heinous and appalling human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia the complete absence of freedom of religion except for adherents of the Saudi states own fanatical Wahhabi version of Islam. This is a country in which neither a church nor synagogue may be built, in which even a religious service held in a private home is illegal. It is a country which Jews may not enter and in which foreign laborers have no rights at all. HRWs recent criticism of the Saudis is the direct result of exposure and pressure for its previous inattention and neglect about real human rights abuses in that country.
HRWs Ms. Whitson has attempted to divert criticism by claiming that one must distinguish between a government and its people and that HRW should not be condemned because it has not sought money directly from the Saudi government. This is disingenuous: in a deeply repressive country, those with wealth and power have these things only by virtue of the explicit or tacit approval of their government. There is no such thing as a wealthy Saudi businessman who, for example, supports religious pluralism in Saudi Arabia, or who expresses criticism of human rights abuses in the country. Saudis who do these things are killed, or thrown into prison or stripped of their wealth.
Wealthy Saudis have given munificently to several terrorist organizations. They are also among the most prominent human rights abusers, employing foreign laborers who enjoy no rights and are subject to arbitrary abuse. Yet Ms. Whitson dares to pretend that raising funds from Saudi donors does not compromise HRW in any way. Her argument is shamelessly deceptive and should be repudiated by all people concerned for the cause of human rights.
We strongly urge Jewish and other pro-Israel organizations to expose and condemn HRW for its hostility to Israel, its distortion of human rights and its perversion of the methods and purposes of human rights activism.