Human Rights Watch (HRW) responded in a press release entitled “Why We Report on ‘Open’ Societies” Oct. 20 to an op-ed in the that day’s New York Times, “Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast,” written by the organization’s former chairman Robert Bernstein, accusing the group of bias against Israel, which it characterized as one of the few “open societies” in the Middle East. HRW responded that the group covers “open” societies such as Israel and the US as well as “closed” ones. Defending its coverage of Israel, HRW wrote:
Human Rights Watch does not devote more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region, or in the world. We’ve produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases, and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000, and the vast majority of these were about countries other than Israel. Furthermore, our Middle East division is only one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch. The work on Israel is a tiny fraction of Human Rights Watch’s work as a whole.
Critics charges that HRW focuses on Israeli human rights abuses while giving comparatively light coverage to Saudi Arabia. The group has also been criticized for demanding that Israel investigate abuses while only recently demanding that Hamas due the same. (Ynet, Oct. 21)
In August, HRW accused Israeli soldiers of killing 11 white flag-waving Palestinian civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, which left more than 1,000 civilians and combatants dead in December and January. In April, HRW called on Hamas authorities to end the systematic detention, torture, and execution of supporters of the rival Fatah party. In March, HRW accused Israel of unlawfully and extensively using white phosphorous munitions during Operation Cast Lead. (Jurist, Oct. 21)