Robert Bernstein (no relation), the founder of Human Rights Watch, has issued a stinging condemnation of the organization he led from 1978 to 1998. Here’s a taste:
I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics….
When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.
Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region….
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.
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields….
Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.
At what point does the MSM stop treating HRW as a neutral source on human rights in the Middle East, and start treating it like the left-wing, anti-Israel, anti-Western organization it has openly become? And at what point do HRW’s liberal, human-rights oriented American donors become tired to enabling this? Maybe the growing dismay of long-time HRW supporters like Bernstein explains why Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson decided to expand HRW’s donor base to Saudi elites? Better to take raise money from Saudi princes than to worry about how your growing loss of credibility among even your natural supporters will affect your fundraising.
Comments are open, but HRW sock puppets are not welcome.
UPDATE: I wonder how long certain liberal bloggers who have been reflexive defenders of HRW without bothering to seriously investigate the bill of particulars against it (e.g.) can continue to repeat things like “the idea that HRW is some kind of Israel-bashing organization is nonsense” now that the founder and former longtime director has said just that.
And see my response to criticism by Kevin Jon Heller. Heller also claims that be referencing “Saudi princes” I was subtly trying to imply that HRW takes money from the Saudi government. I’m glad Heller has such faith in his mind-reading skills, but allow me to state categorically that I don’t believe that HRW would knowingly ask for, or accept, money from Saudi Arabia or any other government. As I’ve explained in detail before, the danger is that if an organization like HRW gets dependent on funds from prviate individuals in an authoritarian regime, the organization will have strong incentives not to upset that regime, lest the regime cut off its private sources, as authoritarian regimes (unlike liberal regimes) have the power to do.
Heller is correct, though, that my original post misleadingly suggested that I knew for a fact that HRW has taken money from Saudi princes, rather than has expressed its desire to raise money from Saudi elites, presumably including Saudi princes who don’t hold government positions. I’ve amended the post accordingly.