Bernstein on HRW, Part 341 (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had resolved to avoid blogging about Bernstein’s endless series of attacks on Human Rights Watch, but I couldn’t let the following pass without at least some acknowledgement:

At what point does the MSM stop treating HRW as a neutral source on human rights in the Middle East, and start treating it like the left-wing, anti-Israel, anti-Western organization it has openly become?  And at what point do HRW’s liberal, human-rights oriented American donors become tired to enabling this?  Maybe the growing dismay of long-time HRW supporters like [Robert] Bernstein explains why Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson decided to expand HRW’s donor base to Saudi elites?  Better to take money from Saudi princes than to worry about how your growing loss of credibility among even among your natural supporters will affect your fundraising.

What a remarkable paragraph.  HRW is now not simply anti-Israel, it’s actually anti-Western.  I have no idea what it would mean for HRW to actually be anti-Western; perhaps it wants to turn the US into an Islamic state?

As for Bernstein’s claim that HRW has taken money from Saudi princes — I’d like to see his evidence.  He has never made that claim before, and I can’t find a reference to princes by any of the other usual suspects, such as NGO Monitor.  Moreover, Sarah Leah Whitson has stated categorically that HRW has never raised money from the Saudi government.

With each telling by Bernstein, HRW becomes more and more demonic. I look forward to the claim that Ken Roth is hiding bin Laden in HRW’s New York City offices!

UPDATE: Here is Bernstein’s reply:

I’d say that organizations staffed by people who implicitly hate the U.S. and Israel is “anti-Western.”

As for the princes, to my knowledge, not all of the thousands (I’ve seen estimates from 7-27K) Saudi princes are part of the Saudi government, though they are related to the king.  And HRW has publicly announced, in response to criticism of its trip to S.A.: “Human Rights Watch is eager and delighted to find supporters of the human rights ideal – financial or otherwise – in any and all countries of the world.”  And who has more money in Saudi Arabia than the elites?  If HRW would clarify that it would not accept money from anyone who is a member of the House of Saud, regardless of whether they have an official government position, I’d be happy to retract that comment.

This is truly revealing.  First, in Bernstein’s view, the US and Israel are synonymous with the West.  Europe — which is much more willing to openly criticize Israel’s behavior (and the US’s enabling of that behavior) — doesn’t count.  Second, now HRW hates the US, too?  It takes a special kind of myopia to believe that HRW hates any country that supports Israel.  (Or perhaps Bernstein thinks HRW hates the US because it opposes things like torture, illegal detention, and the like.  I hope he’ll enlighten us.)  Third, regarding the princes, note how Bernstein makes an inflammatory claim for which he provides no support, then promises to retract the inflammatory claim if HRW disproves it. What an interesting approach to the obligation of bloggers to get their facts right!

UPDATE 2: Bernstein has a new post up at VC attacking me.  It’s here — I am happy to link to his posts, although he refuses to do me the same courtesy, ostensibly because he doesn’t want to drive up my Google rank (which is more than a little petty, given that we share a co-blogger in Ken).  It’s a predictably misleading post, the best evidence of which is this claim:

Now, Heller could have disagreed with my conclusion on all sorts of grounds, but he could have at least restated my argument fairly, or at least in a way that remotely resembled what I  wrote.  I obviously didn’t argue in my comment HRW hates the U.S. because the U.S. supports Israel, much less because HRW opposes torture et al.  Rather, what I said was that HRW hires staffers who hate the U.S.,  and I provided a link to one piece of evidence [a  blog comment is generally not the place to get into a lengthy disquisition]– a law professor who recounts that he met a senior HRW staffer who in fact expressed visceral hatred for the U.S. over a several-month period.

This is, of course, shamelessly revisionist history.  Go to Bernstein’s original post: he didn’t claim that “HRW hires staffers who hate the U.S.”; he claimed that HRW is “left-wing, anti-Israel, anti-Western organization.”  He only offered the narrower, but only marginally less ridiculous, claim after I challenged his characterization of HRW.  And note Bernstein’s evidentiary standard: he apparently thinks evidence that one HRW staffer “hates the US” allows him to conclude that HRW is “staffed by people who implicitly hate the U.S. and Israel” and thus — for reasons that he can’t be bothered to explain — that HRW is anti-Western.

It is profoundly ironic that Bernstein complains that I have not restated his argument fairly.  As it turns out, he cannot even restate his own argument fairly.

P.S. It’s also interesting to note Bernstein’s assertion that “a blog comment is generally not the place to get into a lengthy disquisition.”  True enough — but that fails to explain, conveniently enough, why he made the even more general claim that HRW is “anti-Western” in a blog post, not a blog comment, and still failed to offer any evidence for that claim.  Indeed, Bernstein didn’t even link to Manion’s opinion about the HRW staffer in his original post.  He only provided a link to his supposed “evidence” that HRW is anti-Western after I called him on his claim.  (And then attacked me for not reproducing the link!)  Not that we should be surprised: after all, Bernstein freely admits that he believes it’s perfectly acceptable to make inflammatory accusations about HRW without evidence, as long as he promises to retract them if HRW proves that they are false.

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/10/20/bernstein-on-hrw-part-341/

23 Responses

  1. This is getting tiring. Funny you feel the need to attack me once again, but not address Robert Bernstein’s quite noteworthy op-ed.

    Anwya, I have linked to this post by Prof. Maimon Schwarzschild.  You may disagree, but I’d say that organizations staffed by people who implicitly hate the U.S. and Israel is “anti-Western.”

    As for the princes, to my knowledge, not all of the thousands (I’ve seen estimates from 7-27K) Saudi princes are part of the Saudi government, though they are related to the king.  And HRW has publicly announced, in response to criticism of its trip to S.A.: “Human Rights Watch is eager and delighted to find supporters of the human rights ideal – financial or otherwise – in any and all countries of the world.”  And who has more money in Saudi Arabia than the elites?  If HRW would clarify that it would not accept money from anyone who is a member of the House of Saud, regardless of whether they have an official government position, I’d be happy to retract that comment.

  2. Even if HRW took money from Saudi Princes – SO WHAT?  As Booker T. Washington said about tainted money “T’aint enough of it.”
    Everyone is free to contribute to these organizations to influence them.  So send money if you think that will influence the way they work towards the view that you want them to have.
    Best,
    Ben

  3. Ben, I hope you have established the one position with which everyone else can disagree — was it an attempt to bring everyone together?  The issue isn’t whether everyone is free to donate, but whether it is free to accept.  HRW is an independent NGO pledged to accepting no government funds, directly or indirectly.  So it *would* be wrong of it to accept money from Saudi governmental sources — note the conditional way this is phrased — without declaring a change in its policy, and such a change in its policy *would* undermine its capacity to report in a disinterested fashion on human rights.

  4. Kevin,

    Look at the UN HRC vote breakdown on Goldstone, which HRW has widely lobbied for (27 statements and counting!), and then report back as to whether HRW is anti-Western.

    Regards,

    Anne Herzberg
    Legal Advisor
    NGO Monitor

  5. Response…Kevin- do you want to address Robert Bernstein’s statement or only David Bernstein’s statements.  Surely Robert Bernstein is someone with more credibility when criticizing HRW

  6. Heller’s ideology appears to be impervious to reality and morality. Robert Bernstein, the founder of HRW, a life-long Democrat, an early and major supporter of Obama, has finally and painfully acknowledged that the organization he built has betrayed its moral foundations. Peddling Israel-bashing reports to the Saudis is only one example. As Bernstein recognizes, HRW has joined Libya, Iran, Egypt, and other enlightened regimes in exploiting human rights rhetoric to label Israel a pariah state.  And Bob Bernstein’s condemnation of Ken Roth and friends for erasing the distinction between  “open and closed societies” is central to the morality of human rights claims. As HRW founder Bernstein admits, HRW and its supporters have become the mouthpieces of closed and anti-democratic societies, where human rights are violated every day. If Heller is serious about supporting the principles of universal human rights,  he would join in the demand that Roth, Whitson, Stork, Garlasco and the other imposters be replaced.

  7. I believe it is [Robert], not [Richard] Bernstein who was referenced in the passage KJH quoted.

  8. I, too, would be interested in whether you have any response to the Robert Bernstein op-ed that prompted David Bernstein’s post. 

    JHA

  9. How is claiming that some of the many thousands of Saudi princes donate to HRW an “inflammatory claim”? 

  10. Because it was intended to imply that the Saudi government was funding HRW.  There may well be princes who are not part of the government, but most (nearly all?) people associate the royal family with the government.

  11. No, only people (Kevin?) who are ignorant regarding just how many princes there are associate the entire royal family with the government.  And only in your imagination was I trying to imply that the Saudi government is funding HRW.  I was trying to imply, no state, that HRW wants rich Saudis to fund it, and among the richest Saudis are Saudi princes.  You could at least, in the interest of common courtesy (a) retain the link to the Schwarzschild post when you repost my response, because otherwise you are not really reposting my response, you are selectively reposting part of it; and (b) acknowledge that YOU read something in to my princes remark that wasn’t there. And, if you want to add another update, I’ll endorse what Anne wrote, that HRW’s support of the Goldstone report puts it in league with anti-Western forces. Note that even B’tselem’s leader felt the need to distance his organization from the report, so extreme and unfair it is.

  12. Here, specifically, is what Maimon wrote: “I’ve met one senior Human Rights Watch officer at several symposia in New York over the past few months, and I was genuinely taken aback at her visceral hatred not only for George Bush (that’s to be taken for granted in these circles) but for the US more generally.”

    Given that I specifically linked to this quote, it’s incredibly dishonest of you to suggest that I said that HRW staffers hate the U.S. because HRW hates any country that hates Israel. Rather, I provided an example of a staffer who in fact hates the U.S.

  13. Selectively editing out the support in a reply?  Tsk tsk Kevin.

  14. Bernstein’s ability to change the subject is, as always, impressive.  (Not copying the third sentence of the first comment to my post!  How deceptive!) 

    Funny how none of the commenters have a problem with Bernstein’s belief that he can make unsupported allegations against HRW as long as he promises to retract them if they are disproven.  And they question my ethics?

  15. Notice also how — in typical Bernstein fashion — a categorical claim that HRW is “anti-Western” first changes to  HRW is “staffed by people who implicitly hate the U.S. and Israel” and then becomes “I provided an example of a staffer who hates the U.S.”  The mendacity is breathtaking.

    And you will forgive me if I don’t trust a right-wing blogger’s determination that an HRW staffer hates the US.  After all, when I had the temerity to suggest that Israel’s military is not perfect, Bernstein accused me of believing that Israel didn’t have the right to exist.

  16. Maimon’s post — you know, the one that Bernstein links to in the first comment — is here.

  17. During my freshman year of college, back in 1989, I remember thinking that there was something about the topic of Israel that led those on both sides to be unusually eager to look only at the negative side of their adversaries and to never budge an inch in any conciliatory way regardless of whether it was merited.

  18. For those of us more interested in the substance of the debate than the back-and-forth snarking, do you have an opinion of the Robert Bernstein NYT op-ed?

    JHA

  19. Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz weigh in too.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/opinion/l21israel.html?ref=opinion
    To the Editor:

    We wholeheartedly share the concerns expressed by Robert L. Bernstein, a founder of Human Rights Watch, about the direction that the organization — which should be one of the world’s leading human rights groups — has taken.
    Human Rights Watch was founded more than 30 years ago with the admirable aim of protecting dissidents from oppressive regimes, but today its leaders have lost sight of its original ethos. Nowhere is this more so than in regard to the Middle East.
    In a region dominated by regimes that violate human rights in horrendous ways, Human Rights Watch has instead chosen to single out Israel for condemnation, often using highly unreliable witnesses to do so.
    Not only has it failed to allocate proper resources to monitoring the dictatorships that are rife throughout the region, but senior Human Rights Watch officials even recently went to Riyadh to raise funds from people associated with the Saudi regime, emphasizing the group’s work demonizing Israel while doing so.
    In order that Human Rights Watch can once again fulfill the role for which it was created, we call upon its board members to institute a full independent review of the organization for which they are responsible.
    Elie Wiesel
    Alan Dershowitz
    New York, Oct. 20, 2009
    The writers are, respectively, the Nobel Peace laureate and the law professor at Harvard University, and are members of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor, based in Jerusalem. This letter was signed by five other board members.

  20. At least Dershowitz and Wiesel openly claim that HRW sought funds from individuals “associated with the Saudi regime,” instead of, like Bernstein, simply implying it just subtly enough to maintain plausible deniability when asked to provide evidence.

    I would, of course, be curious to know to which individuals Dershowitz and Wiesel are referring.  That said, their failure to offer more specifics is at least understandable — unlike Bernstein, who can write as much as he wants on his blog but prefers his allegations to be of the unsourced and unsubstantiated variety, they were limited by the nature of a letter to the editor.

  21. “unlike Bernstein, who can write as much as he wants on his blog but prefers his allegations to be of the unsourced and unsubstantiated variety”

    More ad hominem, more deflection. Mr. Heller adamantly refuses to address David Bernstein’s main point on this thread: “you feel the need to attack me once again, but not address Robert Bernstein’s quite noteworthy op-ed.”

  22. Wm. Tyroler’s comment would be easier to take seriously if I hadn’t posted my thoughts on Robert Bernstein’s op-ed 45 minutes before he left the comment!

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