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Like a Broken Record

Human Rights Watch sings its same old ­discredited tune about Gaza.

Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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Perhaps because this contradicted the version put about by the Goldstone Commission as well as HRW, UNITAR’s report has been removed from the U.N.’s website. Goldstone himself eventually renounced the report bearing his name, writing in 2011: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” But HRW did not join him in reconsidering. On the contrary, Kenneth Roth rushed to print with an op-ed vowing: “the Goldstone report . . . will live on.”

This shrill defiance betrays the passion Roth harbors about Israel and which is reflected in the staff he has assembled. Sarah Leah Whitson came to HRW from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, a fervent Arab advocacy group. When the New Republic’s Ben Birnbaum interviewed her, he “noticed that a poster for Paradise Now, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, hangs on her door.” Whitson’s deputy, Joe Stork, came from the Midde East Research and Information Project, which he cofounded, an outgrowth of the 1960s New Left devoted to extolling Palestinian terror groups as “liberation movements.” Middle East Report, the journal Stork edited for 25 years before being hired by Human Rights Watch, went so far as to cheer the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

HRW, of course, denies any bias on Mideast issues. Roth maintains that it practices “strict neutrality on .  .  . political questions.” Its touchstone, he says, is law.

But Roth doggedly refused to condemn former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map although there is no more fundamental piece of international human rights law than the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which outlaws “direct and public incitement to genocide.” When challenged on this, Roth argued that while “incitement” of genocide is illegal, the mere “advocacy” of it is not. How to distinguish one from the other? To be considered “incitement,” he opined, an exhortation must be followed immediately or accompanied by the literal act of genocide. The Iranian statements, Roth said, “are not incitement to genocide [because] no one has acted on them.” This tortured interpretation, however, cannot be squared with the very title of the convention, which speaks first of “prevention.”

And despite his claim of “strict neutrality,” HRW has gone out of its way to stake out a position on the central political issue of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It has officially endorsed the Palestinian “right of return,” which has little to do with rights and everything to do with Israel’s existence. It refers not only to the thousands of aging Arab refugees of the 1948 war but also to millions of their descendants. It is, as everyone understands, a formula for abolishing Israel as a Jewish state, and to endorse it is implicitly to endorse the destruction of Israel.

Of course, that is exactly what Hamas is trying to accomplish. Aware that it is weaker, its strategy is to paralyze Israel’s self-defense by mobilizing international pressure. Accordingly, its interior ministry recently sent a directive to social media users in Gaza, instructing them to “always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza” and to “avoid publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from [Gaza] city centers.” In this manipulative strategy, it can count on willing accomplices like Human Rights Watch.

Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. His new book, Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, has just been released by Encounter.

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