How Human Rights Watch has failed its founder’s test.
Human Rights Watch is in a lather because the Israeli government decided to expel Human Rights Watch’s “Israel and Palestine” director, Omar Shakir, on November 25th . Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, accused Israel of joining “the likes of Venezuela, Iran, and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers.” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson responded to Shakir’s deportation, saying, “We regret the decision taken by the Israeli authorities to deport him. The secretary-general supports the important work by human rights defenders around the world, and that work should be allowed to continue.” Several so-called UN human rights “experts” had previously criticized Israel’s decision to expel Shakir, which was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, as “a body blow to the protection of human rights defenders.”
Omar Shakir is neither an objective researcher or genuine human rights defender. Israel’s decision to deport him was based on his violation of a 2017 Israeli law that bars entry to people who advocate the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel. Shakir has a history of bashing Israel. Then again, the organization he works for – Human Rights Watch – has become a shill for the Palestinians’ campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel. No wonder it chose Shakir as its “Israel and Palestine” director and continues to defend him. Indeed, Shakir will remain Human Rights Watch’s “Israel and Palestine” director, delivering his propaganda from a neighboring country.
Omar Shakir was co-president of Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER), the forerunner to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Stanford University. In 2011, he gave a presentation entitled “Renewing the Call for Divestment: A Campaign to Divest from Companies that Profit from Human Rights Violations in Israel/Palestine.” In 2013, he introduced a BDS resolution to the undergraduate senate at Stanford.
In 2015, Shakir signed a letter “honoring the BDS call” and pledging “to engage with Palestinians in our communities and support delegations to Palestine that are meant to highlight the reality on the ground of occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing.” In 2016, Shakir called BDS an “effective tool” that attempts to enlist companies worldwide in helping to level the playing field between “a colonizer and a colonized, an oppressor and oppressed.” He rejected the notion that Israel has any justification for any of its actions, no matter whether they were provoked by Palestinian terrorist attacks. He compared Israeli Zionism to the former white Afrikaner apartheid regime in South Africa.
Despite all this, and plenty of other evidence demonstrating Shakir’s strident anti-Israel bias – or more likely because of it – Human Rights Watch hired Omar Shakir to serve as its “Israel and Palestine” director in October 2016. Since serving in that capacity, Shakir continued his relentless anti-Israel campaign. For example, he advocated the idea of a United Nations BDS database to enable the blacklisting of Jewish-owned companies that operate across the 1949 Armistice line and of firms that do business with them. He sought to have FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) sanction the Israel Football Association.
According to an analysis of Shakir’s twitter activity in the June 2018-February 2019 time period conducted by NGO Monitor, Shakir “tweeted 970 times (including retweets) on issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. More than one-third used the language of demonization against Israel, and another third promoted BDS.” NGO Monitor went on to note that “18 of Shakir’s tweets condemned alleged Israeli attacks on Palestinians.” However, as NGO Monitor observed, “Shakir did not add his own voice in condemnation of terrorist attacks against Israelis,” including one that involved the shooting of a pregnant woman that took the life of her prematurely born baby.
In a phony attempt to display purported even-handedness, Shakir put out a report on the arrest and torture of Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. However, as NGO Monitor explained in another piece, Shakir’s report managed to omit “Hamas’ persecution of alleged ‘collaborators’ with Israel, the PA’s criminalization of selling land to Jews (punishable by death), as well as the torture of LGBTQ detainees and children in the West Bank and Gaza.”
In November 2018 alone, Palestinian terrorists fired over 400 rockets and missiles from Hamas-controlled Gaza aimed at Israeli population centers. On May 4 and May 5, 2019, they fired over 600 rockets and mortars, murdering four Israeli civilians. In response to Nikki Haley’s May 6th tweet asking, “Imagine if 600 rockets had been fired into the US or any other country besides Israel. What country would not defend itself?,” Shakir tweeted with a question of his own. Shakir’s response reflected his wholehearted embrace of the fictional narrative of Palestinian victimhood caused solely by Israel. He wrote, “Imagine if foreign power sealed off US or any country from world for 12 yrs, forbidding anyone from leaving 25 by 7 mile territory outside of ‘exceptional humanitarian cases’ & severely restricting entry of goods/electricity.”
The truth is, as the UN itself reported, Gaza’s electricity shortage problem resulted largely from an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA. While Israel has indeed imposed restrictions on the import of dual-use goods that can be used for military as well as civilian purposes, Hamas is to blame for the consequences endured by the residents of Gaza. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, removing all settlements and leaving behind an infrastructure that the Palestinians could have built upon to improve the welfare of Gazan residents. Instead, after Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah, it focused its attention on attacking Israeli population centers with rockets and mortars.
As Eliot Abrams wrote in 2018, “Hamas might have decided to improve the economy and offer Palestinians tired of Fatah’s corruption and inefficiency an decent alternative. Instead it has focused only on attacking Israel and maintaining its fantasy of ‘return’ and the destruction of the Jewish state.”
It is the insistence on this fantasy of a “right” of millions of so-called Palestinian “refugees” to “return” to their “homeland” in pre-June 1967 Israel, not Israeli settlements, that has been the true obstacle to any prospect of a genuine peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if one were ever possible in the first place. Indeed, until the Palestinians accept Israel’s right to exist securely as a Jewish state that the original UN General Assembly two-state partition resolution envisioned, which Palestinian leaders refuse to accept, there can be no real peace.
When Israel responded to protect its own citizens from wanton Palestinian terrorist attacks that increased after Israel withdrew completely from Gaza, the so-called “international” and “human rights” communities, including the UN and Human Rights Watch, repeatedly condemned Israel. Hamas and its Islamic Jihad partners, supported by Iran, became more emboldened. They fired more rockets and built tunnels with supplies meant for civilian construction and repair. They have tried time and again to use force to break through the border separating Israel and Gaza during their “Great March of Return” protests that often have devolved into riots. Yet pro-Palestinian propagandists like Omar Shakir and UN bureaucrats have continually blamed Israel for defending itself.
The problem is not just with Shakir and like-minded Israel-bashers. The more fundamental problem is that so-called human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, along with the UN Human Rights Council and other UN forums, provide these charlatans global platforms from which to spew their hate.
The anti-Israel bias of the UN Human Rights Council is well-known. This dysfunctional UN body doesn’t even try very hard to hide it. However, Human Rights Watch portrays itself as an objective source of information on human rights abuses around the world. It claims on its website that its researchers “work to an established, proven, and consistent methodology based on information gathering from a broad range of sources.” Yet, at least when it comes to Israel, all such pretenses of objectivity and careful research are replaced by pro-Palestinian advocacy. None other than the founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert L. Bernstein, wrote an op-ed column for the New York Times in 2009 taking the organization to task, with words that are just as true today:
“Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere… Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.”
Ten years ago, Mr. Bernstein advised the human rights organization he had founded that it had a critical choice to make. “Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world,” he wrote. “If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.”
Ten years later, Human Rights Watch has utterly failed its founder’s test. It has lost all credibility in the propaganda it packages as “reports” on alleged human rights abuses by Israel, which will continue whether Omar Shakir remains as Human Rights Watch’s “Israel and Palestine” director or is eventually replaced with another pro-Palestinian propagandist.