One of the more prolific contributors to Reuters AlertNet is Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson. Due to a number of scandals in recent months, HRW has been effectively discredited as an impartial source of critical research on humanitarian issues related to the Israeli-Arab conflict. First, there was news in July of 2009 that HRW had been trolling for dollars in that "mecca" of human rights, Saudi Arabia. Then in September, HRW was forced to suspend its senior military analyst, Marc Garlasco, when bloggers discovered he was a Nazi military history enthusiast and collector of Nazi memorabilia. The following month, the founder of HRW excoriated the organization for its anti-Israel obsession and bias in an op-ed published in The New York Times.
HRW continues to plug away however and today, Reuters AlertNet publishes a 1,552-word screed by Whitson railing against legislation the Israeli Knesset is considering that would, amongst other things, provide greater transparency into the funding and political activities of Israeli NGOs financed by foreign governments:
It appears to be on an accelerated track, now scheduled for both discussion and first reading on August 16, during the summer recess. Although it no longer would strip organizations of tax-exempt status, the version published on July 16 now imposes onerous reporting requirements on any group that receives any amount of funding from a "foreign political entity" such as the EU or the US Agency for International Development, assistance most Israeli civil rights and human rights organizations rely on.
Note that for HRW, transparency is definitely a bad thing -- a sentiment one can understand coming from an NGO operating freely in Israel even as it receives a portion of its funding from foreign actors and governments officially at war with Israel and hostile to the very existence of the state.On top of existing annual reporting requirements, groups would have 30 days to report these grants to the Registrar of Associations, including all "undertakings" made to the grantor, whether oral or written, to be published on the Justice Ministry website. Any grant from a foreign government aid agency for a "specific publicity campaign" must be publicized by the organization as part of the campaign.
But according to Whitson:
This is of course, an utterly bizarre comparison to draw between Israel and the surrounding despotic Arab states but we think the point is made most eloquently by HRW's founder, Robert L. Bernstein, in his reply to HRW following his original op-ed:These kinds of proposals could put Israel in a league with so many of its neighboring governments, who strive to silence their critics rather than protect their right to speech.
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.
Hear, hear.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.