Human Rights Watch founder criticizes own group

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January 3rd, 2011

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Omaha, NE – The founder of Human Rights Watch criticized his own group for anti-Israel bias during a recent visit to Omaha.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein says the group has an anti-Israel bias (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Robert Bernstein is world-renowned as an activist for the protection of human rights around the world. Previously a publisher at Random House, Bernstein established the Fund for Free Expression in 1973, the parent group of Helsinki watch, which later became world famous Human Rights Watch. But after serving as chair of the group for 20 years, Bernstein publicly defected in 2009, with an op-ed column in the New York Times. There, Bernstein wrote Human Rights Watch’s reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict “are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

Speaking at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Nov. 10, Bernstein said, “I find myself in strong disagreement with the policies and actions in the Middle East of Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations that have similar policies like Amnesty [International] and the Carter Center.”

“These disagreements have actually polarized my own relationships with the organizations, as it chooses not to engage on the issues, but instead has declared I wish special treatment for Israel.”

Bernstein cited examples of what he views as unfair bias by Human Rights Watch, such as its appointment of a Princeton professor who had once compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews as UN recorder for the West Bank in Gaza. Others have also been critical of Human Rights Watch, citing a report by a former board member accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza. Bernstein said the group has strayed from its original mission to defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“There’s been an asymmetrical war, you might call it a war of attrition, in different ways involving Israel, not only with Palestinians but sometimes involving other Arab states, and of course involving Iran and it’s non-state proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. In reporting on this conflict, Human Rights Watch, frequently joined by the UN, faulted Israel as the principal offender.”

“It seemed to me that if you talked about freedom of speech, the right of women, open education and freedom of religion, that there was only one state in the Middle East that was concerned with these issues.”

After the op-ed appeared, Human Rights Watch defended its record, saying its scrutiny on Israel represents on a “tiny fraction” of its work, and that it stands “fully behind” its work in “Israel and around the world.”

The full lecture by Robert Bernstein, recorded on November 10th by UNO Television, will be screened this week on The Knowledge Network on Cox Cable 17: January 4th and 25th at 6 pm, and January 10th and 31st at 11  am.

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