Scribblings: By their tweets you shall know them

Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch

There is evidence that the traditional human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have gone badly off the rails – especially, but not only, with respect to Israel. It is clear they are often no longer applying international human rights law without fear or favour, but are instead increasingly letting their “findings” be influenced by left-wing orthodoxies about imperialism, colonialism, and structural racism rooted in power imbalances. 

Their overall bodies of reports and official press releases are usually written in a way to provide plausible deniability. They concentrate mainly on the targets they want to attack in the name of these orthodoxies– such as Israel and Western governments and their allies – but include enough material on their enemies to claim they are willing to criticise all sides. 

But if you look at the tweets their officials put out you see the true picture. 

For instance, studies of HRW head Kenneth Roth’s twitter feed show he tweets incessantly about Israel when there is any conflict with Gaza, such as during the 2014 war. Almost half his tweets then – and he often averages up to 40 tweets a day, were about the Gaza conflict, jumping on any claim he could find to condemn Israel in a sneering, angry tone. Hamas was occasionally mentioned in passing in a much more neutral tone – when Roth was not defending Hamas from claims they were using human shields. 

But let’s look at the most recent short, but intense, conflict over Gaza on Nov. 12-14. 

The case was pretty clear-cut. Israel attacked military targets and hardly killed any civilians. Seven Palestinian combatants were killed in extracting the team in the botched Israeli intelligence raid on Nov. 12. Another seven Palestinians were reportedly killed in Israeli bombing raids, but Hamas claimed at least four of them as its armed militants. 

According to all reports, Israel apparently went to extraordinary lengths to minimise civilian casualties – firing no fewer than three warning shots before destroying Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV station (a legitimate target given its role as both a Hamas recruitment tool and because it was providing operational messaging to Hamas militants).

Additionally, Israel apparently made extensive phone calls to persuade Palestinians to evacuate areas to be targeted. Raf Sanchez of Britain’s Telegraph newspaper attested in a tweet, “We’ve just come out of Gaza for a quick trip to see how things are after this week’s fighting…We got a sense of how careful Israel was to avoid civilian casualties during the airstrikes in Gaza. The Israeli army called one guy we met and spent 45 mins on the phone with him, getting him to evacuate his neighbours before they blew up a Hamas media building next to his.” As a result of Israeli efforts, no one was killed in the Al-Aqsa TV attack. 

Meanwhile, Hamas fired some 460 rockets all directed at Israeli civilians towns, not military targets. They destroyed 20 homes, injured at least 70 people and killed one – almost all civilians. All these rocket attacks were war crimes – and would have led to much worse death and destruction if not for Israeli missile defence systems and bomb shelters. 

So did NGOs condemn Hamas and praise Israel while calling for restraint on both sides? Of course not. 

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director for HRW only retweeted two condemnations of Israel – one over the Al-Aqsa TV attack, and one condemning Israel for destroying six buildings in Gaza. Of course, the 20 homes destroyed in Israel were not mentioned. Other HRW officials who normally tweet incessantly, such as Roth, said nothing. 

Amnesty had one neutral tweet calling for restraint on both sides – but Amnesty’s North American campaigner Alli McCracken Jarrar spoiled any attempt to be even-handed by tweeting simply: “Stop Israeli bombing of #Gaza!”

Meanwhile, numerous other groups which normally jump on any chance to condemn Israel were silent about the Hamas rockets – among them, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Defence of Children International-Palestine and Oxfam. 

Next time you hear one of these groups condemning Israel, it is worth remembering that they are not the neutral monitors they perhaps once were – and on Israel, they should be given no credulity whatsoever given their inability to address Hamas’ obvious war crimes. 

Zombie Resolution Fighters

The UN General Assembly is currently going through its annual tradition of passing some 20-odd unbalanced anti-Israel “zombie resolutions” – meaning resolutions introduced sometime in the past that continue to be passed annually regardless of changing circumstances. But it was good to see some more pushback against at least one of the problematic resolutions this year. The US voted against, rather than merely abstaining on, the annual UN resolution on the “The Occupied Syrian Golan” – condemning Israel for controlling the Golan Heights area captured in the 1967 war and demanding it be returned to Syria. 

This resolution is particularly egregious for two reasons:

1. It contains a completely false claim that Israel is guilty of “repressive measures” against Syrian citizens who live in the Golan Heights. A casual visit to this tourist-heavy region would demonstrate such “repression” is a lie;

2. It demands Israel return the area and its residents to Syria at a time when the Syrian regime is still consolidating its rule following a civil war in which at least 500,000 Syrian were killed, and in which the regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, are credibly accused of war crimes against civilian targets on a massive scale. The regime is not in a position to take on more territory and population – and could not be trusted to either provide essential services to Golan residents nor respect their human rights if it did rule them. Furthermore, if the strategically-important Golan – which overlooks all of northern Israel – were in Syrian hands, it would almost certainly be used by the Syrian regime’s ally Iran and its proxies as a base to threaten and attack Israel. 

Australia’s voting record at the UN largely does us credit, but the annual resolution on “The Occupied Syrian Golan” is one which calls for a “no” vote rather than our current abstention.