Thursday, October 25, 2018

  • Thursday, October 25, 2018
  • Elder of Ziyon
By Petra Marquardt-Bigman

When HRW was schmoozing with the Saudis

What a difference a few months can make… Sarah Leah Whitson – who is the executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch – is now raging against Saudi Arabia. You can find countless examples of her fury on her Twitter feed.

But just a few months ago, Whitson apparently felt that the Saudis (and other repressive Arab regimes) could make great allies against Israel.

Back in the merry month of May, Whitson quoted a tweet by Jordan’s foreign minister condemning Israel’s response to the Gaza riots and added the comment: “Your turn @AdelAljubeir and @abzayed and @mfaEgypt -- have any firm words for your ally @Netanyahu and his open fire policies that allow this massacre to unfold?”

The people she tagged as contemptible ‘allies’ of Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu included Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Aljubeir and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed as well as Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It clearly didn’t matter to Whitson that these countries have dismal human rights records – she would have been only too happy if they joined her to bash the Jewish state for defending its borders from violent mobs incited by Gaza’s Islamist rulers.

Just like Whitson has changed her tune on the Saudis, her boss Ken Roth is by now also sure that they really deserve to be shunned. As he commented disapprovingly on a recent report about brisk business at a Saudi investment conference: “Shame, shame, shame. What people won’t do for money.”

Well, less than a decade ago – when the Saudi human rights record was hardly better than now – one could have said: “Shame, shame, shame. What Human Rights Watch won’t do for money.”

It’s worthwhile checking out this superb post by Jeffrey Goldberg from 2009 on “Fundraising Corruption at Human Rights Watch.”

Goldberg notes that he first found it hard to believe a report which claimed “that Human Rights Watch officials went trolling for dollars in Saudi Arabia, and that the organization’s senior Middle East official, Sarah Leah Whitson, attempted to extract money from potential Saudi donors by bragging about the group’s ‘battles’ with the ‘pro-Israel pressure groups.’” As Goldberg put it back then: “this allegation, if proven true, would cast serious doubt on whether Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division could ever fairly judge Israel again.”

Goldberg then recounted his efforts to find out whether the allegation was true, and he posted his astonishing email exchanges with Ken Roth, who did everything humanly possible to avoid answering Goldberg questions.

In the end, Goldberg managed to get Ken Roth to admit that his organization had indeed tried to solicit Saudi donations by highlighting HRW reports on Israel and by claiming that Israel’s supporters “fight back with lies and deception.”

Well, that was probably a very worthwhile fundraising effort in a country that had long made sure that “modern-day Muslim readers have at their disposal the whole gamut of Nazi antisemitic mythology and iconography.”

Shame, shame, shame. What Human Rights Watch won’t do for money.

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