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.
Human Rights Watch has come out with a stinging attack on Israel for its actions in the conflict against Hezbollah, calling the tragedy in Qana a “war crime.”
Since Human Rights Watch is not an organization that has ignored human rights issues in the Arab world — it has done studies on such issues as human rights violations in Egypt and suicide bombings — what the organization says is given much weight and credibility in certain circles.
The truth is, however, that the overwhelming thrust of Human Rights Watch work regarding Israel and the Arab world falls on Israel. Included was a rush to judgment in its accusation that Israel in Jenin had committed war crimes in seeking out suicide bombers, as well as the fact that in one year (2004), according to NGO Monitor, of 33 HRW documents dealing with Israel, 25 were critical of the Jewish State.
More significantly, there are questions about HRW’s broader perspective in its work in the Middle East. Kenneth Roth falls back on technical interpretations to justify what his organization criticizes and what it doesn’t. He says that it doesn’t go into the cause of war. He doesn’t want to talk about the intentions of various parties. He doesn’t want to look at the larger picture because, he claims, all of this would undermine the neutral posture that gives his organization credibility.
More than any specific criticism, it is this explanation of what HRW is about that is so problematic. First, he inappropriately compares his organization in this respect to the Red Cross, but that body has a very different purpose. HRW, by its reports and statements, has a major impact on political judgments.
Far more important is that his explanation of HRW’s perspective — at least as it applies to the conflict of Israel and the Arab world — leads inevitably to the conclusion that HRW is either irrelevant or immoral, or maybe both. On one level, his explanations of all the factors that don’t come into play when doing analyses and passing judgment should lead to the conclusion that they truly aren’t relevant to the fundamental issues of peace, war, and justice that are embodied in a conflict such as this. If the intentions of Syria and Iran are not to be examined, if the takeover of part of a country by a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel is not something important, if the continuous flow of rockets, launchers and other weapons from Iran and Syria to an illegitimate group is not worthy of consideration, then ultimately why should anyone take seriously what Human Rights Watch has to say?
On a deeper level, one can conclude that despite painting itself as a great moral arbiter, in fact Human Rights Watch’s approach to these problems is immorality at the highest level. Let’s remember that Israel has been able to survive and prosper in a region where it has been surrounded by neighbors, close and far, who have been committed to Israel’s destruction for five decades, because of one reason: its strength and power of deterrence.
The State of Israel, which emerged out of the ashes of the Holocaust, understood early on that it must be able to convince its enemies that attacking the tiny Jewish State would be a big mistake. Israel had to make clear to the Arabs that they would be hurt far, far more than the pain they could inflict. In other words, without Israel hitting back (not in an “eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth” fashion which Mr. Roth cited and is a classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews) but in a much stronger way, Israel would have been destroyed long ago.
The moral issue, the human rights issue that overrides everything else in this conflict is that if Hezbollah, Syria and Iran don’t understand that they will pay an overwhelming price for these rocket attacks on Israel, then eventually the rockets will be armed with chemical weapons and the warheads with nuclear weapons. In other words, a second Holocaust would be in the works.
So yes, Israel is striking very hard at Hezbollah and the infrastructure that allows it to operate and to receive weapons from Iran and Syria. And yes, there are tragically civilian casualties. Israel must do everything in its power to limit these casualties. But it is Hezbollah that has cynically created a dilemma for Israel by embedding their missiles not only in civilian areas, but literally in civilian households. The dilemma for Israel was: should it be so careful to avoid civilian casualties — for its own sake, for the sake of the Lebanese people and their attitudes toward Israel, and for world opinion — that Israel would not effectively destroy the missile threat that was turning northern Israel into a hell for its residents? Or, should Israel strike at Hezbollah with significant force, inevitably producing civilian casualties because of the placement of missiles, which would turn the people of Lebanon and the world against Israel? Israel has sought its way through this minefield. It has tried both to protect its people and to limit civilian casualties.
It is no accident that Human Rights Watch gets it wrong or has a habit of rushing to judgment as it did in Jenin and as it did in Qana. If one sees military activity by Israel in a vacuum, ignoring the threats to its security and existence, ignoring the intentions and growing capabilities of its enemies, ignoring the cynical actions of its foes which seek either to hurt Israel and its citizens on the ground or to make Israel look bad in the eyes of the world, then, of course, Israel will look like the neighborhood bully and will be accused of all kinds of things.
I would therefore recommend that Human Rights Watch be viewed for what it is, at least when it comes to the great struggle in the Middle East that may determine not only the future of the State of Israel but of mankind itself: as irrelevant or immoral.
Mr. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”