Human Rights and Israel

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show,Curt Goering, Amnesty International's chief operating officer, and Stuart Robinowitz, counsel to the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and was on the advisory committee of Helsinki Watch (which joined other organizations to become Human Rights Watch in 1989) who has led human rights fact-finding missions for HRW and the American Bar Association, discuss the Goldstone report and the debate about alleged human rights abuses in Gaza.

On April 1, Richard Goldstone, who chaired the U.N Human Rights Council fact-finding mission concerning the Gaza war of 2008-2009 published an op-ed in the Washington Post retracting the allegation in his report that the Israeli Defense Forces had intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians. In the wake of that op-ed which re-fanned the inflammatory debate on the war, Robinowitz published his own op-ed in The Daily Beast criticizing Human Rights Watch's continual critical portrayals of Israel even after Goldstone's statement.

Does Goldstone's revision refute the existence of war crimes?

Goering: Amnesty remains convinced that both the Israeli forces and the Palestinians committed war crimes in that conflict, these included indiscriminate attacks and attacks which were disproportionate. They included the use of weapons such as white phosphorus and flicites in heavily populated civilian areas, the use of highly inaccurate mortar shells also in densely populated areas, attacks on medical facilities, more than half of the hospitals in the Gaza strip were damaged some of them very severely.

Robinowitz: The absence of intent which everyone now seems to concede really undermines all of the claims of war crimes by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch because to commit a war crime or a crime against humanity there must be an intentional policy to injure civilians and that's articulated in article 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute which creates the International Criminal court.

Are Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Anti-Israel?

Robinowitz: The larger critique is that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have been totally unbalanced in their reporting. They've issued more reports criticizing Israel, the only democracy in the mid-east than any other country in the region, including Iran, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and Bahrain. In their reports on the war in Gaza they devote ten times more pages to Israel than to Hamas although Hamas provoked the war. Beyond that, these reports have been totally unfair, they've made charges of war crimes that were false, that shown not only by Goldstone's retraction but by all independent experts who examined this including HWR's own military consultant, a man named Garlesco.

Goering: Our findings and the findings of HRW are very similar to the findings of the most credible Israeli human rights organization on the ground. B'tselem in Jerusalem, their findings with respect to Operation Cast Lead are very similar to that of both our organizations. So somehow to portray Amnesty or HRW as having an anti-Israeli agenda is completely ridiculous because we work very closely with the main Israeli human rights organizations, have ongoing discussions with them, we discuss our interpretations, they are very much in sync with the directions and the reports that Amnesty HRW has produced.