Human Rights Watch Exploits Race To Vilify Israel, Bait Jewish Community

This Report was published by NGO Monitor.

  • An op-ed by Human Right Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson, “A Matter of Civil Rights” (Huffington Post, April 15, 2011), blatantly exploits the US Civil Rights Movement to vilify and demonize Israel.
  • Abusing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King: “In a week when the U.S. paused to recall the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Peres might have considered King’s message — an end to segregation — and why such a system of racial inequality remains in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
  • This op-ed contains 23 references that abuse civil rights rhetoric in this way, including accusations of “laws and policies [that] strictly segregate Jews from Palestinians,” “blatant racial inequality,” and “racial discrimination and segregation.” This is Whitson’s dominant theme.
  • In previous statements, Whitson has abused the term “apartheid” to further the assault on Jewish self-determination and equated Israeli policies to “Jim Crow laws of the American south.”  This type of rhetoric was condemned by African-American student leaders who called it “as transparent as it is base.”  Similarly, Dr. King decried discriminatory attacks on Israel, declaring, “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews.”
  • Crude propaganda replacing a complex ethno-national and territorial conflict with the false narrative of racism: “[N]ot only do Israeli laws and policies strictly segregate Jews from Palestinians, they deliberately deprive Palestinians of the most basic needs, in many cases forcing them out of their communities.”
  • “Jewish only roads” and other myths: “And security concerns do not justify systematically separating Palestinians from Jews, with shanties and dirt roads provided for the one, and spacious villas with swimming pools and paved highways provided for the other.”
  • Race baiting U.S. Jews: “And why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”
  • Leadership in anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions): “This is why Human Rights Watch, which extensively documented these discriminatory practices in a report, has called on the EU to clearly label settlement-produced goods, on businesses to review their activities in the settlements, and on the US to cut aid to Israel equal to what Israel spends on the settlements and to investigate tax exemptions for settlement charities.”

Analysis

HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson’s op-ed “A Matter of Civil Rights” (Huffington Post, April 15, 2011) further highlights this organization’s central role in exploiting universal human rights to promote anti-Israeli discrimination. This is a continuation of HRW’s December 2010 unsourced “report” entitled “Separate and Unequal,” which also abused the legacy of the US Civil Rights Movement to single-out and advance hatred towards the Jewish nation-state.

In the op-ed, Whitson replaces the complex national and territorial conflict with invented claims and legal myths in order to accuse the Jewish state of “a system of racial inequality remains in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” “laws and policies [that] strictly segregate Jews from Palestinians,” “blatant racial inequality,” and “racial discrimination and segregation.” Whitson also abuses the language of the US Civil Rights Movement to further vilify Israel: “We do no honor to [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s legacy by supporting policies that promote racial discrimination and segregation.” (Half the article is devoted to this false analogy, with the terms “segregate,” “race/racist,” “discrimination,” and “equal/unequal” appearing 23 times: “segregate” – 3; “race/racist” – 4; “discrimination” – 8; “equal/unequal” – 8.)

Whitson continues by employing stereotypes, generalizations, and crude references about American Jews:  “And why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”

These dishonest attacks reflect deep prejudices and hatred. Such fictitious allegations of Jewish race-hatred of Arabs are part of the incitement program produced by the PLO’s Negotiation Affairs Department, which invented the myth of “Israel’s plan to segregate the Palestinian People while continuing the colonization of Palestinian land.”

Whitson and HRW’s obsessive focus on Israel is evident in the different language employed when referring to other contemporary conflicts, in which history, territory, security, and other factors are as or more significant. In the op-ed, she tries to claim that: “Most governments have long since stopped trying to justify separating people based on race or national origin . . . .”  HRW often erases systematic discriminatory and repressive practices – for example, in Saudi Arabia, where Whitson participated in a 2009 trip raise funds to combat “pro-Israel pressure groups.”  HRW’s role in the use of human rights to attack Israel, and close cooperation with Arab and Islamic regimes, has been cited by HRW founder Robert Bernstein, who condemned his own NGO for turning “Israel into a pariah state,” while ignoring the human rights violations of totalitarian regimes.

Whitson’s distortions and falsehoods are also used to advance BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) targeting Israel. This is a key part of the strategy developed at the infamous NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 Durban Conference, in which HRW also played a central role.  Since then, Whitson and HRW have been leading voices in this campaign.

Whitson, who has in the past abused the term “apartheid” to further the “Durban” assault on Jewish self-determination rights, equates Israeli policies to “Jim Crow laws of the American south.”  This misappropriation of civil rights and apartheid rhetoric for anti-Israel campaigning was recently condemned by a group of African-American student leaders who called it “as transparent as it is base.”  Similarly, Dr. King decried discriminatory attacks on Israel, declaring, “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews.”

Sarah Leah Whitson was hired as HRW’s MENA director (2004) after having worked as an anti-Israel activist. As thisHuffington Post article and many other statements demonstrate, and as documented in an article in The New Republic, she has abused her position at HRW to pursue this activism. That profile cites Whitson praise for the notorious anti-Israel campaigner Norman Finkelstein — “I continue to have tremendous respect and admiration for him, because as you probably know, making Israeli abuses the focus of one’s life work is a thankless but courageous task that may well end up leaving all of us quite bitter.”

In attempting to whitewash Whitson’s deep prejudice, HRW program director Iain Levine falsely claimed that activism does not play a role: “…when they come to the door of this organization, they park [their solidarity backgrounds] behind.” Clearly, for Sarah Leah Whitson and the Middle East division, this is not the case.

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