Posts Tagged ‘human rights organizations’

…With Lopsided Haircuts

March 3, 2010

blue soapbox  A funny thing happened recently while I was giving my dog a haircut.  I had planted myself next to him, trimming as much as possible before he could object.  Suddenly I realized I was getting overly zealous on his left hind leg.

Mind you, his hair wasn’t extra-long there.  It was simply that the left hind leg was the area I could most easily get at.

Nutty, huh?  Kind of like the guy who drops his keys in the gutter one dark night, and walks ten feet to the nearest street light to look for them—because that’s where he can see?

So often, we focus our efforts on what’s convenient, even when it isn’t sensible or balanced.  This is mildly amusing when a canine’s coiffure or a guy’s keys are at stake.  But on the world stage, the phenomenon isn’t so funny.

One example is the tendency of organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to disproportionately blame and denounce Israel for the problems in the Middle East.  Meanwhile, the broader, and much tougher, mission—improving the lot of dissidents, minorities, women and gays in oppressive regimes—is relegated to the back seat.

HRW, originally founded to shine light on closed societies, support basic freedoms and extend help to dissidents, was recently criticized by its own founder, Robert L. Bernstein, who is no longer with HRW.  In an October 2009 editorial for the New York Times, Bernstein explains, “[HRW] always recognized that open societies have faults and commit abuses.  But we saw that they have the ability to correct them—through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.”

For that reason, Bernstein explains, HRW previously focused its efforts on closed societies with poor human rights records (think Soviet gulag and Chinese labor camps).  But because HRW no longer makes the distinction between closed and open societies, Bernstein says, “the plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.”

Indeed, last year, HRW issued more publications critical of Israel than of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya combined.

I’m by no means saying that Israel shouldn’t be held accountable for its actions.  But for perspective, we would do well to consider Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that “the amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there.  The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.”

Given that human rights watchdogs have limited resources, why do they choose to put an open society, population 7.4 million, under a microscope?  Why do they distort their mission by obsessively finding fault with one tiny democracy trying to defend itself?

Are these organizations simply anti-Israel or anti-Semitic?  Are they naïve, unaware that they’re giving ammunition to oppressive regimes sworn to Israel’s destruction?  Are they in the pocket of some of those regimes?

In any case, it is precisely Israel’s openness and self-examination that makes it an easy target of criticism—especially in contrast to other nations in the neighborhood, who guard information jealously and are difficult to investigate.  So difficult, in fact, that making inroads would require the concerted efforts of human rights organizations actually, uh, doing their jobs.

Perhaps these organizations are hoping that with all the controversy they stir up, we won’t notice that the Arab and Iranian governments—which rule over about 350 million people—continue their appalling human rights violations.

Published in Piedmont Post, March 3, 2010

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