The Magazine

Human Rights Watch vs. Human Rights

The cynical manipulation of a worthy cause has a history.

Sep 11, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 48 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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International human rights law consists mostly of multi lateral treaties, called conventions. The most fundamental and important of these treaties, because it concerns the ultimate offense against human rights, is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Presumably because of the weightiness of the issue and the overwhelming moral stakes, its enforcement provisions differ from those of most other human rights treaties. The usual treaty is simply a pledge of good behavior: Each signatory state promises to undertake or refrain from certain acts within its own jurisdiction. But the Genocide Convention enjoins its parties "to prevent and to punish" genocide wherever it may occur and whoever commits it. In other words, when a state signs, for example, the Convention on Racial Discrimination, it promises to stamp out this abomination within its borders, but when it signs the Genocide Convention, it in effect promises to go to war to stop someone else from committing genocide. (This explains the 1994 decision by the Clinton White House not to call the mass murder in Rwanda "genocide," for fear that this would obligate the United States to take action to stop it.)

The convention defines "genocide" as any of a variety of acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such." Clearly, Hezbollah's announced goal of obliterating the state of Israel constitutes the intent to destroy a "national group," namely, Israelis. Even if one were to consider that destroying Israel is not the same as destroying the Jewish people, Hezbollah stands no less guilty under the terms of the convention. Some Hezbollah apologists might claim that the group intends only, as its spokesmen sometimes say, to drive the Jews "back" to Europe, i.e., that it intends "merely" ethnic cleansing, not genocide. But even if such a statement of intent is given credence, the reasoning is fatuous. Most Israeli Jews did not come from Europe. They either are native born or come from Arab countries where they would not be taken back and where they would find no safety if they were.

And if such casuistic arguments needed further refutation, there is the eloquent testimony of Hezbollah's anti-personnel missiles fired at Israeli civilians. As Hezbollah's Sheikh Fadlallah puts it: "There are no innocent Jews in Palestine." Nor is that all. Hezbollah's strongman, Hassan Nasrallah, has affirmed that Hezbollah's target is not only the Jews of Palestine. "If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide," he declared in 2002, according to a report in Lebanon's Daily Star, the accuracy of which is not disputed.

Such words are not mere bluster. In addition to its assaults on Israelis, Hezbollah has murdered other Jews. In the mid-1980s, acting under the front name Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, Hezbollah kidnapped and murdered several of the few dozen native Jews who still lived in Lebanon. It was also Hezbollah, according to investigators, that carried out the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and wounded more than 300 others.

As it happened, nearly half of the civilians slaughtered by Hezbollah's missiles in the recent conflagration were not Jews, but Israeli Arabs. This prompted Nasrallah to issue a personal appeal to Arabs to evacuate Haifa so that only Jews would be killed. In sum, from whichever angle you examine it, whether to obliterate Israel or to kill Jews, Hezbollah is an operation whose purpose is genocide. For this reason, disarming Hezbollah should not fall to Israel alone. It is the legal obligation of every one of the 137 state parties to the Genocide Convention.

None of this, however, drew the attention of Human Rights Watch or diverted it from its main mission of attacking Israel. It is a mission that predates the recent crisis.

Last year an Israel-based project called NGO Monitor released a study of the statements and documents on the Middle East issued by Human Rights Watch in 2004. It found that these had amounted to 33 separate documents about Israel, 19 about Egypt, 11 each about Iran and Saudi Arabia, 5 about the Palestinian authority, and 4 each about Syria and Libya. By what scale, one wonders, did Israel warrant eight times as much attention as Syria or Libya? The latter two ranked a rock bottom 7 on the Freedom House scale (1 to 7) of freedom, making them two of the eight most repressive regimes in the world.