Professor Heller’s defense of Kenneth Roth
It is sad to see that Professor Heller, like HRW’s employees, is unwilling to acknowledge any HRW misteps. It is even sadder to see that Professor Heller, like HRW’s employees and other supporters, is willing to distort the facts in order to excuse HRW’s and Kenneth Roth’s inexcusable behavior.
(a) Contrary to Professor Heller’s contention, HRW’s philosophy has never been that “that state-sanctioned killing of any kind is never justified.” If it were, HRW would not pretend to adhere to the mission of upholding the laws of war, since the laws of war justify state-sanctioned killing, so long as it is aimed at the right (military) targets, and collateral damage (to civilians) is “proportionate” to the military necessity. HRW has never asserted that it opposes all state-sanctioned killing by other parties in the world. HRW is apparently only opposed to all state-sanctioned killing when carried out by the Jewish state. I would understand (and respectfully disagree) if HRW were to adopt, across the board, the position that state-sanctioned killing is improper. This would be a principled position, unlike its current anti-Israel crusade.
(b) Israel’s military strategy in south Lebanon was not an eye-for-an-eye, and Israel never claimed it was. On the contrary, Israeli’s military strategy was explicitly aimed at the Hezbollah threat, rather than Hezbollah misdeed that occasioned the fighting; this is what led France, Russia, the UN, et al to complain that Israel’s strategy should be eye-for-an-eye (proportionate to the military strike occasioning Israel’s counter-strike), i.e., that Israel should use up to force identical to that used by Hezbollah, rather than respond to Hezbollah strikes by using the force that Israel believed necessary to neutralize the Hezbollah threat. Eye-for-an-eye is an accurate description of the French/Kofi Annan interpretation of the proportionality doctrine, and of the Heller-HRW caricature of Israeli strategy, not of Israeli strategy itself. Is it proper for Israel to use that force necessary to neutralize the threat? I believe it is and that is the way all states engage in warfare and that France, Russia etc. misinterpret the doctrine of proportionality. Perhaps Heller-HRW believe otherwise; if they do, I would much prefer that they have the intellectual honesty to take on that debate rather than distort their opponent’s position.
(c) Professor Heller may be right that Roth “understands that the Israeli government and the Jewish religion are not one and the same,” but, unfortunately, Roth’s demagoguery displays no sign of this understanding. Thus, for example, Roth insinuated that Israel is guided by “Biblical injunctions” rather than “international humanitarian law” here in attempting to excuse his original eye-for-an-eye remark. Professor Heller is almost certainly right that “the ‘primitive moment’ to which Mr. Roth referred has never been part of Judaism.” Indeed, the fact that Roth’s slur is based upon a characteristic misstatement of fact makes Roth’s misbehavior worse, not better.
That said, however, I do appreciate the artistry in Professor Heller’s increasingly gravity-defying attempts to clear HRW and its executive director through lingustic gymnastics.