Andrew Sullivan on Human Rights Watch–Ignorance is Bliss

Sullivan quotes me: “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” (by the way, I’ve since heard from a very reliable source that R. Bernstein in fact came to his painful decision after both reading such critiques–I’m not sure if he read that specific report–,  doing his own due diligence to make sure they checked out, and trying to get HRW to mend it ways before going public):

So, does Sullivan actually bother to read the report?  You guessed it, nope.   Instead, he quotes my frequent (and persistent) critic, Kevin Heller:

Bernstein bases his recent posts on “reports” issued by NGO Monitor, an organization that — unlike HRW — makes absolutely no effort to be critical of both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

NGO Monitor’s objective is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas.

NGO Monitor at least gets credit for truth in advertising: every single report it has issued in 2009 has attacked an NGO or state or other organization that criticized Israel.

You know, I heard there’s a blogger named Andrew Sullivan who is concerned about marriage.  And here’s the crazy thing: every single  blog post he writes on the issue is supportive of gay marriage!  Every one!

This of course means that no matter what facts he marshals, no matter what evidence he provides, no matter how extensive his research, and no matter how darn persuasive he would be if we just read what he wrote, because he has a position on the issue, nothing he has written about it could possibly be worth reading.  Instead, everyone should just attack him with ad hominems.

Oh, and applying this same standard, did you know that every single report that Human Rights Watch has issued on Israel has been critical of Israel?  Worse yet, even when its own on-the-ground researcher “praised the IDF’s professional investigation”, into an explosion in Gaza, HRW a few days later issued a report critical of Israel, alleging that Israel “betray[ed] a lack of interest in arriving at the truth of what happened.”

And here’s the rub: as Heller points out, NGO Monitor doesn’t claim to be an objective, neutral party on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Neither do I.  But (a) that doesn’t mean that one can reasonably and blithely ignore facts presented by NGO Monitor (e.g., the radical anti-Israel activist backgrounds of various top HRW Middle East staff; that one of the “eyewitnesses” relied upon on the Goldstone report defended vociferously by HRW has given fifteen different and conflicting accounts of a particular incident to different sources; and so on); and (b) Human Rights Watch does claim, as Heller suggests, to be an objective source, but that doesn’t make it so; its reporting is laughably one-sided.  If Human Rights Watch acknowledged that it has an ideological agenda (recall again that M.E. director Whitson thinks that of Middle East human rights problems, while Israel’s behavior in wartime is, relatively speaking, worthy of many minutes of attention, Hamas and Hezbollah deserve twelve incoherent seconds) that dictated hostility to Israel, no one would be complaining that it’s using a human rights halo to mask an anti-Israel agenda.

So here’s my proposal to Andrew: read the report with an open mind.  If its wrong, explain specifically why its wrong.  And if its right, acknowledge that its right.  Your support for Human  Rights Watch should at least be informed, no?  Better to live in blissful, but ideologically comfortable, ignorance?

UPDATE: Andrew promises to look over the report, and invites his readers to do so as well.  Good.  He adds that he “glanced over the report and it reads more like an op-ed than a fact finding exercise.”  I’m not going to vouch for the style of the report, which after all is meant to be readable, not to be a Ph.D. thesis, and I think NGO Monitor folks sometimes seem to make as much of a very minor infraction as about HRW’s most outrageous misconduct.   (For an advocacy group, it’s very tempting to try to make a slow news month into a press release of some sort.)  With those caveats, NGO Monitor has been following HRW for years, tries in my experience scrupulously to avoid misstatements of fact, and its report is the one place where you can find almost the entire Bill of Particulars pro-Israel folk have against HRW in one place, with footnotes–sources generally available on line–backing up the claims.  I should think it’s very possible to review the evidence and still think that HRW serves a good devil’s advocate’s role, but difficult to do so and remain convinced that HRW has no ideological bias.

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