Human Rights Watch’s latest anti-Israel report

Apr 30, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Human Rights Watch has long been a leader of the coalition of numerous powerful NGOs targeting Israel (Photo: Casimiro PT / Shutterstock.com)
Human Rights Watch has long been a leader of the coalition of numerous powerful NGOs targeting Israel (Photo: Casimiro PT / Shutterstock.com)

Update from AIJAC


04/21 #04


Earlier this week, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 223-page report accusing Israel of “Apartheid” and “crimes against humanity” and calling for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state.  While this is not the first time the NGO has both made claims of “Apartheid” and endorsed sanctions and boycotts against Israel, the report represented an extension and expansion of the group’s agenda of targeting Israel on alleged “human rights” grounds. This Update features both analysis and critical responses to the report – as well as information on where it fits into HRW’s history of anti-Israel activism.

We lead with Dr. Gerald Steinberg, academic and founder of NGO Monitor, who is perhaps the world’s top expert on HRW’s anti-Israel activities through the research undertaken by that organisation. Steinberg puts the HRW efforts into historical perspective, noting that HRW is one of a coalition of powerful NGOs that have been using human rights to target Israel in a campaign that can be dated back to Soviet and Arab League demonisation of Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. He then goes on to show HRW’s long history of hiring dedicated anti-Israel activists to run its “research” on the Jewish state, including the author of the latest report, Omar Shakir. For this important backgrounder on why this report is pretty unsurprising given HRW’s history,  CLICK HERE. More details on HRW’s anti-Israel history and activities are available from the NGO monitor website.

Next up is Seth Frantzman, Middle East Affairs analyst at the Jerusalem Post, discussing the core implied recommendation of the report – that Israel and the Palestinian areas must be shoehorned into one binational state. He notes that the report’s “apartheid” argument relies heavily on insisting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are under a “single authority”  – never mind that the West Bank Palestinians live under the rule of an autonomous Palestinian Authority, while Gaza is completely without any Israeli presence and ruled by Hamas. He notes that not only does this “one state” demand go against the desires of both Israelis and Palestinians, the report makes it clear that even complete withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank will not lift the charge of alleged “apartheid” against Israel according to HRW. For Frantzman’s exploration of the extreme radicalism of the HRW position,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, Hirsh Goodman, a journalist and author who experienced South African Apartheid first-hand before leaving the country at age 20, takes on the claims that there is “Apartheid” in Israel. Citing both his own experiences and those of others who witnessed the real thing, he says HRW’s claims are a disgrace to the millions who suffered under Apartheid in South Africa. He notes that HRW has long-backed boycotts of Israel and concludes, “Maybe it is time for a watchdog to protect us all from the likes of Human Rights Watch.” For Goodman’s impassioned argument in full,  CLICK HERE.

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Human Rights Watch Exploits Its Mission for Hate


Why has HRW focused so much money and energy on viciously targeting Israel for more than 20 years?

Gerald M. Steinberg

Jewish Journal, April 27, 2021


In the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet bloc and the Arab league combined forces in the United Nations to promote antisemitism and demonize Israel. This crescendoed into the infamous 1975 UN resolution labeling Zionism as racism.

By the 1990s, the hatred had spread to powerful political organizations working under the banners of human rights and international law. In particular, the propaganda war against the Jewish state was and continues to be led by Human Rights Watch (HRW), an NGO superpower working in close cooperation with other groups, including some in Israel. In 2009, HRW founder Robert Bernstein, writing in the New York Times, criticized his own organization for helping “to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

HRW’s latest contribution to the anti-Israel agenda was launched on Tuesday under the heading of “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” With an annual budget of almost $100 million (including some long-hidden donations such as from a corrupt Saudi billionaire), the organization was able to gain a great deal of publicity and media coverage.

The headlines highlight the disingenuous equivalence that HRW draws between Israel and the South African apartheid regime. HRW’s publication has 200 references to apartheid — approximately once per page — interspersed among false accusations and distorted (or invented) versions of international law, many of which were copied directly from other NGOs. HRW attacks everything from Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, enacted in the shadow of the Holocaust, to counter-terror measures, which, they claim, are used “to advance demographic objectives” and “have no legitimate security justifications.” This claim is made easier by the fact that they fail to mention decades of Palestinian terror against Israeli victims.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth – a driving force behind the organisation’s obsession with Israel (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details)

Why has HRW focused so much money and energy on viciously targeting Israel for more than 20 years?  The answer is Kenneth Roth, who has led HRW since 1993 and is the driving force behind the organization’s obsession with Israel. Roth has not hidden his strong anti-Zionist compulsion. In 2004, an Israeli journalist asked him, “What’s a good Jewish boy from Chicago doing at the helm of HRW, the famous NGO that many accuse of singling out the Jewish state?” Roth did not deny his hostility towards Israel, but instead referred to his father’s “stories of life in Nazi Germany until he fled in summer 1938.” For many years, Roth’s official HRW biography cited his father’s experience in Germany, as if this somehow explained singling out Israel for attack.

In addition to his obscure personal factors, Roth also promotes a condescending worldview known as post-colonialism that automatically treats supposed victims of the West as innocents who can do no wrong, in contrast to the West — particularly the United States — which he always paints as guilty. After 1967, when Israel was no longer in danger of being destroyed by Arab armies, was receiving increased support from the United States and became an “occupier,” the Jewish state became a primary target for the post-colonialists, including Roth.

Many years ago, Roth also understood the value in comparing Israel to the heinous South African apartheid regime. He sent HRW officials to play a central role in the 2001 UN Conference in Durban, South Africa and defended this comparison as part of the organization’s agenda of countering what he referred to, even then, as “Israeli racist practices.” In interviews and on Twitter (Roth posts every hour, seven days a week), he frequently promotes the apartheid and racism theme. In 2017, after the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville, Roth tweeted a link to a propaganda piece headlined “Birds of a feather: White supremacy and Zionism.” He included a picture depicting a Confederate and Israeli flag, commenting, “Many rights activists condemn Israeli abuse & antisemitism. Some white supremacists embrace Israel & antisemitism.”

Over the years, Roth has also hired a number of experienced and dedicated anti-Israel activists, such as Sarah Leah Whitson, who was born in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City (then under Jordanian occupation). Her family reportedly moved to the United States in 1960, but for whatever reason, her anti-Israel passion, often crossing the line into antisemitism, is well-entrenched. Prior to joining HRW in 2004 and heading their BDS campaign, she had been active with the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and, even then, ran campaigns attacking Israeli “apartheid” and its “matrix of control.” (Whitson also raised money in Saudi Arabia and suddenly left HRW in early 2020 when those details were leaked.)

In 2016, Roth and Whitson hired Omar Shakir — the lead author of HRW’s “apartheid” publication. Shakir is also deeply and personally invested in vilifying Israel and spent many years as a campus activist speaking under headings like “Apartheid IsReal.” He has led HRW’s (failed) effort to press Airbnb and the FIFA soccer association to join the anti-Israel boycott. For Shakir, who left Israel after his work visa was not renewed and he lost a lengthy court battle, this is revenge propaganda.

But perhaps this time, Roth, Shakir and HRW overshot their target. After the report was criticized in media reports, such as in Le Point (often quoting NGO Monitor), they tried to spin the message, claiming that they were not actually comparing Israel to South Africa but instead were using a new definition of apartheid. But with the long history, the 200 references and the title, even an NGO superpower will have trouble selling that canard.

Gerald Steinberg is emeritus professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, and heads the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem.

Human Rights Watch really wants to push Israel and PA into one state


This attempt to shoehorn several different areas, run by three different authorities into one place is at the heart of new human rights reports about Israel.


Jerusalem Post, APRIL 28, 2021

Reports slamming Israel for “apartheid” have been driven by a desire to reset the definition of apartheid and redefine Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as one state. This attempt to shoehorn several different areas, run by three different authorities, into one place is at the heart of new human rights report about Israel.

This appears timed for the new Biden administration, which came into office in January. The message to Israel is also clear: Even if the Jewish state withdraws from the West Bank, as it did from Gaza, it will still be defined as “apartheid” by these groups. The goal appears to provide no way for Israel to extricate itself from this new definition, which calls into question whether the real goal is to try to force it to assume control of Gaza and rule over millions of people without their consent.

The Gaza Strip: Human Rights Watch not only ignores the fact that Israel has no presence there but appears to assert Israel is obliged to resume control over the area and govern its millions of residents, whether they wish it or not (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details)

The new Human Rights Watch report, released this week, says that it examines Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. “It presents the present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government, ruling primarily over the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, populated by two groups of roughly equal size, and methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory.”

It is important to note that the definition here is predicated on defining Israel as including the Gaza Strip and West Bank – as a “single authority.” It does note that Hamas runs the Gaza Strip but somehow still maintains the fiction of a “single authority.”

IN JANUARY, the group B’Tselem also released a report claiming “this is apartheid.” That report claimed that there is “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” It uses language similar to that in the Human Rights Watch report.

“More than 14 million people, roughly half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under a single rule,” B’Tselem claimed. “The fact [is] that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

“All this leads to the conclusion that these are not two parallel regimes that simply happen to uphold the same principle,” it reads. “There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.”

It appears the two reports are linked by this new theme, which seeks to present Israel as controlling not only the autonomous Palestinian Authority but also Hamas-run Gaza. It is unclear why, after decades in which the Palestinians ran their own affairs, controlled their own cities and became more separate from Israel, such reports seek to shoehorn these areas back into Israeli control.

It may be linked to arguments in the US that once again support a “one-state solution.” Note that the language in the HRW report says “single authority” and in B’Tselem’s says “single rule.” The term “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River” appears in both.

The terminology that portrays this area as one single entity appears to dovetail with the term “from the river to the sea.” This slogan was adopted by Palestinian nationalists, including Hamas.

ISRAEL’S HUMAN rights record regarding control over and treatment of the Palestinians has largely improved in recent decades. Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians rarely result in the death of civilians, a major change from how events unfolded during the First and Second Intifadas.

An entire Palestinian generation has grown up under PA schools and under Hamas rule. Someone born when the Palestinians first began to administer their own affairs in a new authority under the Oslo Accords is now 25 years old. Someone born in Gaza when Hamas seized power will soon be graduating high school. Yet the fiction of a “single” authority is presented as evidence of apartheid.

The message appears to be that no matter how much authority Palestinians have, even in a state, Israel will never be permitted by some to extricate itself from Gaza or the West Bank. This is because the definitional concept of “control” now includes controlling two out of Gaza’s three borders. Such a minor level of control is still enough to argue that Gaza is “part” of Israel.

Under such logic, even if Israel wanted there to be a fully functioning Palestinian state, it would still be said to “control” it. Even if it did come into existence, Israel would still “occupy” Jerusalem, much as it is accused of “occupying” the Shaba Farms in Lebanon and thus justifying the Hezbollah “resistance.”

It’s unclear why the “one-state” concept has returned despite the vast separation that exists today between Israel and these areas, far more than in the past. It appears timed for the new US administration and designed to set up a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby Israel will be told that even if it doesn’t control Gaza and Ramallah, it will be defined as controlling them.

The more Israel seeks to separate, the more it will be told it must reincorporate Palestinian areas into itself. This may be due to the fact that the two-state concept enabled Israel to exist as a state with a Jewish majority. The only way to prevent that is to continue to claim that millions of people in Gaza are part of Israel, so as to create the fiction of Israel having a population that is half-Palestinian.

AT THE end of the day, the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want to surrender its autonomy and become part of Israel, and neither does Hamas in Gaza. The illusion that these areas are all seeking to be part of one state is used to present the area as a single entity.

Palestinian leaders like PA President Mahmoud Abbas have no desire to surrender their autonomy and become part of Israel – yet Human Rights Watch insists they must all be treated as part of Israel in a “single entity”. (Photo: Flickr | License details). 

There is no way, presented within these new human rights reports, for Israel to ever not control the “single entity.” Despite the fact that various accords and UN plans and resolutions have indicated that these are not the same entity – but, rather, are defined as two states, an autonomous region, or “occupied” territory – the new reports seek a one-state analysis.

This definition may be designed to delegitimize Israel – because forcing the Jewish state to retake all these areas, and thus arguing it must grant citizenship to millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, inevitably creates a road to a so-called “binational” state which would no longer have an Israeli majority.

Pro-binational arguments have been advanced for years without any evidence that the vast majority of people want this future. It would make more sense if half the people in the “single” area wanted a binational, one-state end result. That they do not and that they have lived apart for decades, and that Israel has improved its human rights record across the “single” area, indicates that advocating for this analysis has an agenda.

It remains to be seen if this new push will catch on among Western countries, which are the natural targets of this talking point. The fact that large parts of the world have less interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many states already recognize a Palestinian state, as opposed to recognizing the Palestinian state as part of Israel, would appear to negate the “river to the sea” analysis.

The reports may have been designed to preempt the fact that Palestinians and Israelis are growing apart and to prevent a Palestinian state from becoming more autonomous. While it not clear whether the Palestinians are on board with this idea, Israel is clearly not.

Seth J. Frantzman is Senior Middle East Correspondent and Middle East affairs analyst at The Jerusalem Post.

I left apartheid South Africa. Applying the term to Israel is disingenuous.


Hirsh Goodman

The Forward, April 27, 2021


Human Rights Watch’s accusation “cheapens and derides both the word ‘Apartheid’ and its legacy”, according to refugee from South Africa’s genuine Apartheid Hirsh Goodman (Photo: Naeblys / Shutterstock.com) 

Human Rights Watch could do with a new pair of glasses. The organization’s new report, “A Threshold Crossed — Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” is blind to fact and reality. Every paragraph in the 223-page diatribe serves one goal: brand Israel as an apartheid state.

I left South Africa as a teenager in 1965 because of its policy of apartheid. I have openly and consistently criticized Israel’s settlement policies. And I am on the left of the Israeli political spectrum.

To me, this document cheapens and derides both the word “apartheid” and its legacy.

It is a disgrace to the memory of the millions who suffered under that policy in South Africa — including many anti-apartheid activists in the Jewish community, some close to me, who lost their freedom and were left shattered in consequence.

The argument of the Human Right Watch report is that, in the swath of land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, “authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity” — actions “so severe they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

The report accuses Israel of racial discrimination and domination over all Palestinians, including those who live within Israel proper. It does draw distinctions between the state of affairs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to varying degrees, reserving its clearest conclusions about the crimes of apartheid for the areas beyond Israel’s 1948 borders, including East Jerusalem. But that distinction will be lost on most readers of the report or the headlines about it.

And the distinction is essential: there are huge variations in policy between sovereign Israel, where democracy reigns; the occupied West Bank, which remains under overall military rule; and Gaza, from where Israel fully withdrew its army and settlements in 2005, and where Hamas now holds power. But even with those distinctions included, the implication that Israel’s “racist policies” against the Palestinians should be examined through the same framework across the three territories is disingenuous.

Hirsh Goodman’s book about his journey from South Africa to Israel when he was 20, titled Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself (Photo: Amazon). 

The report reads as especially surprising now, as Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List in the Knesset, holds Israel’s political future in his hands as a result of the March election. His voice is key in determining who will form the next governing coalition in Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right cohorts, or the anti-Netanyahu camp. Both groups are courting Abbas, hardly a sign of the kind of subjugation associated with apartheid.

The authors tie their claim that Israeli officials have committed the crime of apartheid to two international rulings: the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was written in 1998 and went into effect in 2002.

“Some have claimed that the current reality” in Israel “amounts to apartheid,” the report states. “Few, however, have conducted a detailed legal analysis based on the international crimes of apartheid or persecution.” That analysis is what this report claims to achieve. Really?

Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and played a critical role in that country’s transition to democracy, also served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, then led the United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to investigate human-rights and humanitarian-law violations in the 2009 war between Israel and Gaza militants.

“In Israel there is no apartheid,” Goldstone wrote in The New York Times in October, 2011. “Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute.”

Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela: “In Israel there is no apartheid” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In the West Bank, he conceded, the situation is more complex. But crucially, he wrote, there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.”

“The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony,” Goldstone concluded.

Yes, he wrote those words 10 years ago, and much has changed in the past decade. But his perspective persists.

In October 2009, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch and its chairman for 20 years, slammed the door on the organization for “issuing reports on the Arab-Israel conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

“We always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and committed abuses,” he wrote that year in The Times. “But we saw that they have the ability to correct them through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.”

That idea of a society attempting to improve itself is a uniquely apt one for Israel today, as much of the country fights to rid itself of the yoke of Netanyahu and his expansionist partners, stem the drift toward the unilateral annexation of the territories and continue to seek a solution to the conundrum posed by the Palestinian issue, albeit without a strong and unified partner present on the other side.

Last summer, I wrote in The Atlantic that if the threatened annexation of the West Bank became reality, it would be had for me to continue to make the case that Israel’s rule over the Palestinians was much different than the institutional racism I had left behind in South Africa. But that did not happen.

Ironically, much of the case Human Rights Watch lays out draws on the work of watchdog groups based in Israel, making the precise efforts toward reform that the report leaves no room to acknowledge. None of those groups — more than 40 in all — would have been able to function under a true apartheid regime. As I saw happen to the activists I knew in South Africa, under apartheid, those groups’ staff would instead be doing time behind bars without the benefit of a trial.

Human Rights Watch has long backed a boycott of Israel and Israeli goods to no real effect. It’s no surprise, with that history, that rather than address the facts in front of them, the group’s staff has chosen to produce a document that draws overly broad conclusions that match their pre-disposed view.

Maybe it is time for a watchdog to protect us all from the likes of Human Rights Watch.

Hirsh Goodman, a journalist who lives in Jerusalem, is the author of the 2005 book “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself: A Journey of Conscience from Johannesburg to Jerusalem.”


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