Thursday, November 25, 2010

Steinberg on Bernstein: Exposing the Human Rights Facade

Exposing the Human Rights Facade
Important piece once again documenting the extreme biases of too many human rights NGO's when it comes to anything relating to Israel. We need more courageous voices like Bernstein to speak out against this travesty. The stakes are ever higher with the growing international demonization and delegitimation of Israel epitomized by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
david in seattle

The people and institutions that claim to uphold human rights and democracy are in fact nullifying these core moral principles.

At 87, Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, began his second life. Thirty- three years after he founded Helsinki Watch in 1976, which evolved into HRW and became one of the most influential human rights organizations in the world, he disowned his earlier creation. In October 2009, in an explosive column published in The New York Times, Bernstein denounced HRW and its leaders for distorting and exploiting human rights to attack democracies, and for playing a central role in turning Israel into a “pariah state.”

Now, Bernstein has gone further in working to reverse the moral failures of HRW and the wider network of highly politicized groups that use the fa├žade of human rights to attack moral principles. Delivering the Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights at the University of Nebraska at Omaha [published in full on page 13 of today’s Jerusalem Post], he contrasted Israel’s democratic values with their notable absence in the Arab regimes and Iran. But most of HRW’s humanrights accusations are directed at Israel. Bernstein demonstrated that these “human rights organizations, including the one I founded,” as well Amnesty International, the Carter Center and other groups, are leading the political war against Israel by working closely with corrupt UN frameworks.

His involvement in free speech grew out of his background as a book publisher. In the 1970s, he went to the Soviet Union to negotiate copyright issues, and met the dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner. Bernstein encouraged Sakharov to write an autobiography, and provided support as he came under increasing harassment, including exile to Gorky. (Natan Sharansky was jailed and sent to the gulag for his work with Sakharov.) The Soviet regime revoked Bernstein’s visa in a failed attempt to end this support.

This was the beginning of Helsinki Watch, which grew into HRW.

After the Cold War, Bernstein turned his attention to human rights issues in China, leaving HRW in the hands of cynical leaders who played a leading role in exploiting human rights principles to attack Israel. As the assault grew, amid the carnage of Palestinian terror bombings that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, Bernstein returned to an active role, joining HRW’s Middle East North Africa Advisory Board and observing its cynical manipulation of moral rhetoric.

He quickly noted the close cooperation between HRW and the UN Human Rights Council, which was “so critical of Israel that any fair-minded person would disqualify them from participating in attempts to settle issues involving Israel.” The UNHRC sought out “prominent Jews known for their anti-Israel views,” such as Richard Falk. (Falk had written an article comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Hitler’s treatment of Jews in the Holocaust.) When Israel objected, HRW “leaped to his defense, putting out a press release comparing Israel with North Korea and Burma in not cooperating with the UN.”

The text defending Falk was written by Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW’s Middle East Division. As Bernstein reminds us, Stork had been an editor of a notorious pro-Palestinian newsletter before being hired by HRW.

Most of HRW’s accusations against Israel were not based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights but on subjective interpretations of the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. But HRW has “little expertise about modern asymmetrical war.” Noting that Israel was responding to terror attacks from Iran’s non-state proxies – Hizbullah and Hamas – Bernstein relates the ways in which HRW’s reporting on this conflict consistently “faulted Israel as the principal offender.”

At first, Bernstein, like most journalists, diplomats and academics, was “inclined to believe what Human Rights Watch was reporting.

However, as I saw Human Rights Watch’s attacks on almost every issue become more and more hostile, I wondered if their new focus on war was accurate.”

THE BLOW that led a reluctant Bernstein to break publicly with his organization was HRW’s central role in promoting Richard Goldstone – one of executive director Kenneth Roth’s closest allies and an HRW board member – to lead the UN’s assault following the Gaza war.

“Human Rights Watch has been by far the biggest supporter” of this campaign to “bring war crimes allegations against Israel – based on [Goldstone’s] report.”

As Bernstein observed, HRW has ignored “many responsible analyses challenging the war crimes accusations made by Goldstone,” as well as detailed refutations of HRW’s own reports, which were filled with unverifiable and false claims.

Referring to the unresolved Marc Garlasco affair, Bernstein noted that “a military expert working for Human Rights Watch who seemed to wish to contest these reports was dismissed and... is under a gag order. This is antithetical to the transparency that Human Rights Watch asks of others.” (Galasco was also exposed as having something of a fetish for Nazi memorabilia, yet ironically, he was one of HRW's most objective analysts when it came to Israel--see Minority Report: TNR--db)
And he recalled that when HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson went to Saudi Arabia in 2009 to raise funds by selling its support for Goldstone’s attacks on Israel, it is doubtful that she discussed textbooks published by the Saudis calling Jews “apes and pigs.”

Bernstein’s painful accounting regarding the organization he founded has of course been summarily rejected by this corrupt human rights priesthood and its acolytes. As a result, the people and institutions that claim to uphold human rights and democracy are in fact accelerating the tragic destruction of these core moral principles.

The writer heads NGO Monitor ( and is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seattle AJC: Addressing Israel's Future: Akiva Tor, Yehudit Barsky on BDS & "Lebanon"

Last Thursday evening, on the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, the American Jewish Community and the Consulate General of Israel co-sponsored “Addressing Israel’s Future,” a program discussing new challenges and threats to Israel and the world Jewish community. The night also featured a private screening of Lebanon, winner of the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

The program was promoted as a “BUYcott Israel” event, and the sold out audience was encouraged to join the anti-boycott movement and strike back at the forces behind BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that has been gaining traction worldwide. The Pacific Northwest has become a lightning rod for the BDS movement, where the first successful boycott of a food co-op in America took hold in July at the Olympia Co-op.

Akiva Tor, the Consul General for the Pacific Northwest spoke about the importance of countering BDS, a movement whose agenda promotes the vilification and delegitimation of Israel, under the guise of promoting justice and freedom for the Palestinians. Tor described the groups supporting BDS as fringe organizations on the far left. Though lacking any real political power, he cautioned that the danger they pose is significant because of the power of symbols. And by deeming Israel as illegitimate, by extension, a shadow is cast on those who support it.

He applauded the efforts of the AJC, both locally and globally, educating the public to the insidious nature of these attacks against the Jewish State. Tor talked about the imperative to be proactive, citing the work the AJC and groups like StandWithUs have done, challenging the Administration at Evergreen College to secure a safe and normative educational environment for its beleaguered Jewish students, and the achievement of thwarting the proposed boycott at the Port Townsend Food Co-op.

Yehudit Barsky, director of AJC’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism was also on hand, speaking about recent threats to the Jewish community, when two parcels containing bombs were recently intercepted in Dubai and Britain, with addresses earmarked for synagogues in Chicago. She noted that the media gave short shrift to fact that both targets were against Jews, with news reports downplaying the anti-Semitic intent of those behind the attempted terror attacks. Barsky, who is fluent in Arabic, described the work her division does around the clock, monitoring publications and websites of extremist groups like the ones behind the failed parcel bombs. While in Seattle, she met with the FBI and local police intelligence to discuss the growing risks posed by such terrorist organizations, particularly against Jewish targets.

Before the screening of Lebanon, Akiva Tor invoked the memory of the late Yitzchak Rabin, paraphrasing remarks Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu made at the memorial service held at Herzl cemetery in Israel. Bibi described how Rabin united the Israeli populace, evolving from a security hawk to a peace-seeking, and more importantly peace-believing dove. Despite media portrayals to the contrary, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel is less polarized today than it was when Rabin was its leader. Living through the collective trauma of the collapse of Oslo and the Second Intifada, the Right understands the Left better today, with the reverse being equally true. He ended by noting that the country is in fact more like Rabin today.

Tor then gave the sold out audience a brief historical backdrop to Israel’s war with Lebanon from 1982-1985. He explained the rationale for Israel’s initial incursion into Lebanon (the effort to eradicate the stepped up terrorism emanating from the PLO against northern Israel) and the problematic nature of the conflict, with Israel quickly finding itself in the quagmire of the Lebanese civil war. Tor spoke of how that war came to define his generation, and how that generation went on to come of age and produce powerful artistic testaments to that period, most notably through literature and film. Movies like Yossi and Jaeger, Beaufort, and Waltz with Bashir have all received international critical acclaim, with Beaufort and Waltz both nominated for Best Foreign Film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Lebanon, Samuel Maoz’s first feature film, is a virtuoso addition to that already impressive body of work. A stunning artistic achievement, the film is shot entirely from the perspective of the inside of a tank (with the exception of the first and last shots). Psychologically riveting, cinematically daring and excruciatingly honest, Lebanon offers an unfiltered look at the chaos, confusion and terror experienced by four young Israeli soldiers thrust into battle on the first day of the war. Only through their periscope are we given a window to the fog of war outside the dank and darkened interior of the tank. And that window is filled with the horrific carnage that all wars leave in their wake. In fact, it is the universality of the soldiers’ experience that lends the film its distinctive humanity, despite the graphic, brutal violence it portrays. In the second to last scene, one of the Israeli soldiers performs an act of inordinate compassion to their Syrian prisoner. In those moments, when the two meet eye to eye, the essential humanity of the other trumps all else.

Israel can be proud that it fosters a culture which is willing to be that self-reflective, unafraid to look at itself, warts and all, and in the process produce such transcendent works of art.

David Brumer
Co-Chair, AJC Seattle Jewish Film Festival
Seattle AJC Executive Committee Member

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