Reuters / March 30, 2023
GENEVA – Israel’s government is “on a rampage” against human rights, the new head of Human Rights Watch said on Thursday and urged the United States and other allies to do more to hold it accountable for alleged abuses and persuade it to change course.
A planned overhaul of the judiciary by Israel’s religious-nationalist government would be “a disaster” for human rights, HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan told Reuters.
She called on Washington to follow through after it issued a rare reproach over the move.
“With the current state of the Israeli government and the attacks on the judiciary in particular, we see that this is not a human rights-compliant government,” Hassan said.
“This is a government that’s actually on a rampage against human rights domestically against its own people in Israel…”
The chief spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Lior Haiat, said: “This is an amazing example of how biased she and the organization are.
“Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy. The demonstrators over the last few months are an impressive example of it. Hundreds of thousands of people are manifesting in the streets. No violence. Protected by the police. This is how a real democracy works.
“It is yet another example of an organization that targets Israel on anything, without a minimum understanding or fairness. So sad.”
The government’s plan to enable parliament to override Supreme Court decisions and control judicial appointments has triggered some of the biggest street protests in Israeli history, with critics calling the move a threat to democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters say the plans would ensure a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary and not endanger individual and minority rights.
Earlier this week Netanyahu paused legislative steps to implement the plan and has begun talks with the political opposition on a compromise.
Hassan, a lawyer who has represented asylum seekers, said she hoped U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration would “leverage their relationship and their power to ensure that Israel sort of steps back from the brink which is where they are now when it comes to human rights.
“We expect the U.S. … to be holding Israel to account for abuses with the same rigor that they are prepared to hold China to account for their abuses,” she added.
Human Rights Watch labelled Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the decades-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank as “apartheid” in a 2021 report.
Some pro-Israel groups, including prominent Jewish organisations in the United States, have said HRW and other rights groups have shown bias against Israel in their reporting.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported a record 152 killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and said Jewish settler violence against Palestinians had also intensified.
The increased Israeli army operations followed an upsurge in attacks by Palestinians over the past year in which at least 45 people have been killed, according to Israeli foreign ministry figures.
In separate comments at a meeting at the United Nations in Geneva on Thursday, Francesca Albanese, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories said the situation there was deteriorating.
“I’ve seen increasing forms of humiliation and indignities that are imposed on the Palestinians, a strengthening of the suffocating architecture..,” she said.
Reporting by Emma Farge with additional reporting by Maytaal Angel and Dan Williams, editing by Mark Heinrich and Howard Goller