I wrote yesterday that “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 [Robert Bernstein] has said just that.” My link singled out, as an example, Matthew Yglesias.
The answer is, apparently, “at least somewhat longer.” Consider how Yglesias starts his piece yesterday on R. Bernstein: “It’s certainly news that Human Rights Watch’s critics were able to get a former HRW chairman to slam the organization for having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country.”
Yglesias provides no evidence that HRW’s critics “got” R. Bernstein to do anything. HRW’s harshest and most persistent critics are a motley collection of bloggers and tiny NGOs like CAMERA and NGO Monitor, who are in no position to influence a person of R. Bernstein’s stature in any way, except of course through the force of their critiques. It seems beyond Yglesias to acknowledge that R. Bernstein is simply a long-time human rights activist who is sincerely troubled by the sharp left-wing, anti-Israel turn HRW has taken.
And while R. Bernstein’s argument is muddled in a few places (I’m told by an informed source that the Times’ editorial staff mushed it up a bit), the basic complaint of HRW’s critics, including R. Bernstein, is precisely that HRW fails to treat Israel in anything remotely approaching an objective manner. Recall, for example, the speech by HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson on human rights problem in the Middle East, covered previously on this blog, in which she spent a huge chunk of her time denouncing “Israel’s [recent] wars”, and a total of twelve seconds incoherently mentioning Hezbollah and Hamas. The lack of attention to the latter groups is stunning, given that they have violated international humanitarian law in their conflict with Israel about as blatantly as possible. Whitson hardly “holds Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law” as everyone else,” but to a different, higher, and impossible [if national suicide isn’t an option] standard, and this is exactly the mentality she brings to HRW’s reports involving Israel.
I suggest that if Yglesias and similarly-situated bloggers want to address the root causes of R. Bernstein’s obviously painful decision to denounce the organization he founded and nurtured, they read this comprehensive report by NGO Monitor. If Yglesias and other HRW defenders haven’t read it, they are in no position to claim that criticism of HRW as anti-Israel is “nonsense.” But I won’t hold my breath because Yglesias, at least, still seems to have no interest in seriously examining why HRW has been on the receiving end of so much obloquy.
UPDATE: Meryl Yourish has much more about Yglesias (and his commenters).