Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic follows up on the controversy surrounding my piece on HRW's fundraiser in Saudi Arabia. Goldberg reprints some rather remarkable email correspondence with Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, which is worth reading in full. But here's the conclusion:
In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers. [Roth: "We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception." [!!!!!!]] It appears as if Human Rights Watch, in the pursuit of dollars, has compromised its integrity.
UPDATE: I'd put it differently then Goldberg. There's no evidence that HRW's pursuit of dollars has compromised its integrity, at least not yet. Rather, HRW's pursuit of dollars has starkly revealed the underlying biases that it previously has denied having. But really, anyone who has been paying attention shouldn't be surprised that HRW's credibility on Israel-related issues approaches zero. [links just e.g.]
FURTHER UPDATE: And here's Matthew Yglesias completely missing the point. He describes my argument (without linking to the piece directly) as HRW being "somehow hypocritical for raising funds from private Saudi individuals." No. It's (a) HRW potentially compromising itself by becoming reliant on funds from a nation whose government will cut off the funds if HRW's reporting becomes a nuisance; and (b) HRW portraying itself not simply as an advocate of universal human rights, but specifically as a counterweight to pro-Israel organizations, while engaging in fundraising from private Saudi citizens.
And to make matters worse, director Roth has now revealed to Goldberg that he thinks that (apparently all) criticism of HRW's "reporting" on Israel amounts to "lies and deception"--although anyone who has studied the issue can present numerous examples in which HRW was wrong, and Israel's supporters correct, including my first link above. The logical conclusion is that HRW is institutionally hostile to Israel, whether for reasons of ideology, money, or because it enhances its "street cred" in other parts of the Middle East. That this hostility may ultimately undermine the credibility of HRW's in other countries, which indeed often seems valuable, is unfortunate, but it's a logical consequence of people's realization that HRW has utterly failed to be objective regarding Israel. Supporters like Yglesias do HRW no favors by letting it off the hook; without reform, HRW's reputation will sink under the weight of this scandal.
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- Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia, UPDATE: