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October 27, 2009

Kenneth Roth Admits to Human Rights Watch Disporportionate Focus on Israel

human rights watch

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has finally admitted to disproportionately focusing on Israel. Oddly enough, he made the admission in the third paragraph of his Op-Ed in Ha'aretz, just after rejecting the allegation that his organization disproportionately focuses on Israel.

Confused? (Perhaps that what Roth wanted?) Have a look at the relevant paragraphs:

Critics of Human Rights Watch's work on Israel raise three main points. First, they say we disproportionately focus on Israel, and neglect other countries in the Middle East. Second, they claim our research methodology is flawed - relying on witnesses with an agenda. Third, as recently expressed by our founding chairman Robert Bernstein, they argue that we should focus on "closed" countries such as China rather than "open" societies like Israel.

I reject all three claims.

Human Rights Watch currently works on seventeen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of our published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of our total budget. Israel is a small fraction of what we do.

Got that? HRW works on seventeen Middle Eastern and North African countries. These include not only the most obvious offenders mentioned by Roth — Iran, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia — but also other far-from-skilled practitioners of human rights like Yemen, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Lebanon, Bahrain. (You can learn some more about those countries' records here.)

Let's do the math together:

• One divided by seventeen is .058, or roughly six percent.
• The 15 percent of HRW's published output from the region that Roth admits is devoted to Israel is toweringly greater than than the six percent that would go to Israel were all countries in proportion.

And there we have disproportion.

Add to this the fact that the other countries in the region include, for example, this country as described by the US State Department:

Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. Domestic violence against women and children persisted, as did discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect, especially against the Shia majority population. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of expatriate workers remained problems.

And this one:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; beatings; judicially sanctioned corporal punishment; impunity, particularly on the part of the religious police; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; incommunicado detention; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; corruption; and lack of government transparency. Violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. The sponsorship system limited the rights of foreign workers and remained a severe problem.

And this one:

The government restricted citizens' right to change their government. Domestic and international NGOs reported cases of torture, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and the continuance of poor prison conditions. Impunity, denial of due process of law, and limited judicial independence remained problems. Infringements on citizens' privacy rights continued. The government harassed religious activists and opposition political party members and restricted to varying degrees freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Legal and societal discrimination existed against women, converts from Islam, and persons of Palestinian origin. Restrictions on labor rights and abuse of foreign domestic workers remained problems.

The list could go on, making clear that HRW's obsessive criticism of Israel is not only out of proportion to the country's position as one among seventeen other regional states, but also well out of proportion to the countries' human rights records.

(The organization's disingenuous attempts to defend its record are hardly new. See, e.g., here.)

Posted by GI at October 27, 2009 09:32 AM


This is the silliest bit of writing on the subject to-date. Mathmatical analysis of a speech? I have become increasingly frustrated with the way so many of the articles and blog posts have approached this HRW/Israel topic. Why doesn't someone simply go and count the number of HRW Israel reports and do some sort of comparison against how HRW reports on the region and/or the world? HRW has everything online and it seems like a no brainer. Analyzing a speech? You must be joking!

Posted by: junkstar at October 27, 2009 01:24 PM

So wait. In the same press release, Mr. Roth stated that 5% of Human Right's Watches budget goes to the Middle East. So if 15% of that goes towards work on Israel, therefore it would stand that only 0.75% of HRW's budget goes towards Israel. If Human Rights Watch works on 80 countries (as they claim), then shouldn't Israel represent 1/80th or 1.25% of the total activity of the organization?
GI, wouldn't you then agree that by the same logic, HRW's under-budgeting of it's Israel compared to the other countries on which it works would represent a bias in FAVOR or Israel? Or is your accusation of disproportion only relevant when Israel related work is less then the exact percentage you think it should be? (Which, according to you should be 6% of HRW's Middle East work.)

Posted by: Jay at October 27, 2009 01:29 PM

Why would we assume that he is telling the truth about HRW's resource allocation when he has been so dishonest about everything else. This year alone HRW has published several lengthy reports about the Gaza operation. Let's see those other reports on Middle East countries. How many thick HRW reports are there focusing specifically on the conflict in Yemen, where 250,000 civilians are now displaced in open camps and thousands of civilians have been killed in air strikes and other attacks by the government and by the Saudi air force? What is the tone of these reports by HRW, do they condemn the government and side with the rebels, do they refuse to accept government explanations and believe only rebel claims? These are rhetorical questions since the answers are already known.

Posted by: steve at October 27, 2009 01:55 PM

There seems to be a bit of confusion about what's being said here. To clarify:

Junkstar, you ask why someone doesn't simply go and count the number of HRW Israel reports and compare that to the group's reports on the region as a whole. That's exactly what Roth purports to do in this Op-Ed. And by his own count, he disproportionally focuses on Israel. That's the point of the blog post -- yes, it is an analysis of Roth's claim in this Op-Ed. But if you don't trust Roth's numbers, then feel free to look at this independent count of HRW's output:

Jay, interesting thought, but you might want to rethink your problematic extrapolations and assumptions. Even if one were to accept your questionable assumption on the significance of HRW's budget (as opposed to their output), your numbers don't accurately reflect the proportion of HRW money that goes toward Israel vs. other countries.

Roth says that the Middle East and North Africa division budget is 5 percent of HRW's "total budget." It is. But in order to compare the HRW Israel budget relative to its budget "compared to other countries" -- that's your language -- you can't include in the equation things like their fundraising costs (20 percent of their budget), and the cost of their NYC headquarters at 350 Fifth Avenue (i.e. the Empire State Building).

Better to compare the cost of their "program services" in Israel to their total budget for "program services" across the world. For the sake of argument, then, let's accept your (very questionable) assumption that 15 of published output in the Mideast region takes up 15 percent of the region's budget. That would mean $338,769 goes toward Israel. This amounts to about 2 percent of the $17,680,731 that they devote to program services in world regions (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and United States). If you actually believe that 1.25% toward would be the fair sum, then you'd still have a disproportionate amount of their budget going to Israel programs. For what it's worth.

Posted by: GI at October 27, 2009 02:39 PM

In what percentage of countries has HRW hired a collector of Nazi memorabilia to evaluate their alleged crimes?

Posted by: Oskar at October 27, 2009 02:52 PM

Freud was right! & this wasn't just a slip - it was a whole ballgown! Thank you, Camera, for being on the ball!

Posted by: Susan at October 29, 2009 05:44 PM

As idiotic as Human Rights Watch can be, I was glad to see that the group recently condemned Hamas. I wrote them a letter of thanks for this. I think its important that we give positive reinforcement to groups like Human Rights Watch when it is appropriate. Otherwise they will just give up and say to themselves, "Nothing we do will satisfy the damn Jews."

Posted by: Guy at October 31, 2009 04:13 PM

This analysis is absurd. So what if there are more reports on Israel than there are on Saudia Arabia. There are good reasons for that and it shouldn't surprise anyone. Proportionate doesn't mean equal.

Posted by: Edward at November 1, 2009 02:21 AM

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