Just a Few Questions for Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch (Part 2)

In October 2009, the man who founded Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, published in the New York Times his own criticism of HRW for the anti-Israel bias that had become so palpable under Kenneth Roth:

I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Bernstein concluded with a warning:

Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.

Not only did nothing change at HRW after Bernstein’s attack, but Roth’s fixation on the “human rights abuses” of Israel became ever more pronounced. He was joined in this anti-Israel activity by Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, who set out to prove that boasting about HRW’s hostility to Israel could pay handsomely: she traveled to Saudi Arabia to raise money, enticing potential donors by “highlighting her organization’s investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel’s ‘supporters,’” who, according to HRW, “are liars and deceivers.”

Wikipedia’s biography of Roth contains this:

In August 2006, during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Roth rejected criticism of HRW’s allegations against Israel, writing in a letter to the editor of The New York Sun: “An eye for an eye — or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law which Mr. Bell pretends to apply.” In response, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) referred to Roth’s rhetoric as a reflection of “classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews”.,arguing that disproportionate retaliation was justified and necessary against Israel’s Arab enemies, and that Israel’s actions in the war were justified as legitimate attacks on military targets against an enemy using human shields.

In reaction to Richard Goldstone’s recantation of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report, HRW Founder Robert Bernstein said to the Jerusalem Post in April 2011, referring to Roth, that it “is time for him to follow Judge Goldstone’s example and issue his own mea culpa.”

An analysis of his tweets by NGO Monitor, alleges that Kenneth Roth shows “significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility” towards Israel.

On April 26, 2015, Roth drew criticism for attacking Israel for sending humanitarian aid to Nepal during the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, due to its blockade of Gaza, which he saw as a humanitarian crisis of “Israel’s own making.”

And here is the latest outrage from Kenneth Roth, who was interviewed by Israel’s Kan broadcaster in late July:

A top official at the prominent NGO Human Rights Watch proved unable to explicitly say Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state in a recent interview with an Israeli media outlet.

In conversation with Israel’s Kan broadcaster, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth was asked, “Do you support Israel’s self-determination as a Jewish state?”

“Nobody’s ever questioned the right of Israel to exist,” Roth replied. “I mean, every state has a right to exist, but every state also has a duty to apply international human rights principles.”

Nobody’s ever questioned the right of Israel to exist”? Kenneth Roth hasn’t been paying attention. Hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims question that right. The Iranian ayatollahs do so all the time. So does Hasan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. Hamas, in its charter, denies Israel’s right to exist. So does the Palestinian Authority, to judge by its new school textbooks dripping with hate. Turkey’s Erdogan questions Israel’s “right to exist” and offers plans for a pan-Islamic military force to destroy Israel. The most influential Sunni cleric in the world, Youssef al-Qaradawi, whose sermons are broadcast live to tens of millions of Muslims worldwide, has declared that Israel has no right to exist. Saudi clerics, Egyptian professors, Iranian mullahs — you can find them all at www.MEMRI.org — declare that Israel has no right to exist. But for Kenneth Roth to admit to that would be to lend support to those who insist that Israel is under permanent siege and must be forceful in its military responses if it is to exist in a dangerous neighborhood where its survival can never be taken for granted. And lending support to Israel is something Kenneth Roth would never want to do.

As a Jewish state?” the interviewer prodded.

“As a democracy,” Roth said. “In other words …”

Roth carefully avoids using the phrase “Jewish state.” He doesn’t forthrightly denounce the notion, but his way of sliding away from even repeating the phrase shows his evident distaste for the very idea.

Not as a Jewish state?” the interviewer pressed again.

“Well, I mean, Israel can define itself any way it wants,” Roth said. “I mean, lots of governments define themselves in nationalist terms, but that’s not an excuse …”

If Israel calls itself a “Jewish state,” why does that so offend Kenneth Roth? Should the Jews be uniquely denied the right to a state they can call their own? Haven’t the Arab people twenty-two states of their own? Wasn’t the Mandate for Palestine, and before it the Balfour Declaration, and before that, the Zionist movement founded by Theodore Herzl, all about creating the “Jewish state”? Wasn’t that the whole point of allowing, and even encouraging — see Article 6 of the Mandate — Jews worldwide to settle in their  ancient homeland for the express purpose of reconstituting that “Jewish state,” a place where Jews could live freely and securely, by right and not on sufferance from others, no longer forced to live in a condition of permanent insecurity, and possibly endure persecution or — as recent history reminds us — much worse.

Why do you have difficulty to define Israel as a Jewish state?” the interviewer asked.

“Well, because there are many Palestinians who live in Israel too who are citizens and deserve full rights,” Roth said, seeming to imply that the presence of Arab citizens negates a Jewish right to self-determination.

When Roth says “the Palestinians who live in Israel…deserve full rights,” he clearly means that in his view they do not have full rights now. What is he talking about? The Arab citizens of Israel do not only “deserve full rights,” but they already possess  those rights. They  have the right to vote. They have their own political parties. They serve in the Knesset and on Israel’s Supreme Court. They serve in the diplomatic corps, some as ambassadors. They attend Israeli schools and universities. They have access to the same health care that Jewish Israelis have. They have complete freedom to practice their religion.  They may even, if they wish — though they are not required to — serve in the armed forces.

So for me, the emphasis is, is Israel a state that respects the human rights values?” Roth added.

As the head of Human Rights Watch since 1993, Kenneth Roth has been answering that question, repeatedly, with a resounding and grotesque “No.” He has consistently painted Israel as a country that does not respect “human rights values.” He accuses it of every kind of war crime. He ignores or minimizes the behavior of Hamas and Hezbollah, which to him appear not to merit the kind of blistering attack he regularly lets loose on Israel for the crime of trying to protect its people, from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. He attacks Israel for targeting  places that are normally civilian in character, such as mosques and school building, but where Hamas and Hezbollah store their weapons or from where they launch attacks. Roth hasn’t been nearly as indignant over he kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldiers, the killing of Israeli civilians, including small children, the support given to terrorists, who are lionized as “martyrs” and have squares named after them, while their families are provided with lifetime subsidies in the Pay-For-Slay program, the deliberate placing of Palestinian fighters and weapons, including missiles, in the middle of civilian areas, both in Gaza and in southern Lebanon, in order to limit Israel’s freedom to hit back. He’s not worried about  the Palestinian textbooks, that instill a murderous hate for Jews. or the Palestinian television shows for children where sweet-faced kids declare they desire to kill Jews. None of these assaults on “human rights values” seem to matter very much to Kenneth Roth.

Should Egypt not call itself an Arab state?” the interviewer queried.

“If that means that therefore people who are not Arabs are second-class citizens and don’t get respect for …” Roth replied.

Roth doesn’t answer the question. But he knows perfectly well that Egypt’s official title is the “Arab Republic of Egypt.” He also knows that Copts  are treated as second-class citizens, not just by the government, but by the Muslim Arabs among whom the Copts live. Copts are not allowed to build new, or repair old, churches. If they then meet in private homes to worship, they are often set upon by local Muslims. Coptic churches have been bombed; hundreds of Coptic-owned shops have been destroyed. Copts have been murdered singly or in groups, for the crime of being Unbelievers. Even the number of Copts is a source of dispute. According to the government, there are only five million Copts in Egypt. The Copts themselves believe there are 15-18 million of them in Egypt, and that they are being deliberately undercounted so as to minimize their presence and their representation in political life.

And that’s your impression, that Arabs who live in Israel are second-class citizens?” the interviewer interrupted.

“Well, the issue with Egypt, for example, has been, you know, are Coptic Christians given the same rights as Arab Muslims,” Roth said. “Or if you look in Iraq, are Sunnis or various minorities given the same rights as the Shi’a majority. In Iran, are Baha’is given the same as the majority there?”

Notice how Roth ignores the question he has been directly asked, about whether he thinks that the Arabs who live in Israel are second-class citizens. Of course he does: he begins his 2018 report on “Israel and Palestine” with this: “The Israeli government continued to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights.”

Instead he brings up Egypt, but only to leave hanging, as a question, “are Coptic Christians given the same rights as Arab Muslims?” He knows perfectly well that they are not. Why did he not say “the issue with Egypt has been the mistreatment of the Copts by both the government and Muslim individuals”? He then quickly mentions two other examples, in order to distance the discussion still further from the original question about how Arabs are treated in Israel: “Or if you look in Iraq, are Sunnis or various minorities given the same rights as the Shi’a majority”? Those “various minorities,”  both ethnic and religious, that he carefully doesn’t name — Christians, Yazidis, Kurds — include two more examples of Muslim persecution of non-Muslims (Christians, Yazidis), and Arab persecution of non-Arabs  (Kurds).

Roth, still not answering the interviewer’s question about Israel, continues: “In Iran are Baha’is given [sic] the same as the majority there”? He knows how the Baha’i are treated. They have been imprisoned for closing their shops on Baha’i religious holidays, and for proselytizing — often doing no more than explaining their faith — which has been described by Iranian officials as conducting “propaganda” against the state.

He brought up the treatment of minorities in Egypt, and in Iraq, and Iran, in order to avoid answering the question about what he thinks of Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens. Reflexively anti-Israel, he can’t possibly tell the truth — that is, that Arab citizens have the same civil, religious, and political rights as Jewish citizens of the state. But Roth also recognizes that, given this interview format, making  his usual charges against Israel for supposedly mistreating its Arab citizens would be rebutted convincingly and immediately, over the air, by a well-prepared interviewer. Charges he makes in those impressive-looking glossy reports Roth puts out for Human Rights Watch can seldom be rebutted with such immediacy; even the tireless Gerald Steinberg, founder and director of NGO Monitor, who has a great many dragons to slay, cannot always respond at once Roth in print.

You can go around the world, there are always minorities, and for me, the essence of a democracy, the essence of a rights-respecting state, is to ensure that everybody in that state has respect for their rights,” Roth went on to say.

If I understand Kenneth Roth correctly, he has just told us that “a rights-respecting state” is a “state that respects rights.” We are supposed to believe, apparently, that now we are getting somewhere. For insights like that, Kenneth Roth receives an annual pay package of more than $350,000.

The interviewer might have tried one final time to pin down, or hold up for inspection, the slippery Kenneth Roth: “Mr. Roth, would you agree that Israel is an advanced Western democracy, where all citizens — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — have equal rights, where Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, in the diplomatic corps and even, though they are not required to but may volunteer, in the military?” What answer could he possibly give?

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