The past few days have seen many media outlets quoting Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. Her comments on Ariel Sharon’s legacy have been described by Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post as “dancing on Sharon’s freshly-dug grave even before he had been laid to rest in it.”
Whitson has a long history of anti-Israel activism, including support for BDS. As NGO Monitor notes, in May 2009, Whitson led a trip to seek support in Saudi Arabia, where she emphasized HRW’s “shortage of funds because of the global financial crisis and the work on Israel and Gaza, which depleted HRW’s budget for the region.” She highlighted HRW’s stance of standing up to “pro-Israel pressure groups,” which, she declared, “strongly resisted the report and tried to discredit it.”
There exists an unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The “halo effect” ensures that supposedly respectable human rights organizations such as HRW are considered beyond reproach and given a platform without question or verification.
NGO Monitor’s Professor Gerald Steinberg noted how, within hours of Sharon’s death, HRW “launched yet another obsessive attack on Sharon, highlighting this organization’s double standards and irresponsible disregard of both facts and international law.”
Not content with printing quotes and statements from HRW, CNN has given Sarah Leah Whitson an entire opinion piece to denigrate Sharon. Some of the “highlights”:
Sharon’s legacy is deeply disturbing. He went to his grave without facing justice for terrible things he did. His death is a grim reminder that impunity for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law has plagued Israel and the Palestinians for far too long.
It mattered little to Sharon that Israel’s transfer of its civilians into Palestinian territories was—and is—a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a potential war crime. It mattered even less that the settlement regime and Israel’s military rule in these areas subjects Palestinians to severe discrimination and a mountain of restrictions that makes life miserable.
Distorting international law to fit her own views matters little to Whitson. Even putting aside the debate over whether the West Bank and Gaza are and were disputed or occupied territories, the Geneva Conventions refer to the forced transfer of populations. Israeli Jews, of course, were not forced to live in their historical homeland.
And what about the Palestinian terrorism that led directly to the restrictions on everyday Palestinian life? This is evident in Whitson’s description of Israel’s security barrier:
Part and parcel of this settlement expansion plan was Sharon’s construction of the Israeli separation barrier, which today stands as a monument to human rights violations. Sharon’s government approved its construction in 2002, ostensibly to prevent Palestinian attacks that killed 640 Israeli civilians during his term. But the real motivation for the barrier, as countless studies have documented, was to build a wall around the Israeli settlements, deep into the West Bank, cutting off thousands of Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.
For Whitson, the security barrier’s effectiveness at saving the lives of countless Israeli civilians is simply dismissed in favor of a “land grab.”
She continues with selective quotes from Israel’s Kahan Commission investigating the Sabra and Shatila massacres and says:
The massacres constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet Israeli justice authorities did not conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether Sharon and other Israeli military officials bore criminal responsibility.
Whitson and HRW have a long history of automatically and viscerally condemning Israel, based on little or no credible information. For them, no actions to defend Israeli citizens from ongoing terror campaigns are consistent with international law or human rights principles – Israelis are treated as sub-humans and devoid of rights.
This obsessive policy is consistently reflected in HRW’s attacks on Mr. Sharon, which have continued following his death, and in which Whitson is quoted extensively. The HRW statement briefly and selectively quoted from the judicial commission that investigated Sharon’s responsibility related to the Christian Phalange killings of Palestinians in the 1982 Lebanon war, distorting the actual process and reports beyond recognition. This again highlights HRW’s consistent anti-Israel obsession and exploitation of universal human rights principles to promote personal and ideological agendas.
HRW and Sarah Leah Whitson have made every effort to use the media to promote their own anti-Israel agenda while Ariel Sharon’s death has been at the top of the news cycle. CNN has willfully colluded with this agenda by giving Whitson a prominent platform to spread her views.
Image: CC BY flickr/OctoScalpel.