JTA Published: 03/22/2007
For State Department, reliance on NGOs saps report's credibility
By Gerald Steinberg
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The annual U.S. State Department report on human rights are important in documenting systematic violations in Darfur, China, Iran, Russia and elsewhere.
For this reason, the lack of credibility and professionalism reflected in the chapter on "Israel and the Occupied Territories" in the publication for 2006 (released March 6) is particularly disturbing, and seriously undermines the credibility of the rest of the report. While the State Department's version recognizes the context of terror and the legitimacy of Israeli self-defense, and is far more balanced than the farcical United Nations reports, this publication is still highly flawed.
The main reason is the almost total reliance on allegations made by the large number of non-governmental organizations active in this conflict zone. Instead of doing their own research on these complex human rights issues, the authors of this report in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem (on the Palestinians) and in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv (on Israeli actions) parrot the claims of highly political NGOs.
Groups such as Adalah, Mossawa, HaMoked, B'Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Human Rights Watch are the real authors of this chapter. With the exception of HRW, these NGOs are funded by European governments, radical church groups and similar donors.
As NGO Monitor's carefully referenced and detailed studies show, these NGOs follow a highly politicized agenda that views the Palestinians as perennial victims and Israel as guilty of "war crimes," "racism" and "violations of international law." These organizations apply double standards that single out and demonize Israel, following the strategy adopted at the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.
This strategy includes false allegations of human rights abuses, selective or distorted interpretations of international law and use of inflammatory rhetoric. These groups cannot be considered "reputable international organizations" or "credible NGOs," as the State Department claims.
For example, the 2006 report includes numerous references to petitions brought to the Israeli judicial system on behalf of Palestinian groups or individuals by "reputable NGOs." Many of these are dismissed -- as in the case of PCATI's case against targeted killings aimed at Palestinian terrorist leaders -- but the main result is to influence public opinion by reinforcing the image of Israel as guilty of "war crimes."
The political biases that underlie these NGOs' activities and distort their factual claims and interpretations of international law are very visible. Mossawa and Adalah routinely refer to Israel as "racist" and call for changing the Israeli flag and national anthem, "abolishing the Jewish elements of Israel" and implementing a "right of return" for millions of Palestinians claiming refugee status.
And PCATI is the sole source for the State Department claim that the Israel Security Agency used "torture" in 20 percent of its interrogations. No evidence or sources are provided, and the report failed to note that members of PCATI's staff and board campaign for radical causes, such as the "Free Tali Fahima" campaign. Fahima was convicted for assisting Zakaria Zubeidi, a Palestinian terrorist and head of the Al-Aksa Brigades in Jenin.
HRW is another example of a powerful NGO that lacks credibility and balance on Israel. The State Department report repeats HRW statements that "claimed that between May 30 and June 20, IDF forces attacked Palestinian medical emergency personnel on at least six separate occasions in Gaza, including two attacks by missile-firing drone aircraft."
HRW's reports are based on "eyewitness testimony" of Palestinians and selected journalists, and strip away both the context and the numerous examples in which Palestinians have used medical vehicles and clothing in terror attacks. HRW's blatantly false reports during last summer's war with Hezbollah, including the claim to have found "no cases" of Hezbollah activity during its investigations, further lower this organization's credibility.
In many places, the language of the State Department report imitates the rhetoric of the anti-Israel NGO network. Atomic spy Mordechai Vanunu is incorrectly termed a "whistleblower," adopting the term used by Amnesty International and other groups. A "whistleblower" reveals illegal behavior by others, while Vanunu acted illegally in revealing sensitive national security information. Such actions are illegal under U.S. law, and the report's characterization reflects the double standards applied to Israel that have been copied from NGOs.
These and other flaws in this report do not mean that Israel should be immune from criticism for real violations of human rights when they occur. In responding to terror, Israelis, Americans and others make mistakes and should be held accountable.
But this objective is inconsistent with the exploitation of human rights for demonization and political warfare by politicized NGOs, and the U.S. State Department should not be part of this process.
Gerald Steinberg is executive director of NGO Monitor and heads the program on Conflict Management at Bar Ilan University.
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