Scott Long has written an excellent exposé of the scurrilous smear campaign against Egyptian human rights defender Mona Seif by the Zionist organization UN Watch and its director Hillel Neuer, “a former corporate lawyer and lobbyist for Israel” (I wrote about the UN Watch smear campaign against Seif here yesterday).
While the whole post is well worth reading, Long includes a fascinating passage on how Human Rights Watch (HRW), where he was director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program until 2010, panders to the Israel lobby which attacks it constantly.
Those of us who observe HRW’s work have long known that it deals with Israel by a different, much softer standard than it applies to any other country.
Long’s account indicates that HRW observes a sort of fake balance in which it must artificially generate criticism of Palestinians just in order to offset criticism of Israel’s much greater and more frequent human rights abuses and crimes:
Human Rights Watch, where I worked for many years, strains all its muscles to be completely objective on Israel/Palestine — an effort that has never gotten it a scintilla of credit from the militant pro-Israel side. Its releases on Israel and Palestine are the only ones in the entire organization that are routinely edited by the executive director himself. An informal arithmetic dictates that every presser or report criticizing Israel has to be accompanied by another criticizing the Palestine Authority or Hamas — or, if that isn’t possible (the PA barely retains enough authority to violate anybody’s rights) at least one of the surrounding Arab states. A mathematical approach to objectivity may help accountants detect embezzlement or captains keep ships afloat, but that kind of balance looks ridiculous in the political world, where the incessant fluidity of action disrupts the illusions of double-entry bookkeeping. (The call for an “embargo on arms” to “all sides” is an excellent example of “objectivity” that benefits one side much more than the other. As often noted during the Yugoslav civil war — when extremely well-meaning people urged that unarmed Bosnians and the Serbian army both go cold turkey on acquiring arms — a cutoff will matter much more to those who have only scant resources than to those flush with weaponry. If you want to stop that kind of fighting, an embargo alone won’t do it. It’s like the majestic equality of the law as Anatole France described it, forbidding both rich and poor to sleep under bridges.)
Whatever you think of the neighboring conflict, Egyptian activists are undoubtedly reasonable when they ask what a similar “objectivity” would have looked like in their 20-year struggle with Mubarak. Should each documented act of torture by State Security have been followed by a search for some malfeasance by human rights organizations? Do the immense power of a state and the vulnerability of a people’s movement carry the same responsibilities? At what point do you acknowledge (as Human Rights Watch did in Egypt) that, though both sides may do wrong, one side’s demand is right and the other’s is wrong?
An excellent question indeed.