David Bernstein, who is an economic libertarian and a booster of Israeli military actions against Palestinians, is joyful
article by a writer, Benjamin Birnbaum, in The New Republic about the internal political controversies at the Middle East desk of Human Rights Watch. He castigates various people who have been critical of Israel government officials in various ways for not responding to the article, presumably because he believes the article goes against the grain of such persons' political views regarding the on-going 100 Years Arab-Israeli War.
I personally stopped reading The New Republic long ago and only find out about articles there by way of others, like Bernstein. So no conspiracy of silence for me...:-)
Still, because I tend to hold critical views of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and support a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank*, and because I knew TNR has long been a pro-Israeli occupation journal, I expected the article was going to be a hatchet job.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I believe that certain sentences in the article aside, it was a well-balanced article that at least in part undermines the positions Bernstein himself has taken with respect to the organization. First, the article favorably lionizes the guy at the Human Rights Watch Middle East desk who was suspended after it was disclosed the guy had collected Nazi memorabilia. Bernstein, at the time, thought the guy was perfectly suited
to the anti-Israel views of others at the Middle East desk. Funny, Bernstein does not mention his past castigation of the guy TNR thinks is actually quite fair about Israeli and Arab conduct.
Second, the article, while attacking the leading person at the Middle East desk at HRW, Sarah Lee Whitson, around the edges, actually reveals her to be fairly decent. I share her view of Norman Finkelstein
as someone who is a solid scholar, but who is his own worst enemy because of his over-the-top rhetoric and quick trigger attacks on others' motivations. I also did not see all of the film, "Paradise Now
," but my sense of the film, from the parts I saw on cable television, was that it was very tough on the mindset that causes people to become suicide bombers and showed how irrational we humans are--and sometimes even grimly funny. I saw one of the scenes where the girlfriend of one of the suicide bombers eloquently argues against the cycle of violence, and it was powerful against the stupidity of the boyfriend who was the would-be suicide bomber at the time. And I happen to think the Goldstone Report was really quite fair
, especially for an official UN report.
Third, Bernstein, who has supported most everything the Israeli governments have said or done in the occupied territories over the years--from what I have read of his posts--ought to be humbled by the fact that Robert Bernstein, Sid Sheinberg and others are essentially restating liberal-left views of Israeli conduct. Their views are really not really so far from the Middle East desk of the Human Rights Watch as even the author of the article may believe.
Contrary to the implication of Bernstein's piece, this article should not change one iota the views of most of the people he cites (nor my own) on the 100 years war of Arab and Jew. For me, the article actually re-enforced my world view and view of that on-going war. The perhaps "dirty truths" in the article, e.g. (1) it is easier to cover and criticize Israel than Iran because Israel is a more open nation, (2) cowardly Boards of Directors of non-governmental organizations are, like their government and business counterparts, often afraid to confront their day-to-day operations managers, and more particularly (3) HRW fails to criticize Hamas and non-governmental terror groups with the same level
of vehemence (there are more often press releases and pamphlets attacking Hamas' conduct and more full scale reports on Israeli conduct), are important for the context in which the Human Rights Watch is operating and reporting. I hope the article gets legs and helps HRW refine its operations and reporting in the often difficult Middle East region. The Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians does undermine the sympathy it should normally get as an oppressed people. That needs to be more directly recognized. Otherwise, Israel remains an occupying force in the West Bank, and further Israeli leaders need to recognize now is the time to talk peace if there was ever a time.
* I did, to the chagrin to some of my very few readers, support the Israeli military action in Gaza in late December 2008 and early 2009. I thought then, and think now, that no nation on earth would or should accept the number of rockets being fired into its communities from across that nation's borders that the Israelis endured. The fact the rockets mostly missed their targets does not change the formulation since that is more due to incompetence than intent. And considering the very few rockets that have been launched against Israel since, and Hamas actually taking some action against the splinter groups that were largely responsible for those rocket attacks, the Israeli actions during that war remain in my view very appropriate.