I just noticed this piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by Noah Pollak, discussing HRW’s bias against Israel.
Pollak is actually too soft on HRW. He focuses on one aspect of the problem, that HRW gives wildly disproportionate attention to what it considers Israeli violations of human rights. (In addition to the examples Pollack provides, consider that HRW’s top Mideast official recently gave a speech on human rights problems in the Middle East, in which she devoted approximately twenty-five times as much attention to Israel as to Hamas and Hezbollah combined, and more attention to Israel than to the entire Arab world).
But he neglects another aspects of the problem, that HRW’s reports on Israel are frequently either inaccurate, or based on information from eyewitnesses that can’t be verified. And even when HRW is proven wrong about Israel, it absolutely refuses to apologize or retract, although it has done so when it’s come under criticism from pro-Palestinian sources.
Is it really possible that HRW has NEVER made an error in its many reports and releases on Israel? Well, no it’s not, especially because NGO Monitor, CAMERA, and others including Professor Avi Bell have pointed out such errors. Unfortunately, given that HRW director Ken Roth dismisses such critiques as “lies and deception” and HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson says they amount to “griping and whining,” it’s not terribly surprising that they ignore them.
Over at the Opinio Juris blog, HRW fan/apologist Kevin Jon Heller pointed to this Jerusalem Post article, reporting that HRW’s expert investigator of an incident in Gaza “conceded for the first time since the incident that [HRW] could not contradict the IDF’s exonerating findings” and that the investigator “praised the IDF’s professional investigation into the blast.”
Heller takes this as evidence that HRW is indeed willing to apologize/recant/retract when it’s wrong about Israel. But oops, this information never made it on to HRW’s website, nor was there any other official correction or clarification. Quite the contrary, ten days after the Jerusalem Post piece appeared, HRW reasserted its original accusation, and alleged that Israel’s investigation, praised by its own researcher, “betray[ed] a lack of interest in arriving at the truth of what happened.” So HRW’s leaders will contradict their own researchers’ conclusions–at least when it makes Israel look bad. Though challenged, Heller has yet to come up with another, legitimate example of HRW officially responded to legitimate criticisms from pro-Israel sources the way it responded to (somewhat dubious) criticism from extremist anti-Israel critics.
UPDATE: Heller has now found an example of HRW correcting errors about Israel, though, as we shall see, it doesn’t remotely count as “HRW officially respond[ing] to legitimate criticisms from pro-Israel sources the way it responded to (somewhat dubious) criticism from extremist anti-Israel critics.
Over a year after the Second Lebanon War ended, when no one was paying attention any longer, HRW issued a new report in which it corrected what it calls two major errors an earlier report, “Fatal Strikes,” written in August 2006.
I checked up on one of the errors/corrections: HRW writes that “further Human Rights Watch investigations into a deadly strike at Srifa established that an Israeli attack there killed 17 combatants and five civilians on July 19, not the 26 civilians claimed in Fatal Strikes.”
One odd thing about this is that various critics, including me, pointed out at the time that HRW’s initial report on Srifa contradicted both published reports and common sense. Ms. Whitson nevertheless vociferously defended HRW’s conclusion at the time, and indeed snidely attacked one of HRW’s critics, Prof. Avi Bell. (Has she apologized to Prof. Bell? Don’t hold your breath.) Whitson, indeed, seemed willing to stake HRW’s credibility on the Srifa report. Prof. Bell replied that HRW was either incompetent or engaging in fabrication. He was right!
Even stranger, and contrary to its practice when it “clarified” criticism of Hamas, HRW has failed to otherwise update its website to reflect its correction. Thus, HRW’s website still has the Fatal Strikes report up, and it still claims that Israel killed twenty-six civilians:
Killing of an Estimated Twenty-six Civilians in Srifa, July 19
Following the July 13 attack on Srifa village that killed four members of a Brazilian-Lebanese family (see above), Israeli warplanes and Apache helicopters continued to bomb the village and the surrounding fields, putting the villagers into a state of panic. A villager who had fled from Srifa explained how the heavy Israeli bombardment effectively trapped people inside the village, and how the village Sheikh had ordered the terrified civilians to seek refuge in the wealthier “Moscow” neighborhood of the village, where the multiple-story homes had concrete basements that offered greater protection: [Click to continue reading](show)
After the first bombing, villagers started fleeing to neighboring villages for safety.Israel saw this from their drones, and they sent Apache helicopters to circle the village to prevent us from leaving.They started shelling the area around the village from airplanes.There were also Apache helicopters circling over the village. Two Apaches would come and leave, and then another two Apaches would come. The Sheikh of the village told the villagers to hide in their shelters.The people followed the advice of the Sheikh, and so they sought shelter in the big houses with basements used to dry tobacco [in the “Moscow” neighborhood.]
Around 3:30 a.m. on July 19, at least three Israeli airplanes struck at least thirteen homes in the “Moscow” neighborhood, firing multiple munitions and collapsing the homes on their basements packed with sheltering civilians.”At 3:30 a.m. the attacks started,” said Qassim Mustafa Nazal, a resident.”We suddenly heard bombs, one hit, then two hits at the same time, overall between 12 to 16 rockets hit the Moscow neighborhood.”
As of this writing, the number of victims remains unknown because rescue workers have been unable to reach the village to recover the bodies, which remain buried under the rubble, and Israeli warplanes and helicopter strikes have prevented the local villagers from recovering all of the bodies themselves.A local resident coordinating the recovery effort estimated to Human Rights Watch that approximately twenty-six bodies remained under the rubble as of July 31, but other residents estimated that as many as forty-two are missing after the attack.Two Human Rights Watch researchers visited Srifa briefly on July 31, as local residents recovered the heavily decomposed body of one female victim.The researchers saw no signs of Hezbollah military activity in the village, such as weapons, military equipment, or trenches.The researchers did count at least thirteen homes that had completely collapsed, and relatives of the victims claimed that bodies remained trapped under many of the homes and that they had received no assistance to recover the bodies.(hide)
So, I’ll acknowledge that HRW did, in fact, issued corrections regarding Israel–long after the relevant controversy faded from public consciousness, after vociferously defending its original report while attacking its critics (who turned out to be correct) in harsh, obnoxious terms, and without correcting the original charges on its website (the latter of which explains, along with the fact that it’s not on HRW’s “Corrections” page, why, contrary to Kevin’s snarkiness, I was unaware of the correction). Oh, and Ms. Whitson still seems to assert that HRW has never gone wrong reporting on Israel by relying on local eyewitnesss, and Roth, of course, still dismisses all criticism of HRW emanating from pro-Israel sources as “lies and deception.”
Forgive me if this fails to meaningfully change my opinion of HRW.