Last week witnessed a concerted attack against the credibility of the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), seeking to link supposed fundraising activities in Saudi Arabia with that organization’s criticism (“bias”, according to its detractors) of Israeli practices in the occupied territories, also claiming HRW is soft peddling on Saudi violations. It started in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Israeli prime minister’s office and spokespeople weighed in, and then AIPAC and the rightwing blogosphere got onboard. The attack on HRW has now been ratcheted up according to last week’s Jerusalem Post.
The former right-wing Israeli Government Minister, Natan Sharansky (also an ex-refusenik, President George W. Bush’s favorite author and occupation apologist) claims that HRW “has become a tool in the hands of dictatorial regimes to fight against democracies.” Ron Dermer, director of policy planning in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office adds: “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity”.
The apparent trigger for this assault on a group that represents the global gold standard in human rights monitoring, analysis, and advocacy, was a visit by HRW’s Middle East-North Africa director, Sarah Lee Whitson, to the Saudi kingdom. I happened to find myself on a panel at The Century Foundation discussing the Middle East with Whitson just days before this storm broke — I went back and watched tapes of that panel discussion. To accuse Whitson of being soft on the Saudis or somehow singling out Israel for criticism is quite astonishing as I’m sure you’ll agree if you take ten minutes to listen to her presentation — of that, more in a moment. [continued…]