Bernstein Responds to Human Rights Watch

Robert Bernstein forwarded me this letter he wrote to the Times in response to the provably-ridiculous charge, leveled at him by the current leadership of the group he founded, that he said Israel should be held to a lower human rights standard than other countries:

In their October 21st letter to the editor, Jane Olson, current chair of Human Rights Watch and Jonathan Fanton, past chair wrote that they "were saddened to see Robert L. Bernstein argue that Israel should be judged by a different human rights standard than the rest of the world." This is not what I believe or what I wrote in my op-ed piece.

I believe that Israel should be judged by the highest possible standard and I have never argued anything else. What is more important than what I believe, or what Human Rights Watch believes, is that Israelis themselves believe they should be held to the highest standard.

That is why they have 80 Human Rights organizations challenging their government daily. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a vibrant free press. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a democratically elected government. That is why they have a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political societies, etc etc etc.

I have argued that open societies, while far from perfect, have ways to correct themselves and that is particularly true in the case of Israel.  Millions of Arabs, on the other hand, live in societies where there is little respect for or protection of human rights. The current argument is whether Human Rights Watch's facts and judgments about the Gaza conflict are correct.That is certainly a necessary and legitimate discussion.

I should add that over the years I have had the highest regard for Human Rights Watch's work around the world and from what I know, with the notable exception of the Middle East, that is still the case.