Roth’s False God
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
After The New York Sun ran an editorial and two op-ed pieces taking Human Rights Watch to task for anti-Israel bias, the organization’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, has finally found it in himself to denounce Hezbollah for placing troops and weapons near Lebanese civilians. And to acknowledge, for the first time, that the use of ambulances by Palestinian groups to transport weapons or suicide bombers is “a clear humanitarian violation.” We’re tempted to congratulate Mr. Roth. Too bad it had to be wrung out of him.
Call us optimists, but we still hold out hope that Mr. Roth will abandon his view, expressed in a letter to the editor printed in the adjacent column, that the Israeli government defending itself from Islamist terrorist aggression is engaged in “extremist interpretations of religious doctrine” like the terrorists themselves. Maybe in his next letter to us he’ll finally concede, too, that, as widely reported, the Iranian military is in Lebanon. Maybe he’ll concede that the fact that Hezbollah was not “in sight” is no evidence they were not there. Until then, Mr. Roth and his donors, staff, and board of directors should be aware that the American Jewish community recognizes with full clarity what Mr. Roth and Human Rights Watch are up to. It is unmistakable.
The three main religious movements of American Jewry — Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform — agree, for once. A spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox group, Rabbi Avi Shafran, called Mr. Roth’s statements “loathsome” and likened him to Mel Gibson, the actor who, unlike Mr. Roth, at least had the decency to apologize for his outburst. The executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, said the position of Mr. Roth and Human Rights Watch is “so biased and outrageous it is hard to take it seriously.” The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said Mr. Roth deployed “a classic anti-Semitic stereotype,” and said Human Rights Watch is “irrelevant or immoral.” A spokesman for the Union for Reform Judaism, Emily Grotta, said, “Abe Foxman has been speaking out about this recently and we agree with what he has been saying.”
The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, told us of Human Rights Watch that he was “disturbed by its apparent bias.” The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, said Mr. Roth of Human Rights Watch “is not only naïve, but shows his hatred toward Jews and Israel is greater than his hatred of Islamist terror.” The general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, Marc Stern, called Human Rights Watch’s position “a problem,” and said, “to elevate a mistake to the level of war crime is outrageous.” A spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, Kenneth Bandler, said the statements by Human Rights Watch and Mr. Roth “display a real lack of understanding.”
American Jewry stands with the Israeli government on the point. Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry, a few months back told us of Human Rights Watch, after the organization wrote to President Bush calling for an end to all American aid to Israel, “They’ve lost their credibility.” Even Human Rights Watch’s founding chairman, Robert Bernstein, who led the organization from 1979 to 1997, is dismayed and pained at the stance the group he founded has been taking against the Jewish state, according to several individuals to whom Mr. Bernstein confided his discomfort with the organization he helped found. Mr. Bernstein declined to comment.
Mr. Roth sneers at “religious doctrine” and “Biblical injunctions” from the Torah. In an earlier letter to this page, he referred to them as the “morality of some more primitive moment.” He belittles any distinction between a terrorist group whose goal is to kill Jews, eradicate Israel, and impose Islamist law worldwide, and a pluralist sovereign state, like Israel, that apologizes and investigates when it kills civilians in the course of trying to protect its civilians and borders from the terrorist group. Human Rights Watch recently called on America to cease immediately arms transfers to Israel. If Mr. Roth’s Yale Law School degree and international law dictate cutting off Israel’s arms as it is under assault by a terrorist group out to destroy it and deliberately kill its civilians, we’ll take the Bible any day. One doesn’t need a Yale Law School degree or expertise in international law to know Israel is different from the terrorists, just a basic moral compass.
Mr. Roth’s own moral compass seems to go haywire whenever Israel is involved. More reputable scholars of international law, like Orde Kittrie writing in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, disagree with Human Rights Watch’s conclusions. So do President Bush and a consensus in Congress and among the American public, which have supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Siding with Human Rights Watch in criticizing Israel have been the governments of Iran and Communist China, two of the worst human rights abusers of them all.
Mr. Roth may send us another letter, conceding another point or two along the way. Or not. But this is about more than Mr. Roth and his organization. The moral equivalence that has infected him and his organization has, sadly, spread far on much of the left, from the United Nations to the International Red Cross and Amnesty International and the editorialists of the New York Times, who yesterday, stunningly, said any ceasefire they would favor must allow Hezbollah “to claim some sort of victory.” That such confusion has not gained traction among American Jews or, for that matter, on the Christian right in this country is testament to the bond of shared values between America and Israel. Those values have a base in something higher than the false god of international law before whom Kenneth Roth has brought a once-idealistic institution so low.