New Israeli PR Offensive Targets Human Rights NGOs

Reporting that the Israeli government “has decided to take a much more aggressive stance” toward human rights NGOs, the Jerusalem Post quotes Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev attacking Human Rights Watch for raising raising funds from private Saudi individuals.

Regev told the Post that “A human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women’s rights group asking the Taliban for a donation.”

If you can fundraise in Saudi Arabia, why not move on to Somalia, Libya and North Korea?” he said. “For an organization that claims to offer moral direction, it appears that Human Rights Watch has seriously lost its moral compass.”

Responding to Regev’s troubling suggestion that citizens of Saudi Arabia should come under suspicion simply by virtue of being Saudis, Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division said that “Certainly not everyone is tainted by the misconduct of their government.”

Meanwhile, a number of journalists received an email from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this morning containing this Wall Street Journal item attacking HRW for the Saudi trip. Author David Bernstein asserts that Whitson was raising money “from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel,” and suggests that “Ms. Whitson found no time to criticize Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record.”

In the WSJ comments section, Whitson responded that “had [Bernstein] asked me, and not just ‘someone who claims to have worked for HRW,’ the only source he ever cites, he would know that we did indeed spend much of the time in serious discussion about Saudi violations, including its troubled justice system and the lack of women’s rights, as well as our work in the region, including Israel.”

Had he checked our website, he’d know that Human Rights Watch in recent years has published more reports and news releases on rights problems in Saudi Arabia than any other human rights organization in the world.

I emailed AIPAC’s Josh Block to ask about AIPAC sending Bernstein’s item out. Block responded via email that “HRW has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias, and for an organization that claims to be objective about human rights to go hat in hand to raise money from the Saudi ruling elite, while bragging about and seeking to further its Israel-bashing is deeply revealing of the group’s fundamental hypocrisy and its policy of holding a double standard when it comes to Israel. Human Rights Watch has long ago lost all credibility when it comes to human rights issues in the Middle East.”

A 2005 article in the Jewish Daily Forward noted that “Human Rights Watch has in fact devoted more attention to each of five other nations in the region — Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey and Iran — than to Israel.”