As a Jewish progressive, one of the most disturbing elements about Israel’s recent trajectory has been an increasingly tendency by the Israeli government and by hawkish Jewish organizations to respond to criticism of Israel’s human rights record by lashing out against human rights groups. The Jerusalem Post, for example, has a report on how the Israeli government is planning to step up attacks on Human Rights Watch not by contesting HRW’s work on the merits, but by assailing the organization as somehow hypocritical for raising funds from private Saudi individuals. And Matt Duss observes that AIPAC has been emailing journalists with a story making the same argument.
Anyone genuinely interested in a good-faith exploration of whether or not Human Rights Watch ignores human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia or by other states in the region can easily enough click over to their website and find their comprehensive work on the Middle East and North Africa. You will swiftly see that the idea that HRW is some kind of Israel-bashing organization is nonsense. Their currently featured item is about just the subject you’d expect—the recent clampdown in Iran. The headline is “Iran: Detainees Describe Beatings, Pressure to Confess”. They also did a July 8 item highlighting broken promises on women’s rights from Saudi Arabia. They’re highlighting work on torture in the United Arab Emirates and on how administrative detention undermines the rule of law in Jordan.
This is vital work taking place in a large number of countries. Countries that, as the Israeli government is usually the first to point out, tend to treat their citizens really poorly. Smearing the organization doing this kind of work is very damaging. There aren’t, after all, a lot of people doing credible work of this sort. And part of the reason HRW is credible is that they call it like they see it—they don’t zero in on particular countries to serve a geopolitical agenda. Which means that when Israeli policies violate international law or human rights norms, Israel gets criticized. If this makes Israelis uncomfortable, then maybe instead of lashing out with unsupported accusations of of bias they ought to reconsider their own actions.