Human Rights Watch's Priorities

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I haven't blogged much about the fall-out from Peter Beinart's article on liberal Zionism, and on our long conversation about it, because after all, I am just one man. And I'm busy running around Israel, where the traffic is insane. But I hope to be able to sit down soon and think about the implications of the things that he has said, and the things said about him, and do a little fact-checking as well. But in the meantime, Goldblog reader Zach Novetsky -- among others -- wrote in to refute Beinart's claim that Human Rights Watch spends an inordinate amount of time documenting human rights abuses in the Arab world:

Peter Beinart is only the most recent addition to a long tradition of Jewish doomsayers. As with any Nostradamus, phantasmagorical images of the future often cloud one's vision of the present. In your most recent interview with Beinart, his obfuscation of reality is vivified: "I recognize that Human Rights Watch [HRW] may make mistakes. But it has done reports on Palestinian human rights abuses and lots of them (many more than on Israel) on human rights issues in the Arab world."

Ignoring the absurdity of his statement (which implies that we should applaud HRW for publishing more reports on the entire Arab world, full of despotic regimes, than a single democratic country), Beinart's contention is demonstrably (and unfortunately) false.

James Ron and Howard Ramos published a piece for Foreign Policy in November of 2009 which found that from 1991-2000, "Human Rights Watch's most written on countries were, in descending order, the United States, Turkey, Indonesia, China, Russia, India, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Sudan, Israel, and Burma." Similarly, Amnesty International's "hit list" was, in descending order, "the United States, Israel, Indonesia, Turkey, China, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Britain, India, Russia, Rwanda, and Burundi (there were 11 countries because of one tie)."

No Arab country makes the top ten, and given the available numbers, it is probable that even as an aggregate, reports on Arab countries do not outnumber reports on Israel (surely not by "much"). Additionally, it is not too bold of an assumption to state that Israel's position on the "Human Rights hit list" has worsened post-2000, in the aftermath of the Second Intifada. As a matter of fact, HRW just published a brand new report on the Gaza War titled, "I Lost Everything," 16 months after the war ended.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/human-rights-watchs-priorities/57190/