For many years now, successive governments of Israel– and their blind-love cheering sections in western countries– have tried to “shoot the messenger” when human rights groups or international bodies like, erm, the UN, have criticized official Israeli practices.
So at one level it’s nothing new that Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev yesterday slammed Human Rights Watch’s objectivity, claiming it had “lost its moral compass.”
HRW’s sin? A delegation from the organization went to Saudi Arabia in May to raise money and to work with local rights activists on brainstorming strategies for addressing some of the Kingdom’s own very large-scale human rights problems.
Oh, it’s that old “tainted Arab money” story again. How racist can Regev get?
Let’s be clear here: Neither in Saudi Arabia nor anywhere else has HRW ever raised money from governments. I’ve been on the organization’s Middle East advisory committee for 17 years. I would never have gone on if they’d been an organization that accepts government funding– from anyone.
HRW’s fund-raising dinner in Riyadh was hosted by a private individual.
The report linked to there was by Nasser Salti of Arab News. He focused a little on the part of the presentation made by the HRW team where Middle East division head Sarah Leah Whitson described some of the work HRW has done on Israel. He also noted that,
- Keeping with its mission of even-handed criticism, Human Rights Watch has also leveled criticism at other states in the region, including Saudi Arabia. The organization recently called on the Kingdom to do more to protect the human rights of domestic workers…
Knowing Sarah Leah as I do, I am confident that her presentation at the dinner was professional and even-handed.
HRW does fund-raising events like this all the time— mainly in the US, but also in other countries around the world. It has, as it happens, a particularly rich network of long-time Jewish-American donors.
So what is wrong with trying to raise money for worldwide human-rights work from people in Arab countries??
Would Mark Regev prefer that wealthy Saudis who want to engage in philanthropy do so by donating to the Taliban?
I don’t know how much money HRW netted from Sarah Leah’s visit to Saudi Arabia. But one other clear result of the brainstorming she and her colleagues were able to do with Saudi counterparts there was this well-researched report, which HRW published last week, which calls for an end to Saudi abuses of their millions of migrant workers, who face what the report called “slavery-like conditions.”
Perhaps Mark Regev is indifferent to the fate of those millions of people?
He told the Jerusalem Post,
- “If you can fundraise in Saudi Arabia, why not move on to Somalia, Libya and North Korea?… For an organization that claims to offer moral direction, it appears that Human Rights Watch has seriously lost its moral compass.”
This is a really pathetic argument. As Sarah Leah herself pointed out to the JP reporter, it is always quite necessary, in human rights work, to distinguish between a government and its people, and “Certainly not everyone is tainted by the misconduct of their government.”
Regev’s attack against HRW is, it seems, just part of a broader attack the Israeli government is planning against HRW and Amnesty International.
The JP reporter, Herb Keinon, writes,
- Regev’s comments came two weeks after Israel was ripped for alleged misconduct during Operation Cast Lead in reports issued by HRW and Amnesty International, two of the highest-profile human rights NGOs. Israel has decided to take a much more aggressive stance toward future reports issued by these organizations, the Post has learned.
“We will make a greater effort in the future to go through their reports with a fine-tooth comb, expose the inconsistencies and their problematic use of questionable data,” one senior official said.
“We discovered during the Gaza operation and the Second Lebanon War that these organizations come in with a very strong agenda, and because they claim to have some kind of halo around them, they receive a status that they don’t deserve,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry is currently considering how best to expand its focus and deal more systematically with this issue, and it is assumed this will be done together with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Post has learned.
The Israeli government will probably also be working in close conjunction with a new, Jerusalem-based group called “NGO Monitor” (which is funded, for what it’s worth, by the Weschler Family Foundation, Newt Becker of Los Angeles, and Ben & Esther Rosenbloom Foundation of Baltimore.)
When I was in Israel in February/March I did make, as JWN readers knew at the time, several attempts to get myself accredited as a visiting reporter with the Israeli government’s press office in Beit Agron, West Jerusalem. Sadly, they claimed they’d never heard of The Nation (!!!) and I never got it.
But the helpful young man in the GPO office there, Jason, pressed upon me several brochures from “NGO Monitor” and urged me to do a story about their “revelations.” (He really wasn’t terribly swift… )
Anyway, Regev’s use of the old “Arab money” canard is one that should absolutely be exposed for the racist thinking that it is.