In response to the ongoing propaganda war against human rights NGOs by the Netanyahu government and its outriders here in the U.S. — especially the recent criticism of Human Rights Watch from HRW founder Robert Bernstein — a couple of Canadian social scientists did a statistical analysis of both HRW’s and Amnesty International’s reporting. Here’s what they found:
There is no anti-Israel or anti-democratic conspiracy at work. Like Pakistan or Afghanistan today, Israel is, and has been for many years, a tremendously newsworthy place. This is true for many reasons, but much of the interest must be driven by Israel’s very large claim on America’s overseas assistance envelope and foreign policy resources.
Global watchdogs, like western reporters and politicians, are keen to be heard, seen, and make an impact. As a result, they join the public debate wherever it takes place, prompting them to devote more resources and attention to Israel than to North Korea, Niger, or Burkina Faso.
Note also, however, that Israel’s security forces regularly commit violations against Palestinians and southern Lebanese, and since the statistical models show that actual abuse is also a significant factor, Israeli behaviour — along with other factors — is also driving the coverage.
Careful analysis, in other words, is a calming remedy in times of emotion, allegation, and counter-allegation. Statistics, disdained as boring by so many university students, can, occasionally, offer useful insights not found elsewhere.
For the most committed Likudniks, of course, the fact that their charges of anti-Israel bias are not borne out by a careful analysis of NGO reporting will only be taken as proof that the authors of that analysis themselves — indeed perhaps even the entire social science discipline — suffers from an anti-Israel bias. Certainly that fact that the authors even suggest — and actually assert straight out — that “Israel’s security forces regularly commit violations against Palestinians and southern Lebanese” (a claim that is uncontroversial in any country other than the U.S.) is quite enough to get them tarred as Israel-bashers in some circles. But for those seriously interested in interrogating recent claims made against human rights NGOs, this analysis should be very useful.
There’s no question that Israel has to deal with a precarious security situation, however this does not exonerate the country from its own commitment to uphold certain human rights standards, nor immunize it from criticism when it fails to meet those standards. It’s really unfortunate that, rather than cooperate with an American president who has made it a priority to improve that security situation, Israel’s current government has chosen instead to thumb him in the eye while organizing a smear campaign against its human rights critics.