If it’s not Hamas raining rockets on Israeli civilians, it’s Human Rights Watch attacking Israel through slander—double standards, demonization and outright lies.
On April 27, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 213-page report claiming that “Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” The charge is serious—one not made against any other country—but is backed by zero credible substance.
Most insidiously, HRW steals the term “apartheid”—invented and historically used to describe the extreme racial segregationist policies of South Africa—and gives it a new definition tailored to Israeli policies the group disagrees with—namely Israel’s Jewish nationalist roots. In other words, when HRW uses the bitterly distasteful pejorative term “apartheid” to reference Israel, it categorically is not referring to the policies of racist South Africa.
Rather, HRW cites the definition of apartheid contained in the Rome Statute, a treaty that condemns “inhumane acts”—any “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,” including extermination, enslavement, deportation, torture and sexual slavery. Of course, HRW provides no evidence of any of these specific crimes being committed by Israel—because none exists.
HRW also obscures the fact that Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, and that therefore it is not legally binding on the Jewish state. More importantly, HRW ignores the fact that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is in no way racially or ethnically based but rather springs from a nationalist territorial dispute—namely that the Palestinians do not accept Israeli sovereignty over any part of present-day Israel or Judea-Samaria (the West Bank).
This HRW report was timed to coincide with the new U.S. administration, to highlight a conflict that had been placed on the backburner over the last few years, especially while the State of Israel was busy making peace and signing agreements with five Arab and Muslim states, much to Palestinian and leftist consternation.
Human Rights Watch has an unseemly obsession with the State of Israel. In 2010, a Washington Post columnist called HRW “an anti-Israel group masquerading as one devoted to human rights.” It also appears to have problems with Jews. In 2009, one of HRW’s senior investigators and its most senior military expert was revealed as an avid fan of Nazi memorabilia. When alerted, the organization defended its employee and refused to condemn the ghoulish hobby venerating a regime responsible for the murder of six million Jews.
The worst indictment of HRW, however, comes from its founder, Robert Bernstein, a well-known human-rights activist.
“The region [the Middle East] is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records,” wrote Bernstein in The New York Times. “Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.” He further said the organization he created had deviated from its foundational principles in order to attack the Jewish state and help “those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
Unfortunately for Bernstein, HRW is indeed populated by people who want to turn Israel into a “pariah state.” The latest report was authored by Omar Shakir, HRW’s lead researcher, who was forced to leave Israel in 2019 after he was found to have violated Israeli law by actively promoting the antisemitic BDS campaign. As we know, those who support the BDS campaign are openly and proudly seeking to end the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.
The fact is, HRW uses language meant to shock and repel. For many years, Israel’s opponents tried to use the Nazi analogy but realized that its connection to the murder of 6 million Jews did not work very well. So, it found another analogy, more recent, and just as repugnant to many. The apartheid stain against Israel was formulated at the 2001 U.N. conference in Durban, which created a program to brand Israel as “apartheid” in order to justify its isolation.
According to NGO Monitor, an organization that monitors the misdeeds of NGOs, “In the past 18 months, at least 15 political non-governmental organizations … involved in anti-Israel advocacy, as well as their UN allies, have issued publications accusing Israel of ‘Apartheid.’ This offensive term is used to advance a narrative of unparalleled Israeli immorality, and to promote demonization through BDS and lawfare, including in the International Criminal Court.”
They do this by erasing the very nature of apartheid, which was a policy created in South Africa characterized by systematic, institutionalized oppression, particularly in the realm of political and civil rights. By contrast, Israel provides full and equal rights and benefits to all citizens regardless of religion, race or gender. While Israel has no policies of racial segregation either inside its borders or in Judea-Samaria, it does legally distinguish, as every nation does, between citizens and non-citizens.
Again, to repeat: No other nation on earth has ever been described as “apartheid”—not China, not Sudan, not Myanmar—even though dozens of the world’s regimes oppress women, ethnic minorities and opponents.
Unfortunately, this campaign against Israel is funded internationally, most notably by the European Union and some of its member states. European and other taxpayers’ funds are being used daily in the fight against the Jewish state, from supporting an avowed terrorist organization like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as other anti-Israel organizations masquerading as human rights NGOs.
Human Rights Watch is among the largest of them,—hiding behind a thin veneer of respectability—but it is no less dangerous than any others whose goal is to eradicate the State of Israel.
At the moment, Israel faces a tough military and PR war against Hamas and other terrorist organizations, whose ultimate goal is the annihilation of Israel through violence and bloodshed. The recent HRW report is clearly war by other means and should be called out as such—part of the war to destroy the Jewish state through lies and distortion.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.