Human Rights and Israel

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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.


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Comments [34]

Brian, on the whole, you handled a delicate topic well.
I am appalled that HRW apparently boycotted this meeting. I hoped that they would at least send a statement.
I thought Rabinowitz discredited himself by saying that Goldstone did not contact Israeli sources, when it was Israeli sources which were boycotting him. Much of the rest of what he says is boilerplate which has been circulated by pro-Israel activists for years. But some of his points are definitely disturbing, particularly concerning the gagging of a HRW military affairs adviser. I would, however, have been more impressed by him if he at least saluted the good work these two organizations continue to do.

Apr. 29 2011 01:24 PM
Manny from Brooklyn

I was disappointed that Brian let Goering get away without answering the very pointed questions leveled at Amnesty by Rabinowitz: How does Amnesty react to the remarks made by Iran concerning "wiping out Israel" (or whatever the proper translation is), and how would they react if Israel made the same remarks.
Also, Mr. Goering cited the term "disproportionate": being fair to Israel should preclude this adjective, as Israel might say the reaction was exactly proportionate - or the only one possible under the circumstances.

Apr. 28 2011 06:18 PM

Please invite Professor Norman Finkelstein to your show Brian. He is one of the most interesting and intelligent people out their involved of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Apr. 26 2011 11:47 PM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York City

Fear, hatred and misunderstanding all too often dominate human relations. There would be more progress in settling Middle East issues if people honored themselves by recognizing that GOD lives in the flame of Divine Energy that makes all of our lives possible and dwells within us all. GOD'S Presence covers the world and is trampled when we disrespect that aspect of him found in all sentient beings. It shines and pulsates gloriously with our courageous strokes of compassion, respect and love for one another. The people of the Middle East and the world in general are often bigoted by choice. The ease of which humanity perpetrates hate in lieu of compassion, respect and empathy is a travesty, and beneath its potential majesty in serving itself and GOD reverently. Humanity limps on the crutches of selfish excuses for its bigotry that betrays the respect and compassion rightfully due GOD. No peace in the Middle East? Not enough people really want it in sincerity.

Apr. 26 2011 09:54 PM
Razi from Tel Aviv

Since the brunt of Mr. Robinowitz's recent criticism was aimed directly at Human Rights Watch (and not Amnesty), their declining of Brian Lehrer's invitation to appear on his show -- and attempt to rebuke the accusations levied against them -- is quite telling in & of itself.

Apr. 26 2011 08:36 PM
Marc from Princeton, NJ

Rabinowitz hits the nail on the head. HRW and Amnesty Intl. have developed an obsession with Israel. HRW and AI focus far too much of their energy on Israel as compared to all others.

It is very tellin that HRW chose to dispatch Levine to this show as opposed to Joe Stock, Srah Leah Whitsone or Shawan Jabarin. Each of these HRW employees has documented histories of overt anti-israel activities which predated their HRW hiring. And Jabarin has been the subject of Court Orders by the Israeli Supreme Court on multiple occasions adjudicating him as a terroist threat. This is hardly a suprise given Jabarins' past connections to the PFLP - an overt terrorist organization.

HRW may wish to bolster its credibilty by pointing to B'tselem. This is misplaced. First B'Tselem is not a local israeli organization - it is really a front for Americans/Europeans. And its conclusions regarding what happened in Gaza have been the subject of critical analysis undercuttig their conclusions. If the B'tselem analysis is flawed, then how can HRW seek to rely upon it? It cant and HRW's reliance is dodge.

Many posters have sought to attack Rabinowitz. This is misplaced, his is an open supporter of JStreet, an organization that is supportive of the Obama policy on the Middle East while quite critical of Netanyahu.

The bottom line is that HRW and AI need to be self critical, acknowledge the perception of their obsession with Israel at the expensive of those with far worse records and more opressive societies - be it opportunistic or intentional - and move forward to return their organizations to the regard that I would think they seek.

Apr. 26 2011 05:24 PM
C. A. Friedman from Long Island

Israel vs Arabs is a very complex topic. But I believe the main extenuating factor is the Arabs refuse to allow Israel its imperfections and its legitimacy. So they hammer away with their propaganda about how bad Israel is and repeat half truths and lies until they are believed. In trying to be supportive and balanced you yourself erred today by saying something like "Yes,there are more 'autocratic regimes' in the region (Middle East)". You should be ashamed of yourself! Since when is a democracy referred to as autocratic!!!

Apr. 26 2011 05:21 PM

! In fact: !!

Apr. 26 2011 03:29 PM
Susan from Greenwich Village

An excellent segment, and I admired your questions, Brian

It's stunning to see how any criticism of Israel seems to draw fury from some corners. The argument that there should be equal numbers of violations recorded for both sides of any conflict makes no sense. What counts in determining the accuracy of reporting are the standards and methodology employed. To demand automatic parity is to demand inaccuracy.

Apr. 26 2011 02:26 PM
DTorres from Nathan Strauss Projects

The Israeli Information Center For Human Rights In The Occupied Territories

Palestine Remembered

Apr. 26 2011 02:18 PM
frank trainer

The actual translation was "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

When will people stop misquoting him?

Apr. 26 2011 01:54 PM

April, you seem pretty confused. Egyptians are largely antagonistic to the United States. Christian Arabs are being persecuted in Israel and throughout the Middle East by Muslims, not Jews. The man's name is Robinowitz, not Bernstein. I could keep going, but essentially, you give too much credence to fringe groups like J Street and the Israeli left. American Jews young and old still largely support Israel and recognize the dire straits it is in. You should follow, you'll learn a lot.

Apr. 26 2011 01:17 PM

Since Norman Finkelstein was attacked on the program, and his views grossly misrepresented, why not let him speak for himself?

He's written a number of books on the Israeli/Palestinian question and while he's routinely savaged by a certain quarter of the American political establishment -- notably Alan Dershowtiz, who tried unsuccessfully to stop Finkelstein from publishing, but succeeded in killing university tenure for Finkelstein -- he's not been proven factually wrong.

The usual voices, of course, will claim he's a self-hating Jew since anybody who criticizes Israel simply *must* be anti-semitic, but why not go to the well for once ?

Apr. 26 2011 01:03 PM

The point about Iran is that the world lets Iran get away with instigating genocide when it calls for Israel to be wiped out. (Behind its words are its arming of Hamas and Hezbollah, and its development of a nuclear weapon.) There is a tremendous passion about prosecuting against Israel, a country on the defensive, whereas the real criminals (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah) go free.

Apr. 26 2011 12:37 PM
April from Manhattan

Brian, I wish you'd gotten some folks from J St. on your show to talk about these issues. Your choice of guests does create a sense of bias, though you did invite both sides. I wish you would cover some of the human rights violations by the IDF against Palestinians, on their own land. Interview the writer of, or, better the participants in, The Nation's article "The New Israeli Left", which J St. informed me it had passed around. (But not their reaction to it.) I urged the NY Times to put Kershner and Bronner with those Israeli leftists hiding in Palestinian households at night as the IDF comes in. Another point is that Ahmadinejad also calls for death to America, then Israel; not mentioned by your interviewees. Does Mr Bernstein care about U.S.? Or how Israel's actions affect us? Must everyone who doesn't support Israel 100% be called a Nazi? (A word that's being thrown around a lot these days.) The claim that Israel is our only democratic ally in the region becomes more difficult to defend as the Arab world yearns, demonstrates and fights for democracy. Are Israelis living in a vacuum, not just behind a wall? You mention Jews and Arabs. Perhaps you were talking about Israel. Arab Christians In Israel are being persecuted too, as are white ones. In America SOME Christians, atheists, and perhaps a few Zoroastrians, might not be 100% supportive of Israeli agression. Even though Israel has had to fight for its existence, it doesn't mean that all it does is right. Netanyhu's luke warm, non serious, attempts at peace, (often mocking Obama and his administration with one too many "mistakes", playing straight to Aipac), are turning out to be a disaster, as Israeli intellectuals, you could have interviewed, point out. Young American Jews aren't signing on to the Israeli line. Google . Read The New York Review article "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." Their thesis is that groups like AIPAC assumed young American Jews would check their liberalism at the door of Zionism. They didn't. In fact, they did the reverse. What does Israel do for U.S.? American military commanders say they create antagonism towards U.S. I know, I go to Canada and Europe. Yes, there is real anti semitism everywhere. I've seen swastikas in France, Vienna, (of course). A friend in Riverdale says there were swastikas on his synagogue. However, he also informed me, after I expressed alarm at a swastika being scrawled on the door of Columbia U professor, that a Jewish student had done it because the prof was insufficiently pro Israel in her lectures. (So much for academic freedom and free speech.) I still support Israel, but this particular show has made me do so less, rather than more, enthusiastically.

On the broader topic, I've noticed dueling human rights organizations before. No room to discuss.

I do love your show and hope you'll take my calls. This time, you could have chosen more interesting guests.

Apr. 26 2011 12:32 PM
Bob from Brooklyn

Bryan.....what in the world does Ahmedinejab comments have to do with, Israel using white phosphorus and cluster bombs, and bombing hospitals and UN facilities.

Fact: Day 1 of the Israeli attack on the Gaza strip......Israel killed 221 civilians in 4 minutes......4 minutes!

Apr. 26 2011 12:26 PM
dboy from nyc

Is it just me or are defenders of Israeli crimes just completely incapable of logical, objective thought???

ALL crimes should be prosecuted! The crimes of one DO NOT JUSTIFY the crimes of another!



Apr. 26 2011 12:13 PM

Actually, Iran is relevant to this topic because it trains fighters and ships weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. So many people declaim against Israel and they don't know the facts! The issue is a pre-determined bias against Israel, and Robinowitz made the case against Amnesty and Human Right Watch quite well.

Apr. 26 2011 12:05 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

How come US generals were never brought to trial for bombing civilians in WWII? For the bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima and scores of other Axis cities and killing hundreds of thousands of civilian men, women and children? Oh I know, we should not take into account what the Nazis or the Japanese were doing, and only focus only on Allied bombings of civilians.

Apr. 26 2011 12:01 PM
dboy from nyc


What the hell does Iran have to do with Israel's criminal human rights abuses???

What Iran or any other country says, does or doesn't do HAS ABSOLUTELY NO RELEVANCE on what Israel is responsible for.

Enough deflection! Let's stay on TOPIC!!

Apr. 26 2011 11:54 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Isn't Israel BASHING GETTING OLD ALREADY? In particular, when the Arab dictators and autocrats are openly murdering their own people by the bushel every day?

How long will Israel be held up to a standard that NO other country on earth could possibly meet? Not the US in Afghanistan or Iraq, and not anyone!
Israel is beset by endless numbers of enemies from within and without, and yet is expected to act like angels. In fact, even angels couldn't live up to the phony standards that these so called "human rights" advocates are thrusting upon on Israel!

I lived and worked near Sderot back in the 1980s when thousands of Gazans used to come in every day, to work or get free health care. My father in law used to bring his car into Gaza routinely for repairs.Then the first "intifada" broke out over an automobile accident.
The Arabs want to wipe Israel out, period. That is the bottom line, and ISrael has the same right to defend itself as the US or any other country under constant attack.

Apr. 26 2011 11:53 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Hamas itself is a war crime. It violates EVERY law of war! They do not wear uniforms with insignia as required for legal combatants. They fire from homes and backyards, mosques and hospitals, and hide ammunition in private homes, and use ambulances to carry terrorists, weapons and ammunitions, et cetera. They fire trying to hit schools and kindergartens, and so on. Hamas is a living, breathing war crime. Like the Nazi party. it emulates.

Apr. 26 2011 11:49 AM
michael from greenpoint, brooklyn

i am so tired of people not being able to criticize the policies of Israel without being called "anti-Israeli". I don't agree with every policy and decision the US has made. I can speak my mind about those, it does not make me "anti-American". can people stop the "with us or against us" view of Israel.

Apr. 26 2011 11:46 AM
dboy from nyc

I have personally listened to former members of the Israeli military admit and describe horrific human rights crimes.

Gimmie a break with this nonsense!!!

Apr. 26 2011 11:46 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I never heard Ahmedinejab actually threaten to wipe out Israel; I heard him say Israel *should* be wiped out, & I thought that was a deliberate choice. Maybe that's changed more recently?

Apr. 26 2011 11:46 AM
texter from NY

Bryan, this segment isn't about Iran, it's about Israel. You're trying to avoid any accusations to Israel. Your trying to redirect towards palestine and then Iran. Or is this the secret agenda; good way to avoid.

Apr. 26 2011 11:43 AM

Shame on you. The issue is whether Israel committed war crimes or not. Brian, how can you engage in this blame the messenger interview? It doesn't matter whether Human Rights watch is harder on Israel that Iran, the issue is whether Israel committed the crimes.

Apr. 26 2011 11:43 AM
johm from Brooklyn

Stuart Robinowitz is fear mongering about Iran, a country which has not attacked any country in 1000 years. Israel has a greater war chest than all its middle east "enemies" put together.

Israel has Nuclear weapons and has used force against its neighbors. Iran hasn't.

Apr. 26 2011 11:43 AM
John from NYC

Amnesty has no credibility. The statements from the leaders of Iran are not just statements. How may Jews have been driven out of Iran?

It is disturbing that this person is even allowed on the air.

Apr. 26 2011 11:42 AM
dboy from nyc

NAW!!! Israel always plays by the rules, they never abuse or repress, kill or maim.

To suggest otherwise is just plain anti-Semitism!

Really! How could anyone say such a thing???


Apr. 26 2011 11:41 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To hi from Brooklyn

What do you mean "nobody is buying this?" You mean the lynch mob trying to hang Israel won't allow Israel to defend itself? Just because a lynch mob believes something doesn't make it true.

Apr. 26 2011 11:41 AM

Brian, in these sensitve political discussions, I would expect you to use a more precise vocabulary. Flip-flop has certain negaitve connotations in our political discourse -- indicating a sudden and perhaps politically motivated change of position. It seems from your own description that Goldstone changed his mind in light of subsequent information that he learned after he wrote his report. Flip-flopping is what Mitt Romney has done concerning health care. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind in light of new information -- even though it might be difficult. I hope in future you will choose your words more carefully -- and particularly in these sensitive discussions.

Apr. 26 2011 11:40 AM
h l from brooklyn

WHAT? so only if it's a government "policy", then it's a crime against humanity?

Bryan, nobody is buying this. Your guests (and maybe you) are bias and so it's hard to take this segment seriously.

"harmed israel"? paaleeze.

Apr. 26 2011 11:36 AM

What does "making human rights a political issue" even mean?

What should it be? An economics issue, a real estate issue, an issue of personal style?

Redefining an issue in a ridiculous way is the hallmark of someone attempting to defend the indefensible.

Apr. 26 2011 11:29 AM

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