Guardian

Whitaker Defends Human Rights Watch


Since Tuesday, the blogosphere has been alight with revelations that Mark Garlasco,  Human Rights Watch’s senior military advisor, is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.

While being such a collector and actually being a Nazi sympathizer are not necessarily synonymous, one really has to wonder in the case of Garlasco who has written a 430 page book on flak badges, has had rather dubious conversations online and is photographed proudly wearing a sweatshirt bearing the iron cross. As Lucy Lips over at Harry’s Place said quoting the Elder of Ziyon:

Spin it as you want, there is something unpleasant and unnerving about Garlasco’s focus on Israel and his fixation with Nazi iconography. The Elder of Ziyon puts it well:

“It is extraordinarily bad taste and truly offensive that the same person who habitually castigates the Jewish state to a worldwide audience has a creepy obsession with the symbols of those who tried to destroy all Jews.”

It is against this background, one day after the Garlasco story broke, that Brian Whitaker, commissioning editor of Comment is Free, interjected himself on a Seth Freedman thread discussing a B’tselem report by challenging a (now deleted) post by FoolMeOnce as follows:

09 Sep 09, 4:37pm

One of HRW’s major financial backers is… wait for it… Saudi Arabia.

FoolMeOnce: No it’s not. You should read your links properly.

Now we don’t have a copy of FoolMeOnce’s post or the links that Whitaker referred to because the moderators deleted the comment (now there’s a surprise!) but from Whitaker’s response, it appears that FoolMeOnce was referring to the controversy surrounding Human Rights Watch’s alleged attempts to solicit funds from wealthy Saudi Arabians by highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel.

Indeed, Sabraguy picked up on this and stated the following:

BrianWhit

You grace us with your presence on this thread to protest that Saudi Arabia is not a financial backer of Human Rights Watch.

However, Arab News reported that Hassan Elmasry, a member of HRW’s International Board of Directors has been attempting to solicit funds in Saudi.

“We call businessmen in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world to support HRW by sending donations,” Elmasry said.

They aslo report that HRW presented a documentary to the Saudis and

spoke on the report they compiled on Israel violating human rights and international law during its war on Gaza earlier this year.

I guess it would be OK then for HRW to solicit funds in Israel by bragging about the human rights abuses they document in Arab countries?

To which Whitaker responded as follows:

Sabraguy:

There’s a big different between collecting donations from individual Saudis and from the Saudi government. The commenter’s post was intended to smear HRW by claiming it’s heavily dependent on Saudi government funds – which is obviously rubbish.

Funny that because if you read what Human Rights Watch says itself regarding its visit to Saudi Arabia,

[t]he roughly 50 guests at the reception in Riyadh included three with governmental affiliations: the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior; the deputy head of the Human Rights Commission, a governmental organization; and a member of the Shura Council, a government-appointed consultative body.

Now HRW does go on to say that none of those government affiliated persons were ever solicited for funds but then contradicts itself by admitting that at the reception it  “did ask for funds to support Human Rights Watch’s work both in the region and worldwide.” And in any case as Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor observes “its only defense has been an absurd attempt to cast a distinction between soliciting Saudi officials and prominent members of society who owe their very position to the regime.”

Anyway, Whitaker’s defense of Human Rights Watch does not end there. The next day, Whitaker makes the following statement in response to, yes you guessed it, another deleted comment, this time by MiltonKeenest:

Are you suggesting that HRW is not heavily biased against Israel?

MiltonKeenest:
Yes. HRW, by the nature of its work, gets complaints from all sides – which probably demonstrates that it is doing its job quite well. In the Arab countries people complain that HRW is a pro-Israel organisation.

Come again. Is Whitaker really suggesting that Human Rights Watch is not heavily biased against Israel because people in the Arab world claim it is a “pro-Israel organisation”. The likes of Norman Finkelstein and Jonathan Cook also harbor similar beliefs about Human Rights Watch, but do we really take what they say at face value?

And its not as if the Garlasco affair and the Saudi financing scandal have occured in isolation. Human Rights Watch’s bias against Israel is well documented, for example, here, here, here and here.

Anyway, coming back to Whitaker’s intervention on the Freedman thread. You’ve really got to wonder what it is that motivates him to run to the defense of Human Rights Watch in the knee jerk manner that he did – yes he may have been responding to what he perceived as factual inaccuracies or exaggerations but it is not as if that doesn’t happen all the time in I/P threads. And this is certainly not the first time that Whitaker has intervened in an I/P thread so obtusely (see our recent post “How Low Will They Go? Pro-Israel Posters Accused of Being on Israeli Government Payroll“.

It seems to me that Whitaker has a certain sensitivity to uncomfortable truths being exposed by “pro-Israel” groups when it comes to those organizations that are dear to his heart. But heh I’m just speculating.

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51 replies »

  1. Here is something proving that Garlasco absolutely knew he was doing something contrary to his work ethos: The problem is, Garlasco is lying: as he got ready to publish his book, he turned to his fellow-collectors on http://www.germancombatawards.com to post the following query :

    Flak88: So I am trying to figure out what to do. My book is clsoe to done, but I am not sure if I should put my name on it. If folks at work found out I might very well lose my job. That is the reality, so dont dwell on it – ok? But this is a small group of people – should I worry? And shouldnt I stand up for myself? And if I use a psyeudonym isnt that worse, like I am trying to hide something?

    (this is a cut and paste from Petra’s posting on the Garlasco’s thread for those who didn’t see it there)