on HRW by HRW founder Robert Bernstein in today's NYT op-ed page is pretty thin. He says that recently the organization "has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state."
Yes, it's true that HRW has put out more research on Israel than it has on other countries in the region. It's hard to imagine that Bernstein really doesn't know the basics of how this works. There's not as much research you can put out about the most closed countries. You can't just send someone to North Korea and have them bop around. And so, yes, Israel and other open countries end up being 'penalized' for being open, as more specific research on their actions can be conducted and released.
This is not a new point. And it's mitigated by HRW's repeated statements that the amount of paper it puts out on a country does not reflect an assessment of the total wrong a country commits. It never has been and probably never will be. It's hard to imagine Bernstein doesn't actually get this.
If anything, the amount of research that HRW has been able to accomplish in non-Democratic and/or semi-closed states in the Middle East is extremely impressive. Their library of recent docs on the region is here
. Surely Bernstein is familiar with some of the organization's work on Libya
As for what exactly Bernstein finds wrong in HRW's reporting on Israel of late, he offers this:
In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers. Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
That's it? Not a single specific fact that HRW reported that Bernstein even wants to question?
Of course there's no access to the battlefield. There never is. The way Human Rights Watch conducts its research in Israel is... the way Human Rights Watch conducts its research everywhere. Which is, to say, using witness testimonies and physical evidence. Can you trust a single witness? Of course not. That's why you talk to a lot of them, and assess their credibility.
Bernstein suggests that absent access to the battlefield and to senior leaders of the country in question, it is "extremely difficult" to make a determination that war crimes were committed. This is absurd. By that logic, we can't tell that the Sudanese government has killed a few hundred thousand people in Darfur, because HRW researchers weren't there to see the killing with their own eyes, and haven't (I'm assuming) interviewed top Sudanese officials.
As for Col. Kemp, good for him. But that's not how we judge the evidence of the case -- quoting a secondary source. If Kemp actually has any specific refutations of HRW's research, I'd be interested to hear them. I don't know if he does. Bernstein certainly doesn't provide them.
What we're left with is a flashy op-ed with broad claims and little evidence.