NGO Monitor has just posted a further discussion of the HRW Saudi-Arabia fund-raising junket scandal. Part of what the dispute reveals is the very tenuous hold that HRW has on empirical reality, and the nasty ad hominem-style arguments they resort to in their defense. Self-criticism, which is what they call on others to do all the time, is apparently not their long suit.
In his defense of HRW against criticisms from outside, Roth had commented:
“The fact that we publish far more extensively on other Middle Eastern governments (as well as the PA, Hamas, etc) is irrelevant, apparently.”
Similarly, in responding to David Bernstein’s WSJ oped, Whitson declared
Human Rights Watch in recent years has published more reports and news releases on rights problems in Saudi Arabia than any other human rights organization in the world.
Now Roth’s comment is outright dishonest. As an email exchange with someone who is not necessarily familiar with the details, this is a bit like Enderlin drawing me a false map of Netsarim junction — a way to dismiss a subject without addressing it. Whitson’s comment is more careful. She just doesn’t mention that their work on Saudi Arabia is a) very recent, and b) more than anyone else in the way that 2 is more than 1. (Human Rights Complex means minimal attention to what “primitive” people do to each other.)
NGO Monitor comments that they criticize HRW because their reports are “so bad”:
HRW’s frequent “research reports” on Israel are a mix of “eyewitness” testimony (”there were no Hamas/Hezbollah forces anywhere”), pseudo-technical analysis, and speculation… As for the claims on the agenda, the data shows until 2006, Saudi Arabian human rights behavior was hardly on HRW’s agenda. Using a systematic methodology to compare the activities, NGO Monitor data show that between 2004 and 2006, HRW criticism of Israel was 300% greater than the almost non-existent focus on Saudi Arabia. In other words, in HRW’s world, Israel was by far the greater source of human rights violations.
The change – as much as it was — took place in 2008, after the NGO Monitor reports on HRW’s obsessive anti-Israel agenda were published. Some donors then earmarked money for a wider agenda, dragging Roth and Whitson along. But Israel continues to be the main target, with more press conferences, major reports, and United Nations lobbying. HRW is not campaigning for an “independent UN inquiry” on Saudi treatment of women, minorities, or members of other religions.
Don’t forget calling for an independent UN inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka.
In defending his organization to Goldberg, Roth later commented:
We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception.
This is fascinating rhetoric. Either of he believes it — which means he does not allow any empirical evidence to get in the way of his own belief in his halo — or he doesn’t care — in which case he has no scruples about lying in order to get people not to listen to criticism of his organization. In either case, we’re dealing with a man who has a tenuous relationship to empirical reality.
The kind of effect Roth’s rhetorical stance can have on people who (want to) believe him shows up in a long post at Opiniojuris by Kevin Jon Heller in which he criticizes Bernstein’s attack on HRW and dismisses Goldberg’s piece as making a mountain out of a molehill.
Notice how Bernstein claims that many of HRW’s defenders dismiss criticism of the organization as “typical right-wing Zionist crap,” implying that those defenders are (by definition?) anti-Zionist. What Bernstein seemingly refuses to accept is that it is possible to believe both that Israel has a right to exist and that it violates human rights and commits war crimes.
This trope of “anyone who criticizes Israel gets accused of being anti-Zionist” belongs with the media’s favorite “we’re criticized by both sides, we must be doing something right.” Above all, it’s dishonest — criticism of Israel has to reach really vicious levels before anyone claims it’s anti-Zionist, whereas Palestinians find anything short of complete adulation intolerable (to use Obama’s word). Throw in for good measure, “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” They’re all even-handed distortions of empirical reality.
Moreover, the notion that you can accuse Israel of violating human rights and commits war crimes without feeding the frenzy of rabid anti-Zionism that uses the same language, strikes me as aggressively naive. Any definition of war crimes you can apply to Israel applies ten fold to the USA, and a thousand fold to Israel’s enemies (who are only prevented from worse crimes by Israeli resistance). And that’s precisely what HRW does. Heller continues:
It is also difficult to overstate just how slanted Bernstein’s description of HRW’s work really is, in light of the organization’s consistent and unremitting criticism of Hamas,
Here’s where a link would be useful. In fact, HRW’s remarks on Hamas, like their criticisms of Saudi Arabia represent a fairly late phenomenon. In the period when Hamas first developed suicide bombing against civilians (1993-95), they had nothing to say; in the period when Hamas was doing suicide bombings on an average of twice a week (2001-2003), they posted 17 comments (compared with 68 on Israel).
the Saudis, Iran, etc.
All pretty vague. I doubt Heller’s done a fraction of the research NGO Monitor has done; indeed, I’ll bet he takes Ken Roth at his word.
(And its willingness to admit when its criticism of Israel turns out to be mistaken.)
Now it get’s interesting. The link is to a discussion of the Gaza Beach Affair, which I covered quite extensively (last update here). Here’s the passage to which Heller refers:
On Monday, the Human Rights Watch, while sticking to its demand for the establishment of an independent inquiry into a blast on a Gaza beach 10 days ago that killed seven Palestinian civilians, conceded for the first time since the incident that it could not contradict the IDF’s exonerating findings.
This was a grudging admission [think Otto to Archie in a Fish Called Wanda], after a closed door meeting in which Mark Garlasco, the alleged “military expert” found his claims that Israeli shells had killed the child systematically challenged by the Israeli experts. But begrudging admissions hardly make an “admission” of error. On the contrary, when HRW came out with a report two weeks after this news item, they concluded that: “an Israeli artillery shell caused the explosion.”
That tendentiousness is particularly ironic given that Bernstein bases his recent posts on “reports” issued by NGO Monitor, an organization that — unlike HRW — makes absolutely no effort to be critical of both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict:
NGO Monitor’s objective is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas.
NGO Monitor at least gets credit for truth in advertising: every single report it has issued in 2009 has attacked an NGO or state or other organization that criticized Israel.
Yes. Unlike HRW, which pretends to apply its standards to the whole world, NGO Monitor has a much more restrained goal (and budget). It’s job is to keep dishonest NGOs like HRW and AI honest. The way to criticize NGO Monitor is not by complaining on its focus, but by complaining about it’s methods and its use of (or failure to use) empirical evidence.
No wonder Ken Roth is sensitive about criticism of HRW. As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
And as the saying should go, “If you want people to believe you, you should try being honest; and if you want people to give you money for fighting for human rights around the world, you should be balanced.” No wonder Ken Roth is sensitive about criticism: he’s staffed his organization with some of the most biased of post-colonialist, anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian people available; he deserves neither his reputation, nor his support.