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A Disproportionate Country

By Matthew Yglesias  

"A Disproportionate Country"

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There’s a tedious post below the fold about Human Rights Watch and Israel:

Jon Chait, responding to Peter Beinart, claimed that Ben Birnbaum, a TNR intern, has recently published a “thoughtful, balanced, and generally devastating” analysis of Human Rights Watch’s work on Israel to to which he has “yet to see anybody on the left mount a convincing rebuttal.” Birnbaum quoted Chait on his Twitter feed, leading me to reply “Is there a specific claim you’d like to see rebutted?”

What I had in mind is that I don’t see what there is to rebut in the piece. As we’ve known for a while, some folks don’t like it that Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel. Some of those people aired their grievances to Birnbaum. But he doesn’t offer any new facts or new analysis or have any relevant expertise in international law. The result is a fairly dull narrative piece detailing how some HRW folks fell out with some other HRW folks over their disagreements about Israel. The piece itself is responsibly written but a bit confusing and doesn’t seem to advance any argument at all, much less a devastating one.

At any rate, on Twitter Birnbaum followed up by writing “It was surprising that @hrw’s foremost defenders on #Israel didn’t engage the piece as a whole (much less any specific claim).” But as I said the piece “as a whole” just doesn’t say anything you can engage with. I repeated that I would respond to something specific, and what he came up with was something that has nothing in particular to do with his article “Do you think #Israel has earned more @hrw reports on #humanrights violations since 2000 than #Iran, #Syria, & #Lybia combined?”

I think this is basically an admission that there’s no devastating analysis of HRW contained in Birnbaum’s article. And I suppose the response is: So what? Many institutions and media outlets, including The New Republic, pay more attention to Israel than the small size of the country would seem to warrant. Should Israel get more foreign aid than India? There’s just nothing to rebut in this “argument” (which doesn’t even appear in the article) and I think it’s fatuous for Birnbaum to pretend that the folks who attack HRW for calling out Israeli abuses would be mollified somehow if HRW had published more reports on Syria. Countries, including Israel, shouldn’t commit human rights abuses and organizations that document such abuses should be praised not attacked.

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