I will be putting together a round-up of the media coverage from last week’s Human Rights Under Fire: A Jewish Call to Action, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America’s Third Conference on Judaism and Human Rights soon, but I want to isolate out some of the hate-filled and right-wing propaganda coverage of our conference and look specifically at what our detractors had to say.
politicalmavens.com, a blog started by a “rabbinical school graduate” (Wall Street Journal) Binyamin L. Jolkovsky (I assume that makes him a rabbi) who also founded Jewish World Review, a conservative news website, had a negative piece about our conference.
It surprises me to some extent that Jolkovsky, is in his description of politicalmavens.com, wrote:
“As a former rabbinical student who spent years studying the Talmud, I know a thing or two about debate. Pursuing Truth and truth is not about zingers or implied accusations. It’s about ideas – right as well as wrong. It’s about informed analysis rather than speculation. And, most importantly, it’s about being passionate. The goal of PoliticalMavens.com is to serve as a forum of enlightenment in an effort to clarify one’s thinking.”
The rabbis heard voices of ignorant xenophobia in the objectors’ reservations about placing a mosque close by the killing field where thousands of Americans were murdered in the name of jihad. There is no mention of anyone at the conference objecting to the strident anti-humanist voices of jihad, nor to the willful refusal of the Mosque’s Imam to condemn Muslim terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Among the awards conferred by the Rabbis for Human Rights was one to Aryeh Neier, president of George Soros’ Open Society Institute. George Finkler [Finklers, according to Penn, are "Jews who are 'ASHamed'...of Israel's sins against humanity and form a group to protest, demonstrate, remonstrate, boycott and do whatever possible to undermine Israel and Zionists (alias Jews)."], oops, Soros is the man who contributed 100 million dollars to Human Rights Watch, an organization that gentler anti-semites acknowledge is as obsessed with pursuing Israel’s wrong-doing as if it were a Jewish whale called Moby Kike. In a part of the world where stoning, amputation, clitorectomy and decapitation are state laws instead of crimes, the democratic state of Israel is singled out reflexively by the ever vigilant guardians of that organization. Soros, a Finkler himself, has never disguised his comprehensive disdain for the tiny country that has assimilated immigrants from every inhabited continent and given them the dignity of sustenance and education that are implicit in our understanding of human rights…
How proud the Finklers must have been to hear those words and how abashed the rest of us should be as Jews once again perversely embrace the seedlings of their own self-destruction.”
Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and I personally think highly of the work of Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute. I am disturbed that these organizations, along with George Soros, Areyeh Neier, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, Rabbi Joy Levitt, Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf have come under such vitriolic attacks.
Over at NGO Monitor, Executive Director Gerald M. Steinberg, took some similar pot shots at the conference and several of the speakers and co-sponsoring organizations.
NGO Monitor says about itself:
The aim of NGO Monitor is to provide information and analysis, in order to challenge such interpretations and the perceptions that have been built up by fostering a comprehensive debate on these critical issues…The aim of NGO Monitor, as outlined in the mission statement, is to generate and distribute critical analysis and reports on the output of the international NGO community for the benefit of government policy makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public. We intend to publicize distortions of human rights issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict and provide information and context for the benefit of NGOs working in the Middle East. We hope this will lead to an informed public debate on the role of humanitarian NGOs.
NGO Monitor’s objective is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated agendas.
Personally, my biggest concern about NGO Monitor and Gerald M. Steinberg is their attempts to thwart Israeli civil society by lobbying for legislation that seeks to silence and cut off funding to critics of the Israeli government’s human rights practices; I also fault NGO Monitor for not being transparent about their own funding sources when this is one of their major critiques of other NGOs. Watchdog practices from the right need not be entirely underhanded; fact checking, when done properly and without a political agenda, can improve the quality control of the human rights community and the media.
The truth of the matter is that our Israeli colleagues at Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) don’t fair so poorly in the eyes of NGO Monitor in comparison to many of their peer Israeli human rights organizations, but in their review of RHR, NGO Monitor does nevertheless resort to besmirching the organization using tactics such as guilt by association and harping on criticism of well respected foundations and foreign governments’ aid agencies.
Other organizations and thought leaders like Jewish Voice for Peace’s MuzzleWatch, New Israel Fund’s campaign Who Is Monitoring NGO Monitor?, The Electronic Intifada and journalist/blogger Didi Remez have more thorough critiques of NGO Monitor if you are interested in learning more.
Turning our attention to what Steinberg had to say about the RHR-NA conference, in Human Rights vs. Delegitimization: A Jewish Inquiry, he wrote:
What does Jewish tradition have to say about morality and human rights in the complexities of modern asymmetric warfare, whether in Gaza or Afghanistan? When does the discussion of human rights slide into the political and ideological debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations, peace efforts, and American politics? And how do serious criticisms of responses to mass terror degenerate into attacks that seek to delegitimize Israel, the US, and Western democracies?
Unfortunately, a conference under the banner of “Human Rights Under Fire: A Jewish call to action,” scheduled to be held in New York from December 5 to 7, is unlikely to include significant discussion on these important questions. The event, sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights (North America), covers a wide spectrum of issues, from Guantanamo, “the crisis in East Jerusalem” and even ”spirituality and human rights.” But with the speakers and topics reflecting a narrow ideological perspective, there is no basis for complex debates or introspection on the serious critiques of the human rights community.
Steinberg goes on to single out Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, for the organization’s acceptance of funding from George Soros, for Ratner’s personal stance on boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and for Ratner’s association with Jewish Voice for Peace (which came under similar attacks in his opinion piece). Steinberg’s attacks on Ratner’s participation in the conference seem particularly misplaced because Ratner was invited to be a panelist about indefinite detention without charge within US custody and did not speak Israel at all.
Next on Steinberg’s hit list was Human Rights Watch (HRW) for its human rights research and reporting on Israel (among other complaint he’s leveled at the organization over the years). He came after conference speakers from B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund and the Open Society Institute; Steinberg wrote: “Their affiliations and records reinforce the dominant political agenda. And as in the case of HRW, the evidence of bias, false allegations, double standards and other forms of anti-human rights behavior by these organizations are unlikely to be raised.”
I am happy and proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, New Israel Fund and the Open Society Institute any day. No matter what right-wing spin-doctors, abuse apologists, xenophobes or bigots have to say, these are vital organizations that fight for justice, democracy, peace and health.