NGO accuses HRW of Israel obsession

Jerusalem Post
May 2 2008

NGO accuses HRW of Israel obsession

By ABE SELIG

Human Rights Watch has systematically condemned Israel for "collective
punishment" in the Gaza Strip, undermining its stated agenda of
promoting human rights universally, according to a report released
this week by the Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor.

The report, which provides a detailed analysis of HRW’s publications
and statements in 2007, compares the group’s coverage of Israel with
the way it treats other countries in similar situations, and concludes
that its continued condemnations of Israeli actions are
disproportionate and reflect a "clear, identifiable political bias."

"This report shows, yet again, that any claim of even-handedness by
Human Rights Watch is hollow," said NGO Monitor’s executive director,
Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gerald Steinberg. "Their exclusive
condemnation of Israeli ‘collective punishment’ is discriminatory, and
should end immediately. HRW’s continued disproportionate focus on
Israel is not only an injustice, but it also allows some of the worst
human rights abusers in the Middle East, countries like Syria and
Libya, to escape serious scrutiny."

"The idea that we exclusively condemn Israel is absurd," said HRW
Middle East Division Deputy Director Joe Stork. "We do criticize the
Israeli blockade of Gaza as collective punishment, and solidly so. But
I haven’t seen this report from Mr. Steinberg, and he seldom has
anything useful or truthful to say – you can quote me on that."

But citing Russia’s 1999 policy of denying power, water, food or any
humanitarian assistance to Chechnya – an action NGO Monitor says was
far more widespread than Israel’s blockade of Gaza – the report says
that situation was not described as "collective punishment" by Human
Rights Watch. Furthermore, the report points out that Azerbaijan’s
1994 blockade of Armenia was supported by HRW, on the grounds that
Armenia was "financing a war."

The report also mentions that while HRW condemns IDF actions against
Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks from Gaza, the attacks themselves are
labeled as "retaliatory," thus faulting Israel for the violence on
both sides.

"That’s absolutely false," said Stork. "We do not characterize these
attacks as such, and if it’s quoted in the report, it’s been taken out
of context. I’d be surprised if they’re quoted at all."

While Stork could not point out any other country HRW had accused of
"collective punishment," he stood by his organization’s use of the
term, and its application to Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip.

"When that’s what the crime is, that’s what we call it," he
said. "When the shoe fits. Collective punishment is completely
appropriate to describe the Israeli blockade of Gaza."

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