Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch and the Arab Spring

It’s fascinating to listen again to this talk by HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson (starting at 16:53) from the Summer of 2009. The topic was “Human Rights in the Middle East.” Syria and Libya get barely a mention. Yemen isn’t mentioned at all. Israel gets by far the most negative attention, followed by Egypt and Jordan–apparently singled out because they are U.S. allies and have peaceful relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority comes in for some criticism for “not representing all the Palestinians,” i.e., not being anti-Israel enough. While Israel is accused of engaging in “apartheid” and routinely violating international humanitarian law, such that the U.S. should rethink its support of its government, Hamas is referred to as the “elected government” in Gaza, which the U.S. shouldn’t try to undermine.

The weirdest moment in the talk, though, is when Whitson points out that no Arab country allows freedom of speech, the cornerstone of a free society. What one example, of all possible examples, does she use to illustrate the lack of freedom of speech? That Arab governments tried to prevent their populations from protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza in the war against Hamas in late 2008/early 2009. Just, WOW!

NGO Monitor comments on now HRW’s obsession with Israel left it unprepared to deal with the emerging events in the Arab world here.