HRW to Jewish donors: "Everything's under control. Trust us."

January 30, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

It is quite revealing to contrast two presentations made by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during the recent slaughter in Gaza at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC.

Zahir Janmohamed, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, spoke on January 15th; Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW, spoke on January 22nd.

Janmohamed was quite straight forward: “…we should not be shy about using the term war crime. These are important terms that we have to use. These are war crimes. We should call them war crimes. …war crimes, collective punishment, crimes against humanity–they have very specific definitions, and there’s abundant evidence in the current crisis. We’ve witnessed all of them.”(p. 7)

On the other hand, Stork was obviously on a rather short leash and talked almost exclusively about the blockade: “…I brought along a document which I’m going to circulate. …What the document does… is it looks at a number of different sectors [health, food, water, sewage and electricity or power]… And then, it takes each of these sectors and looks at the situation in three categories [affects of blockade, affects of fighting, and violations in international humanitarian law in each sector (health, food, etc.)]. …I don’t think I’m going to say anything today, at least not in my remarks, that isn’t in there.”(pp. 1-2)

HRW’s recent anxiety over appeasing ‘pro’-Israel donors has been noted by various observers, so it was interesting to see this from AI: “…as a human rights organization, unfortunately, we ourselves are sometimes not as strong as we should be, to put it mildly. And when this conflict happened, we wrote a very strong letter to Secretary Rice, unusually strong for Amnesty where we said the US should cease arms transfers to Israel, which is something we generally do not say. We also said the US should condemn the lackadaisical response. In response to that email we sent out, we thought, ‘Oh my God! Donors will get upset. They’ll stop joining Amnesty. They’ll cancel their memberships.’ We actually got the most amount of donations from that one email in all of 2008. …I was excited about the money because it shows that there are people, our major donors, who are eager to see us do more work like this. But again, it has to come from just taking those bold steps…”(p. 8)

Zahir Janmohamed
“The Gaza offensive and the laws of war”
Palestine Center Transcript No. 307 (23 January 2009)

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Joe Stork
“Deprived and endangered in Gaza”
Palestine Center Transcript No. 308 (26 January 2009)