The David Bernstein Op/Ed in WSJ:
A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?
No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW’s battles with “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel “human rights” activists”? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)
David Bernstein, at Volokh:
For my part, if Ms. Whitson did indeed criticize Saudi human rights abuses during her trip, I apologize for suggesting otherwise. [Clarification: Whitson says that she “discussed” Saudi human rights problems during her trip, but doesn’t state that she publicly mentioned any of them, much less criticized them, at the fundraising dinner at which she criticized Israel and its supporters, in front of “prominent members of Saudi society, human rights activists and dignitaries.”] But I still think (a) it’s extremely unwise for a human rights group to raise money in a totalitarian country, even from human rights advocates in that country; the organization may become dependent on that funding, which in turn could be cut off by the government at any time, creating pressure on the organization to downplay its criticisms of that country; (b) it’s more than unwise for HRW to specifically raise money in Saudi Arabia by portraying itself as an organization doing battle with “pro-Israel forces,” which implies that HRW is serving as an “anti-Israel force.” This suggests either that HRW isn’t concerned about its reputation for evenhandedness, or that it’s so maniacally anti-Israel that its leaders just assume that being anti-Israel is somehow the obvious even-handed position that it embraces. This obviously plays into the hands of critics like myself who have previously accused HRW of a lack of objectivity with regard to Israel. I certainly can’t imagine HRW going to Israel and raising money with the pitch that it is trying to counter-balance “pro-Arab” or “pro-Saudi” “pressure groups”.
This is a serious allegation, and one I found difficult to believe, because Human Rights Watch has always been moderately careful about the optics of its fundraising efforts. The group’s credibility, of course, rests on its neutrality; playing traditional enemies off each other as a way to collect money from one (or both) sides in a conflict seems beyond the pale. (Let’s put aside for now the queasy-making image of a human rights organization venturing into one of the world’s most anti-democratic societies to criticize one of the Middle East’s most democratic states.)
Another problem here, of course, is that Sarah Leah Whitson, if the allegation against her is to be believed, trafficked in a toxic stereotype about Jews in a country that bans most Jews from even crossing its borders, and whose religious leadership often propogates the crudest expressions of anti-Semitism. The term pro-Israel lobby, of course, means something very different on the Arabian peninsula than it does here. Here, even to critics of AIPAC, it means a well-funded, well-oiled political machine designed to protect Israel’s interests in Congress. In much of the Arab world, “pro-Israel pressure group” suggests a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world politically, culturally and economically.
Mark Hemingway at The Corner
Deaniac20 at Daily Kos:
Of course, HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson tried to claim there was a difference between the people and the government. See, in a democracy where the wealth is in the hands of just more the super elite which are pretty much inextricably linked to the government, she could be believable. But Saudi Arabia is a country where the rich are absolutely in cahoots with the ultra-repressive regime, in which women cannot drive cars, one cannot be anything but a Muslim, or so as much carry a Bible or Torah, where women cannot be outside without a man, where limbs are cut off, where gays are murdered for being gay. Now not all Saudi’s are bad, and neither is every elite. But I think it would be prudent to point out how the same machinery which has the money and is giving it to HRW specifically because of their disproportionate hits on Israel as opposed to, Sudan or China or countries far more war torn or repressive, is complicit in Saudi repression and backwardsness. Also, lets not forget that most of the money that goes to global jihad also comes out of Saudi Arabia, and “charities, likely similar ones which give to HRW for their spectacular bias on the ME, which distracts their own people into looking at Israel, instead of focusing on their own countries, as HRW etc. give these countries token criticism.
Matt Duss at The Wonk Room at Think Progress
I emailed AIPAC’s Josh Block to ask about AIPAC sending Bernstein’s item out. Block responded via email that “HRW has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias, and for an organization that claims to be objective about human rights to go hat in hand to raise money from the Saudi ruling elite, while bragging about and seeking to further its Israel-bashing is deeply revealing of the group’s fundamental hypocrisy and its policy of holding a double standard when it comes to Israel. Human Rights Watch has long ago lost all credibility when it comes to human rights issues in the Middle East.”
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias:
Anyone genuinely interested in a good-faith exploration of whether or not Human Rights Watch ignores human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia or by other states in the region can easily enough click over to their website and find their comprehensive work on the Middle East and North Africa. You will swiftly see that the idea that HRW is some kind of Israel-bashing organization is nonsense. Their currently featured item is about just the subject you’d expect—the recent clampdown in Iran. The headline is “Iran: Detainees Describe Beatings, Pressure to Confess”. They also did a July 8 item highlighting broken promises on women’s rights from Saudi Arabia. They’re highlighting work on torture in the United Arab Emirates and on how administrative detention undermines the rule of law in Jordan.
UPDATE: Bernstein again
UPDATE: More Bernstein
David Hazony in Commentary
UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman on HRW’s new Saudi report
UPDATE: Noah Pollak at Commentary
UPDATE: More Pollak
UPDATE: Robert Bernstein at NYT
Tom Gross at National Review
UPDATE: Benjamin Birnbaum at TNR
UPDATE: Kathleen Peratis at TNR