Why has Human Rights Watch teamed up with Israeli warmongers?

David Cronin

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 27, 2020

Logic dictates that Human Rights Watch should call for a boycott of Israel.

Israel has, after all, taken a hostile stance toward the organization, even expelling its representative Omar Shakir.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, acknowledged a few months ago that Israel is not likely to stop oppressing Palestinians unless it comes under “much greater international pressure.”

While that message seems to be clear, the position of Human Rights Watch is actually quite muddled.

Human Rights Watch has argued that businesses have a duty to pull out from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. But the group has also emphasized that it doesn’t advocate a boycott of Israel, the state actually building those settlements.

Even worse, Human Rights Watch is in a partnership of sorts with at least one Israeli institution that encourages violence against Palestinians.

The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC Herzliya) – an Israeli university – is participating in a $5.5 million European Union-funded “rule of law” project called Reconnect.

Lotte Leicht, head of the Human Rights Watch office in Brussels, sits on the project’s advisory board.

When I asked Leicht for a comment, she claimed that joining the board “does not involve any dealings with the individual academic institutions” taking part in the project.

That is a poor excuse.

Regardless of whether she is in contact with the IDC Herzliya, Leicht is still helping a project from which that college benefits. Her involvement also implies Human Rights Watch’s endorsement of the project.

By taking part, she has ignored appeals from Palestinians for a boycott of Israeli institutions.

Rebuffing an oppressed people is hardly a good look for a human rights worker.

Assisting crimes

Through careful investigations, Human Rights Watch has produced vital evidence about Israel’s crimes against humanity. So why is it, to all intents and purposes, teaming up with an Israeli university that assists those crimes?

The IDC Herzliya is located on a former Israeli army base. That is of more than symbolic significance because the university has provided support to Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

When Israel undertook massive offensives against Gaza in 2012 and 2014, the IDC Herzliya opened a social media “war room.” The keyboard warriors who staffed it flooded Facebook with comments seeking to spin an aggressive military operation as defensive.

The IDC Herzliya organizes events featuring some of the most obnoxious figures in Israeli politics. Visitors to the university lately have included Tzipi Livni, who – as foreign minister at the time – demanded that Israeli troops display “real hooliganism” while invading Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009.

Avigdor Lieberman, who – as defense minister at the time – applauded the 2018 massacres of unarmed protesters in Gaza spoke at the same conference as Livni.

Crackdown on dissent

Others have used speeches at the university to argue that Israel should become even more vicious toward Palestinians than it already is.

Avi Dichter, who previously led Israel’s secret police the Shin Bet, was a guest at the IDC Herzliya in September. He recommended a ground invasion of Gaza that would last up to three years.

The Reconnect project is being financed through Horizon 2020, the EU’s scientific research program. Among its stated objectives is assessing “the extent to which democracy and the rule of law fail to resonate with EU citizens.”

Perhaps these principles might start to resonate a little if the European Union ceased funding Israeli institutions that clearly do not care about them.

In 2018, the IDC Herzliya published a paper recommending that the Israeli military should seriously consider “a return to the policy of targeted killings” it employed during the second intifada.

“Targeted killings” is a euphemism for extrajudicial executions or assassinations – a practice that tramples on the rule of law.

The IDC Herzliya is one of the main bodies behind Act.IL, probably the favorite mobile phone app among Israel’s apologists.

That app has become a major tool in Israel’s crackdown on dissent.

When Omar Shakir from Human Rights Watch was deported by Israel in November, Act.IL instructed its users to “like” tweets backing his deportation.

This means that the IDC Herzliya has declared as its enemy those who want to hold Israel accountable.

Why has Human Rights Watch teamed up with an institution that wants it destroyed?

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; His books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation.