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The Strange Morality of Human Rights By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 04, 2006

There were two kinds of people who reacted with instant condemnation to the news of Israel’s strike on the building at Qana. One kind consisted of Arabs and Muslims who grew up in authoritarian countries or social frameworks and mostly had been indoctrinated in hatred of Israel and Jews. The other kind consisted of people who grew up in free and tolerant frameworks in democratic countries and supposedly absorbed ideals regarding fairness and evidence.

Notable in the second category of reflexive Israel-bashers is Kenneth Roth, whose organization Human Rights Watch posted on its website a statement called “Israel Responsible for Qana Attack: Indiscriminate Bombing in Lebanon a War Crime.” According to his staff biography, Roth, who has been executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993, “was drawn to the human rights cause in part by his father’s experience fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938.” Roth is a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, and served, among other things, as a federal prosecutor for the Iran-Contra investigation.

But in the statement on Qana—posted already on July 30, the same day as the incident—the experienced lawman’s website did not hesitate to proclaim that: “Responsibility for the Israeli airstrikes that killed at least 54 [later revised by Human Rights Watch to 28] civilians sheltering in a home in the Lebanese village of Qana rests squarely with the Israeli military. . . .  It is the latest product of an indiscriminate bombing campaign that the Israel Defense Forces . . . have waged in Lebanon over the past 18 days. . . . ”


Roth himself is quoted: “Today’s strike on Qana . . . suggests that the Israeli military is treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone. The Israeli military seems to consider anyone left in the area a combatant who is fair game for attack. . . . Just because the Israeli military warned the civilians of Qana to leave does not give it carte blanche to blindly attack.”  

The article goes on to proclaim: “Human Rights Watch researchers have been in Lebanon since the onset of the current hostilities and have documented dozens of cases in which Israeli forces have carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians while in their homes or traveling on roads to flee the fighting.”


After a full page and a half in this vein, the article manages to eke out these two sentences: “Human Rights Watch has also documented Hezbollah’s deliberate and indiscriminate firing of Katyusha rockets into civilian areas in Israel, resulting in 18 civilian deaths to date. These serious violations of international humanitarian law are also war crimes.”


But—not to keep the spotlight in the wrong direction for more than a moment—the article ends with Roth declaring: “War crimes by one party to a conflict never justify war crimes by another.”


This disproportionate interest in Israel is of course not new to Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch. Israeli professor Gerald Steinberg notes:


As a detailed NGO Monitory study has shown, between 2001 and 2004, during the height of the terror attacks against Israel, HRW focused one-third of its entire Middle East effort on condemnations directed at Israel. This went far beyond legitimate criticism, and suggested an obsession. Far more pages, reports, press conferences, letters, films, and photography-exhibits sponsored by HRW were devoted to allegations against Israel than to the slaughter taking place in Sudan, or the Palestinian terror campaign [itself].


And just lately, Roth was involved in an exchange with Israeli law professor Avi Bell and the editors of the New York Sun in that newspaper’s pages. In his July 31 letter to the Sun responding to Bell’s July 25 article there, Roth asserted: “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.”


The Sun replied that same day in an editorial:


Mr. Roth concludes his letter with a slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance. . . . 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.”

And in Bell’s response, also that day, he noted:

nearly all HRW documents released since the onset of fighting on July 12 . . . focus their very partisan criticisms on Israel. HRW’s and Mr. Roth’s near-silence on Hezbollah’s, Lebanon’s, Syria’s and Iran’s crimes and obsessive accusations about Israel even in the absence of evidence of crimes speak volumes about Mr. Roth’s and his organization’s patently political, non-legal and nonobjective agenda.”

The recent mounting evidence that the whole Qana incident was staged by Hezbollah casts an even more glaring light on Kenneth Roth and his outfit’s reflexive bias. After the initial reports of the incident on Sunday, any reasonably informed, fair observer could have noted that:

* Suspiciously, it was precisely at Qana ten years ago that an Israeli airstrike that killed a large number of civilians ended up causing Israel to call off its offensive against Hezbollah.

* Hezbollah in the current situation was hurting, losing men and weaponry to Israel’s ongoing campaign amid talk of an international force that would seek to keep it disarmed.

* Hezbollah is an Islamic terrorist organization that functions entirely outside the framework of morality—or at least of Western morality.

Such realities would have led any levelheaded person—at the very least—to withhold judgment after the initial reports of the airstrike and wait till more facts came in and the various versions were sorted out.

But that would have been far too much objectivity for Kenneth Roth, who in his zest to pillory Israel at every turn is little more than an ally of the barbarians.

The author thanks Rachel Neuwirth for help in preparing this article.


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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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