While the war against Hezbollah rages in Lebanon, let us turn for a moment to the war on the home front, where one of the major human rights organizations is veering sharply against the Jewish state. We refer to Human Rights Watch, whose executive director, Kenneth Roth, has written a letter to the editor of The New York Sun replying to the article that appeared July 25 by Avi Bell accusing Human Rights Watch of bias. If readers weren't convinced of Human Rights Watch's anti-Israel bias after reading Mr. Bell's article, Mr. Roth's letter to the editor makes it an open-and-shut case.
Mr. Bell had criticized Human Rights Watch for, among other things, failing to treat the war between Israel and Hezbollah as an interstate conflict. Mr. Roth replies that "the Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese governments are not currently fighting in Lebanon." Yet the day after Mr. Bell's article appeared in The New York Sun, Human Rights Watch itself — shamed into action — wrote to Presidents Ahmadinejad and al-Assad. The executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson, wrote the Iranian of the "close and abiding relationship between Hezbollah and Iran, including the alleged role that Iran has played in supplying weapons to Hezbollah." To Mr. Assad, the Human Rights Watch activist wrote of "Syria's historically close relationship with Hezbollah, including reports that Syria has supplied weapons to Hezbollah."
It's not just Ms. Whitson to whom Mr. Roth might want to listen regarding the roles of Syria and Iran in Lebanon. On July 12 — fully two weeks before Human Rights Watch wrote to Syria and Iran — the White House issued a statement saying, "We also hold Syria and Iran, which have provided long-standing support for Hizballah, responsible for today's violence." The Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told our special correspondent, Aaron Klein, that "Iran is bringing in sophisticated weaponry. The Iranians are actually experimenting with different kinds of missiles in Lebanon by shooting them at the Israelis." Mr. Jumblatt said, "In truth, the Syrians never left Lebanon. They triggered this war through their proxy, Hezbollah. They continue to hold us hostage." The Los Angeles Times reported on July 16 that a senior Israeli military official "said more than 100 Iranian troops, including members of the elite Republican Guard, were in Lebanon and assisting Hezbollah."
Amir Abbas Fakhravar testified before Congress on July 20, "We see what the Islamic regime has done with its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and what crime has taken place." Mr. Roth might remember Mr. Fakhravar. A July 8, 2004, Human Rights Watch press release called for him to be released from Iranian prison. Now that Mr. Fakhravar, the chairman of Iran's Independent Student Movement, is out of prison, Mr. Roth might want to pay attention to Mr. Fakhravar's congressional testimony. It might prevent Mr. Roth from sending out any more letters to the editor mistakenly absolving the Iranian government of responsibility for what is happening in Lebanon.
Mr. Roth's letter condemns Israel for an attack on a Red Crescent convoy that left "medicine" scattered on the highway. But a December 22, 2003, press release from the foreign ministry in Jerusalem details the ways in which the Islamist terrorists are using the Red Crescent and its ambulances as cover. A January 27, 2002, terrorist attack on Jerusalem involved three employees of the Palestinian Red Crescent, including the suicide bomber herself. On March 27, 2002, the Israelis arrested Islam Jibril while he was driving a Red Crescent ambulance containing an explosive belt and explosive devices.The explosive belt was hidden underneath a stretcher carrying a sick Palestinian boy. Palestinian documents seized by the Israelis refer to the terrorists transporting weapons hidden in the floors of ambulances. The Arab terrorists tried to turn medical chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid taken from hospitals and medical offices into bombs for use against Israel. If Human Rights Watch condemned any of these activities, we've been unable to find evidence of it. For Mr. Roth, in his letter, to condemn Israel for attacking a Red Crescent convoy without condemning the way that the Arab terrorists have misused the Red Crescent banner calls his motives into question.
Mr. Roth's letter speaks of "Israeli abuses" that "should generate outrage," including the destruction of civilian apartment buildings. But there's not a word in Mr. Roth's letter criticizing Hezbollah for using Lebanese civilians as shields for their command headquarters and missile launching activities.The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, boasted as recently as May of Lebanon's willingness to sacrifice its children. As Jerusalem's ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Gillerman, asked yesterday on "Meet the Press," how would one propose that Israel deal with hardened Hezbollah terrorists using civilians as shields? Asked Mr. Gillerman, "Would you send them postcards? Would you send them flowers?"
Mr. Roth's letter, denying his clear pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel bias, declares Human Rights Watch to adhere to "strict neutrality," not identifying the aggressor because it "almost invariably leads to lengthy historical digressions." Then he goes on to accuse Israel of engaging in "slaughter," of having lost "the moral high ground," and of killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians either by "design or callous indifference." Some neutrality.
Mr. Roth concludes his letter with a slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance."An eye for an eye — or more accurately in this case twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment," Mr. Roth writes. The reference is to the phrase "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," found in Exodus 21, in Deuteronomy 19, and Leviticus, Chapter 24. The sages have long made clear that this referred to monetary compensation, as the Talmud points out in Baba Kamma 84a. To suggest that Judaism is a "primitive" religion incompatible with contemporary morality is to engage in supersessionism, the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much anti-Semitism.
The last time Mr. Roth was upbraided in our pages on the basis of his organization's one-sided criticism of Israel, we rang him up to report out an editorial on the topic. He made the point that his father had fled Nazi Germany, and warned that crying wolf falsely about anti-Semitism would make it harder to confront genuine anti-Semitism. But now, Mr. Roth says he's neutral while issuing one-sided condemnations of Israel — as the Jewish state tries desperately to defend its civilians and soldiers against an enemy, in Hezbollah, whose leader, Sheik Nasrallah, has appeared on television as recently as this year to say that "the alleged Jewish Holocaust in Germany" had been "proved" a "myth." Mr. Roth may consider that a "lengthy historical digression," but there are those of us who understand it is the central point.