David Bernstein’s (Ongoing) Caricature of Human Rights Watch

David Bernstein’s (Ongoing) Caricature of Human Rights Watch

David Bernstein is back with another attack on Human Rights Watch.  This time, he’s up in arms that an HRW official had the temerity to criticize Israel in Saudi Arabia during a fundraising dinner:

A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?

No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW’s battles with “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel “human rights” activists”? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)

Apparently, Ms. Whitson found no time to criticize Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record. But never fear, HRW “recently called on the Kingdom to do more to protect the human rights of domestic workers.”

Bernstein has previously described HRW as “almost cartoonishly biased against Israel.”  The only thing cartoonish, however, is Bernstein’s blatant misrepresentation of Whitson’s work.  Here is a list of her recent comments on Saudi Arabia, which take all of about 30 seconds to find on HRW’s website:

  • Criticized Saudi Arabia’s failure to protect rights, including “giving women better access to work, education, health and justice, and easing restrictions on their travel.”
  • Urged governments to criticize the lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.
  • Criticized Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty for non-serious crimes.
  • Demanded that Saudi Arabia release political prisoners.
  • Criticized Saudi Arabia for imposing draconian discipline against a lawyer who attempted to represent a rape victim.
  • Asked Saudi courts to stop trials for “insulting” Islam.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Topics
International Human Rights Law, Middle East, Organizations
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Nathan Wagner
Nathan Wagner

Surely there is a moral difference between raising funds in free nations through appeals to ideals of universal human rights and raising money in repressive nations through appeals highlighting pressure brought against their enemies.

More even that that, the former type of fundraising does not imperil the organization’s mission, but fundraising Bernstein highlights does, since any significan reliance on such funds will necessarily mute criticism of the repressive government.

Bernstein may be reflexive in his response to NGO attacks on Israel, but the fundraising he opposes is hardly innocuous.

David Bernstein
David Bernstein

Kevin,

Give me a call when HRW sends representatives to Efrat to raise money to investigate human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, and brags to the Israeli donors about how HRW has been fending off the “pro-Arab lobby.”

M. Gross
M. Gross

At the risk of posting twice on what is essentially the same topic (Here and at Volokh Conspiracy) I would have thought that HRW was sufficiently beyond parody, especially after their debacle of an “investigation” into the alleged Israeli beach shelling.

That they should attempt to raise money from the people who’s agenda they are furthering is hardly surprising.  Perhaps they can stop by Syria while they’re in the neighborhood.

humblelawstudent
humblelawstudent

KJH,

Once again, you don’t even bother letting basic comprehension of Bernstein’s post get in the way of your ridiculous attack. 

Bernstein said nothing about Whitson’s work in general.  Bernstein criticized Whiton’s remarks from her current trip to Saudia Arabi.

In every one of your links that discuss Whitson’s past criticisms of Saudia Arabia, her criticisms were made months, if not years before her current trip. 

Consequently, your evidence is inapposite to Bernstein’s point. 

The only caricature is what you pass off as an argument.

Kevin Jon Heller

HLS,

I see: it’s okay in your book to sarcastically attack Whitson for not criticizing Saudi Arabia for X, Y, and Z during an event, an attack obviously intended to make her seem soft on the Saudis, without mentioning that Whitson has repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia for X, Y, and Z in the recent past.  Noted for future reference.

The NewStream Dream
The NewStream Dream

Professor Heller,

Putting aside Professor Berstein’s post, are your comfortable with HRW going to Saudi Arabia and using its work vis-a-vis Israel or Jewish entities in the US as the focus of its fund raising?  I agree with you that Professor Berstein’s criticism is myopic (to be charitable), but I think the point is using one’s work against Israel as a donation argument in an Arabic country is very troublesome.

For example, pretend that HRW attended a right-wing event to raise funs with the argument that they were “sticking it to the Arabs” with their focus on women’s rights. 

Kevin Jon Heller

NSD,

I think that is a very fair question — and I appreciate the civil tone in which you ask it.  My answer depends on whether HRW is even-handed in its fundraising.  If it fundraises with progressive Jews by highlighting its criticisms of Hamas, no.  But if it is one-sided, absolutely.  I have an email into a friend at HRW to ask precisely that question; I’ll report the results when I get them.

humblelawstudent
humblelawstudent

KJH,

I’ll take Bernstein’s sarcastic attack over your purposeful mischaracterization and irrelevant counter-evidence any day of the week.

Anne Herzberg

Too bad SLW didn’t make any of those criticisms while she was speaking to the Saudis in person.  Instead, she just touted HRW’s anti-Israel bonafides.  And until last year, HRW rarely issued reports on any kind on Saudi Arabia.  See our analyses of HRW’s Mid-East report dating back to 2004.

And for more on HRW’s moral failings when it comes to protecting universal human rights, see http://www.ngo-monitor.org

Anne Herzberg
Legal Advisor

Kevin Jon Heller

HLS,

A position that could be taken seriously if only it was accompanied by an actual explanation of how I mischaracterize his argument and why my counter-evidence is irrelevant!

Patrick
Patrick

Kevin, I’ll bite. You represent his argument as: HRW kow-tow to repressive facists, and refute it with evidence that they don’t always do so.  He can fairly argue that his argument is only that HRW at least sometimes do, bolstered with evidence of a recent occasion when they appear to have done just that. So whilst I think that  mis-representation may be too strong, OTOH, your evidence compounds (imho) Bernstein’s point as much as it refutes it. Consider this version: Although in the past, HRW have criticised the blatant and institutionalised abuse and denial of human rights by the quasi-police state of Saudi Arabia, they have never quite managed to convey one iota of the enthusiast denunciation they reserve for their favorite democratic, subject-to-law free country, Israel. Whilst I and my ilk traditionally attribute this to either the modern left’s pathetic victim-worship, or worse to anti-semitism full stop, we now have another possible reason. Applying our justifiably bleak view of human nature and Occam’s razor, this new rationale is our new favourite. Simply put: cashola. Hence it is that we find on a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, HRW goodthinker of the week Sarah Leah Whitson. Whitson has previously made clear that she is… Read more »

Anderson

Let’s see.  DB writes:

<i>highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel.</i>

And what “demonization” was that?

<i>An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW’s battles with “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.”</i>

Uh huh.  So, HRW has opposed “pro-Israel pressure groups.”  This is “demonizing” Israel.

DB is worth reading on legal topics, but when Israel comes up, his rhetoric tends to, well, demonization.