Monday, August 17, 2009

Stork Tales

I wrote my spin on the last big flurry of commentary aimed at discrediting Human Rights Watch here. My take was that I don't have a problem fundraising amongst civilians in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but I'm not sure that one should market based off the putatively secondary clashes with the "Israel Lobby" as opposed to the human rights violations themselves. Moreover, I agreed with Jeffrey Goldberg that there was something disconcerting about the way the "Israel Lobby" was being referred to in the part of the world where the discourse surrounding it is less "group with outsized influence" and more "Zionist puppet-masters controlling the world". But by and large, I thought the controversy was overblown.

I am more concerned about this expose (via) of Joe Stork, a top official in the Mideast bureau of HRW. Stork opposes "Zionism" writ large, wanted to abolish Israel, attacked "Academic neutrality" as "deceitful", and wrote of the Munich massacre:
“Munich and similar actions cannot create or substitute for a mass revolutionary movement,” the statement said, “But we should comprehend the achievement of the Munich action…It has provided an important boost in morale among Palestinians in the camps.”

This is completely antithetical to the notion of human rights and the impartiality that HRW (claims it) strives to achieve.* Even if Stork has moderated his views (and the indication is that he has, but only from extreme to marginal), this is the sort of history that at the very least should have raised some serious red flags to hiring him. I have difficulty believing that there is not anybody in the whole wide world who a) is qualified to do human rights analysis and b) isn't loaded with this sort of baggage.

HRW's role is not to pick fights and flaunt its independence from the pro-Israel lobby. It's job is to be a fair and objective advocate for human rights the world over (including Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East). Obviously sometimes the latter may involve actions resembling the former. But they are distinct, and Ms. Whitson's statements in Saudi Arabia, and the hiring of Mr. Stork, are signs that it might be mistaking them in terms of equivalency and primacy. And that would be something worth worrying about.

* UPDATE: David Bernstein contextualizes the statement on the Munich massacre (which was a collective editorial by his organization). He notes that the statement did say it was unjustified, though it engages in several apologetics for it and reiterates that, naturally, Israel is worse.

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