Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) is back to business as usual when it comes to bashing Israel.
First, a little background is in order. Ten years ago, Whitson traveled to Saudi Arabia to raise money for HRW. Speaking nary a word about the Saudis’ brutal oppression of women, non-Muslims, or political opposition, Whitson instead condemned “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” Arguably, she facilitated the efforts of Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime to “interfere” in the democratic politics of the US, EU, and Israel by purchasing the services of an all-too-willing HRW.
Whitson was not alone in expressing HRW’s obsessive-compulsive criticism of Israel. So over-the-top had the organization’s Israel-bashing become that in October 2009, its own founder, Robert L. Bernstein, rebuked HRW in a New York Times op-ed:
The plight of their citizens [of Arab and Iranian regimes] who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere…
Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.
Bernstein’s piece concluded by cautioning HRW that its actions seriously undermined its credibility and mission.
Thereafter, HRW made some reform gestures, such as issuing a few press releases and dispatches about human rights violations in the rest of the Middle East, like Saudi oppression of women and Iranian repression of political activists.
Now Whitson – currently executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division – has demonstrated that, in reality, her outlook has not changed. Last week, she tweeted the following: “Why is this #israel interference in domestic UK politics acceptable? Is it only a problem when Russia does this?” Whitson was referring to an app, run by the Israeli government, inviting users to condemn the anti-Israel sentiment frequently expressed by Labour members since Corbyn’s election as party leader. Her comment was a response to an embedded tweet saying: “We’re on the cusp of a major new wave of manufactured ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’ stories, much like spring/summer 2018.”
In other words, Whitson implicitly accepted the excuse that Labour does not, in fact, have an anti-Semitism crisis, rather that it’s “manufactured”. She accused Israel of creating the crisis by improperly interfering with UK politics because it asked app users to criticize Corbyn for criticizing Israel. This, according to Whitson, was analogous to Russia interfering with the domestic politics of other countries.
Keep in mind that Whitson’s comments come in the midst of a multi-year scandal dating back to at least 2016, when Labour conducted an internal inquiry into anti-Semitism. The inquiry was sparked by the resignation of Alex Chalmers – a non-Jew – as Oxford University Labour Club co-chair over the anti-Semitism of club members. During the past year, complaints that Labour ignores anti-Semitism have come fast and furious.
Last summer, Labour strongly resisted the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism; specifically, Labour wanted to leave double-standards toward Israel and disloyalty charges against its supporters out of the definition. A party branch even suggested the definition is an Israeli plot.
Labour’s handling of multiple charges of anti-Semitism by party members has lacked openness, and there are suspicions that the claims are being swept under the rug. The party even failed to warn a Jewish member of parliament of a threat of violence against her. So serious are these charges that last November, Scotland Yard opened an investigation into hate crimes within the Labour Party.
Complaints of anti-Semitism in Labour began to percolate less than a year after Jeremy Corbyn assumed party leadership in 2015. Last year alone, Corbyn laid flowers at the grave of the architect of the Munich Olympic massacre and opposed adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Corbyn accepted Labour’s eventual adoption of the IHRA definition with ill grace, condemning Israel as racist. He was also revealed to have voiced anti-Semitic slurs; defended an anti-Semitic cartoon; and belonged to a Facebook group with Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and white supremacists. In 2009, long before he became leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn referred to Hezbollah and Hamas members as his friends.
So outraged have British Jews become that 68 rabbis from across the UK signed a letter condemning Labour anti-Semitism. Current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis cautioned Labour not to deride Jews. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks specifically condemned Corbyn as an anti-Semite, whose remarks about British Zionists were “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician” since Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Three leading UK Jewish papers took the unprecedented step of publishing the same front page editorial condemning Labour anti-Semitism.
Prominent politicians have also criticized Corbyn, including former Labour Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and current Prime Minister Theresa May have both upbraided him on the floor of Parliament for his anti-Semitism.
Despite this history, HRW’s Whitson has concluded that the “real” problem motivating recent condemnations of Labour anti-Semitism is not that Labour, in fact, has an anti-Semitism problem, but rather blames it on “Israeli interference.”
On February 10, after she had been criticized for her original comment, Whitson belatedly noted: “Rising anti-Semitism is clearly an important issue in the UK and many other places” – a recognition that was not at all clear from her original tweet. She added, “So is hatred against many different religions and minority groups.” This compulsion to “balance” condemnations of anti-Semitism with an immediate reference to “broader” concerns is reminiscent of Corbyn’s frequent efforts to rebut anti-Semitism charges by asserting vaguely that he opposes “all forms of racism and discrimination.” It is a common problem in recognizing and combatting anti-Semitism, in that it has the effect of downplaying the evil posed by anti-Semitism. Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have frequently used it to open the door to condemnations of Israel and thereby ignore Palestinian anti-Semitism.
Clearly, the changes HRW made after Bernstein’s condemnation were no more than cosmetic. Whitson has shown her and their true colors – the anti-Semitic, obsessive-compulsive fixation with and double standards expected of Israel – remain in effect. This is the sort of behavior that the IHRA definition deems “anti-Semitic” and that Corbyn fought so hard to keep out of Labour’s definition of anti-Semitism. It’s no wonder the executive director for HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division wants to defend them.
If HRW wishes to salvage the credibility and mission Bernstein warned were in jeopardy, it must immediately and forcefully disavow Whitson’s comments and Whitson herself. It is outrageous that a true “human rights” organization would tolerate a person who so obviously and repeatedly expresses prejudice against Israel as the executive director of its Middle East and North Africa division.
[Photo: Defense & Aerospace Report / YouTube ]