Tag Archives: HRW

Why Jamal Khashoggi’s Islamism matters

Would Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul be any less horrific if it were more widely acknowledged that he was indeed an Islamist? It seems that’s how a lot of people feel – and if you disagree, you risk being denounced as a fanatic right-wing supporter of Trump and a cynical apologist for the cruel and oppressive Saudis regime.

I’m not a Trump supporter, and I would find it very hard to think of anything good to say about the Saudi royals. But I also can’t quite see the political wisdom of reducing Khashoggi to the last year of his life and pretending that he was just some sort of liberal Saudi dissident who was writing op-eds for the Washington Post. What I do see instead is that these efforts to whitewash Khashoggi’s political views inevitably benefit the Islamists with whom he spent the last days of his life.

It’s true that – as a CNN article put it – “Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist, not a jihadist,” but it’s also true that Khashoggi collaborated to his last day with people who advocate jihad and that he was quite open about his support for the Hamas jihad against Israel.

When the news about Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul first broke, I noticed that many of the reports featured a photo showing Khashoggi in front of a banner advertising the Middle East Monitor (MEMO). From my work on anti-Israel activism and anti-Semitism, I knew what MEMO is, and I started to wonder why a Washington Post columnist would associate himself  with a disreputable Islamist organization like MEMO.

Khashoggi tweets MEMO                  

As it turned out, Khashoggi spent his last weekend in London, visiting his old Islamist comrade Azzam Tamimi and attending a conference organized by MEMO. While this fact has been noted in some media reports, there has been a marked reluctance to acknowledge the fact that MEMO is a British news site notorious for its “pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance.” As British antisemitism researchers have pointed out, MEMO frequently promotes “conspiracy theories” about Jewish or Zionist machinations as well as “other classical antisemitic canards and tropes.”

So the main benefit of getting your news from MEMO is that you quickly realize that whenever something bad happens in the Middle East, it’s the fault of the evil and illegitimate Jewish state – indeed, at MEMO, even Khashoggi’s disappearance can somehow be connected to Israel.

As Khashoggi certainly knew, MEMO is part of an extensive network of groups and organizations that was patiently built up based on an initiative first conceived in 2003 by two former al-Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia. In 2009, one of the groups affiliated with the network attracted critical attention with its so-called “Istanbul Declaration” which reflects an event with the Orwellian title “Global Anti-Aggression Campaign” where reportedly “speaker after speaker called for jihad against Israel in support of Hamas.”

MEMO director Daud Abdullah was one of the signatories of the “Istanbul Declaration.”

Abdullah is reportedly also “a leader of the Brotherhood-linked British Muslim Initiative.” A decade ago, he faced sharp criticism for insisting that the Muslim Council of Britain should boycott Holocaust Memorial Day.

It would be hard to overstate how much MEMO has benefitted from the free advertisement provided by prestigious media outlets that cited its association with Khashoggi without divulging its political agenda.  

MEMO cleverly seized the opportunity to further enhance its completely undeserved legitimation by organizing a memorial event for Khashoggi at the end of October. MEMO director Daud Abdullah opened the event which was live-streamed by the Washington Post. Senior Human Rights Watch official Sarah Leah Whitson also saw fit to legitimize MEMO by attending this event and promoting it energetically to her almost 50,000 followers on Twitter.

SLW at MEMO

SLW RTs MEMO Khashoggi

Those who are now so eager to legitimize MEMO in the wake of Khashoggi’s assassination are particularly disingenuous when they deny that he was a lifelong Islamist who cheered Hamas and whitewashed the record of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood clearic Yussuf Qaradawi.

It is after all thanks to MEMO’s reporting about Khashoggi and the translation of some of his columns to English that it is now so easy to document some of Khashoggi’s rather unsavory views.

One of the noteworthy examples is a MEMO report from last February – i.e. when Khashoggi was already writing for the Washington Post. According to the report, Khashoggi told his audience during a speech in Istanbul that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s “talk about moderate Islam” should be dismissed as worthless as long as the Saudi royals remained hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi asserted that it was Muslim Brotherhood clerics like Yusuf Qaradawi who “introduced the term moderate Islam” and he insisted that “Bin Salman is confused about the proper choice for moderation […] The Muslim Brotherhood are moderates, but he does not want to admit that.”

Let’s contrast Khashoggi’s praise of the notorious Qaradawi as a paragon of “moderate Islam” with what the Washington Post reported on Qaradawi just a few months before the paper hired Khashoggi.

Citing a US counterterrorism expert, the paper described Qaradawi as “one of the most public figureheads of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Other US officials characterized the Muslim cleric as “a man whose beatific smile and folksy speaking style belie a history of defending suicide bombings in Israel and condoning violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.” The report also highlights the fact that Qaradawi sometimes used his popular sermons and his TV show to express support for Hamas and that he “has suggested that the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany was ‘divine punishment’ for historical transgressions. He has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, including the killing of civilians.”

Qaradawi’s precise comment on the Holocaust during an Al Jazeera program in January 2009 is worth quoting:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

It is hardly less alarming that Qaradawi also believes in a divinely ordained end-of-times battle between “all Muslims and all Jews.”

The fact that Qaradawi’s well-documented fanaticism didn’t bother Khashoggi is most likely due to his own intense hostility to Israel, which is clearly reflected in some of his Al Hayat columns published by MEMO in English translation.

In an article from July 2014 entitled “Palestine, the occupation and the resistance for beginners”, Khashoggi asserted that Israel’s “existence is outside the context of history and logic […] it came into being by force, it will live by force and it will die by force.”

While Khashoggi is now widely portrayed as a sophisticated Middle East analyst who shared important liberal values, he meant it quite literally when he claimed that Israel exists “outside the context of history and logic.”

Khashoggi’s shocking denial of Jewish history is evident from a Twitter exchange [archived] that took place in October 2015 [emphasis added; the tweets were first highlighted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre].

Khashoggi first posted a tweet asserting that the “Grave of Al-Nabi Yusuf [Joseph’s Tomb] which was attacked by demonstrators yesterday is a Jewish fabrication. It is a grave built in the Turkish period, and the Jews turned it into a school of extremism and claimed that it is [the grave] of Joseph.”

He then followed up explaining:

The Jews have no history in Palestine. Because of this, they invented the Wailing Wall, which is a Mameluke structure. After 67 they noticed Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and they decided that it is [the grave] of Joseph, and they took it over.”

Another Twitter user (@JawadAlhashimy) objected: “The Jews without history in Palestine!!! It seems professor that your honor’s knowledge of history is like my knowledge of the Korean language!! Greetings.”

Khashoggi responded: “Go and dig with them Jawad Al-Hashimi, maybe you will find a grave or remains that they can ask blessings from. [The Jews] dug all over [Palestine] and they didn’t find anything, maybe you have [more] experience.”

Jawad Alhashimy replied: “For your knowledge professor, we Muslims took from the Jews even the name ‘Al-Quds’. [The Jews] called Jerusalem ‘Beit Hamikdash’ and we stole it and called it Bayt Al-Maqdis.”

In response, Khashoggi wrote: “@JawadAlhashimy shame [on you]… The Muslims didn’t steal anything from the Jews. I consider you to be a Muslim who is proud of your identity, do not provoke me anymore.”

Jawad Alhashimy insisted again: “Yes, they [the Muslims] did. They stole its Hebrew name ‘Beit Hamiqdash’ which means ‘Holy House’ and they gave this name to Iliya [Arabic version of the Roman Aelia Capitolina] in the days of the conflict between the Omayyads and Ibn Al-Zubayr.”

Khashoggi’s denial of Jewish history clearly reflects his commitment to rather extremist Islamist ideology, which he also betrayed with his evident hope that Israel “will die by force.”

It is thus hardly surprising that Khashoggi was also an ardent admirer of the terror group Hamas.  In an article written in July 2014, Khashoggi begins with what reads like a bitter lament that the Arabs have never waged “a jihad” against Israel. Implicitly rejecting negotiations with Israel, Khashoggi asserts that the divinely ordained “price” for freedom was “blood and death.” He then heaps praise on Hamas for accomplishing the “miracle” of procuring rockets and explosives; he expresses great admiration for the “distinguished combat performance” shown by Hamas and the building of “the huge network of tunnels that extends for miles under Gaza and the borders with Israel and Egypt” which – as Khashoggi notes with undisguised delight – “were used brilliantly to inflict unprecedented losses on the enemy.”

But the perhaps most chilling sentence comes when Khashoggi concludes: “All of this proves that the movement [i.e. Hamas] wasted no time while ruling in Gaza.”

All too obviously, Khashoggi felt that Hamas should be applauded for turning Gaza into a heavily armed terrorist enclave instead of taking advantage of Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 to develop the territory into a model for a Palestinian state. But praising this as a miraculous accomplishment of Hamas makes sense only for someone who fervently hopes that one day, Israel “will die by force.”

As vile as some of Khashoggi’s views may have been, they obviously don’t justify his assassination. Yet, his undisguised hatred for Israel should not be whitewashed by portraying him as a quasi-liberal writer who just wanted a few freedoms for the Middle East. Khashoggi also wanted a Middle East where Islamist forces like the terror group Hamas would vanquish the hated Jewish state. Precisely because Khashoggi’s many Islamist friends are fully aware of this fact that is so inconvenient for his western friends, the efforts to downplay what Khashoggi’s Islamism entailed could all too easily be construed as tacit approval.

*

Translation from Arabic courtesy of Ibn Boutros.

A slightly different version of this post was first published at my Times of Israel blog.

The endless hate for Israel at Human Rights Watch

I have documented the blatant bias against Israel that is openly displayed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) officials in several recent articles (see e.g. here and here).

However, it’s usually not possible to cite all the material that may be relevant in articles – they’re after all categorized as op-eds and can’t be endlessly long, even if you have tons of outrageous stuff.

Since I use Twitter a lot to check on the issues I work on, I’ve also tried to collect some of the material there (see e.g. here).

But the more I look at the conduct of HRW officials, the harder it becomes to avoid the conclusion that their unending and completely shameless display of hypocrisy, if not outright bigotry on Israel, is worth documenting more systematically.  

So here are just two of the recent examples.

A few days ago, Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the HRW Middle East and North Africa Division, retweeted a cartoon by the notorious Carlos Latuff, who is a prolific producer of antisemitic images – one of which won him an award at an Iranian-sponsored “International Holocaust Cartoon Competition” in 2006.

The Latuff cartoon Whitson liked so much associates Israel prime minister Netanyahu with the assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is widely assumed that the assassination was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, and there is an energetic campaign initiated by the Washington Post (which hired Khashoggi a year ago) demanding a drastic downgrading of all dealings with the Saudis.

In my view, this campaign is in many ways hypocritical – whoever needed the assassination of Khashoggi to discover how dreadful the Saudi regime is shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Moreover, I think it’s very problematic that Khashoggi’s Islamist views are now not only whitewashed, but also mainstreamed.

But needless to say, Whitson enthusiastically supports this campaign; and equally needless to say, whoever can be tarred as a supporter of the Saudis is unspeakably evil. Neither Netanyahu nor other Israeli government officials have made statements regarding Khashoggi’s assassination and its political implications, but that doesn’t prevent types like Latuff and top HRW official Sarah Leah Whitson from trying to spread the idea that the world’s only Jewish state must surely be on the side of the evil ones.

SLW RTs Latuff Netanyahu Khashoggi MbS

Another very similar effort comes from veteran Israel-hater Glenn Greenwald in the wake of the recent Brazilian election won by Jair Bolsonaro, who is widely regarded as a right-wing populist and has been described as a Brazilian Trump.

As is customary, most political leaders will congratulate the winner of a democratic presidential election – here is e.g. a report on French President Emmanuel Macron’s congratulation.

But of course, the congratulation of Israel’s prime minister provides yet another irresistible opportunity to depict the Jewish state as an evil entity – both for Greenwald and Sarah Leah Whitson.

As Greenwald put it: “Like most fanatical far-right leaders, Bolsonaro loves Israel & craves closeness to it. With the western liberal world recognizing Israel for what it is and abandoning support, Israelis see an alliance with far-right nationalists as their key strategy.”

SLW RTs Greenwald Bolsonaro

 

The UN and HRW’s list of shame

Last week, I wrote at my JPost blog about efforts at the UN to blacklist the IDF – together with savage terror groups like the Islamic State – as an entity that regularly harms children. The post is reproduced below, but since Human Rights Watch (HRW) is now so energetically pushing for Israel’s inclusion in this “list of shame,” I felt it is worthwhile to add this update as a reminder of the organization’s shameful bias against Israel.

HRW’s persistent negative focus on Israel is well documented, and I have written about the organization’s double standards and the animosity against Israel that is openly displayed by HRW executive director Ken Roth. As I have noted in my previous posts, HRW always stands ready to condemn Israel as soon as the Israeli army moves to defend the country’s citizens against the attacks of terror groups. HRW would perhaps claim that its latest effort is even-handed, since it apparently also recommended the inclusion of Hamas in the UN’s blacklist. But this of course means that HRW sees no difference between Israel and Hamas when it comes to harming children.

Yet, HRW’s own examples of how Hamas has harmed children explain why Palestinian children are sometimes inadvertently harmed by the IDF. According to HRW, “Palestinian armed groups” are guilty of

  • “The repeated launching of rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza, placing children and other civilians living there at risk of retaliatory attacks; and
  • The use of at least three empty schools in Gaza to store weapons, two of which may have been used for launching rockets or mortars.”

One should not overlook that HRW describes Israeli attacks on rocket launching sites as “retaliatory attacks” – which is of course just another not so subtle attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

Among the Palestinian violations that HRW prefers not to mention is the longstanding training and recruitment of child soldiers. And of course HRW also prefers to ignore the fact that Palestinians have repeatedly celebrated terror attacks that killed Israeli teens.

It is also revealing to see who gets blamed by HRW for strikes that result in civilian deaths when Israel is not involved. Here is one telling example from a recent media report on the war in Yemen [my emphasis]:

“On March 31, Human Rights Watch said a diary factory in the western port city of Hodeida came under attack by Saudi airstrikes, killing 31 workers. The rights group blamed Houthis forces for putting civilians at risk, saying that the factory is about 100 metres from a military airbase controlled by Houthis.”

Finally, it should be noted that two international law experts have recently stated that after examining Israel’s targeting methods and its application of the law of armed conflict (LOAC),

“we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice. […] While there are certainly Israeli legal positions that may be contentious, we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.”

* * *

How low can the UN sink?

The United Nations (UN) has a long and sordid record of singling out the world’s only Jewish state for hypocritical censure and condemnation.  Most recently, Israel was the only country to be condemned as “a violator of health rights;” unsurprisingly, the supporting “evidence” included antisemitic claims by the Syrian regime, which accused Israel of “continu[ing]  to experiment on Syrian and Arab prisoners with medicines and drugs and to inject them with pathogenic viruses.” That is of course the same regime that mercilessly bombs and kills its own population, while Israel has so far treated some 1600 injured Syrians.

But the UN’s next move against Israel is already being planned: according to a Y-Net report, the “UN secretary-general’s envoy for Children and Armed Conflict recommended this week to include the IDF on a blacklist of countries and organizations accused of regularly causing harm to children. The blacklist includes terror organizations like al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Islamic State, and Taliban, as well as African countries such as the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and others.”

As the report notes, the UN is “facing heavy pressure from the Palestinians, their supporters and human rights organizations to include the Israeli army on the list.” However, few people know that this kind of “pressure” is in part generated by the UN itself, which sustains “a whole network of anti-Israel institutions ” that were built up in the wake of the infamous “Zionism is Racism”-resolution of 1975. Even though the resolution was repealed in 1991, this “network of extremely well-funded UN structures and offices” continues to exist to this day.

Needless to say, those who love the Nazi-slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück” in its 21st-century version “The Jewish State is our misfortune” are excited about the prospect to have the IDF equated with terror organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) – and as was only to be expected, Max Blumenthal tweeted the Y-Net report adding the hashtag JSIL, which he popularized to associate Israel with the terror group Islamic State (once known as ISIL, i.e. Islamic State in the Levant) as “Jewish State in the Levant” (JSIL).

MB on UN blacklisting IDF

If the UN will once again please Jew-haters everywhere with yet another bigoted condemnation that puts the IDF on the same level as savage terror groups like IS remains to be seen. But in the unlikely case that the UN actually cares about the welfare of Palestinian children, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, could highlight the longstanding abuse of Palestinian children as child-soldiers – indeed, campaigning against this kind of child abuse is supposedly an important part of her work. While all Palestinian factions have used children to fight, nowadays mostly Hamas and other Gaza terror groups openly boast of providing military training to children; one of the most recent examples is a “graduation ceremony” in a Gaza kindergarten.

Gaza kindergarten terror show

In addition, the UN might note the fact that Hamas employed children to dig its extensive tunnel network – which they hoped to use to kill Israelis, including children – and that at least 160 children died working on the tunnels.

And perhaps the UN’s Special Representative Leila Zerrougui could take note of regular TV programs that indoctrinate kids to hate and “shoot the Jews” – ‘all of them’? Perhaps it would also be appropriate to address the very high percentage of forced underage marriages in Gaza? Or the heartbreaking mistreatment of children with disabilities that seems quite common in Palestinian society?

But perhaps the UN will somehow find it more appealing to demonize the IDF that has to fight an enemy that openly celebrates the killing of Israeli children – for Hamas, they are just “prey” to be killed and hidden ‘under the rock.’

The successful demonization of Israel

The recent release of a new study by the London-based think tank Chatham House brought Israel-haters some widely cheered news, because the study includes the finding [pdf; p.12] that 35 percent of the British public feel “especially unfavorable” towards Israel. Writing at his Electronic Intifada blog, Ali Abunimah noted with great satisfaction that the Chatham House study showed that “Israel ranks as one of the world’s most unfavorably viewed countries among the UK public” and he concluded triumphantly that “these numbers indicate […] that the vast sums Israel has spent on propaganda or hasbara have made no dent in its unpopularity, while its continued occupation and repeated massacres in Gaza continue to affect public perceptions.” Linking to a post from 2013, Abunimah also pointed out that “results from the Chatham House survey confirm trends seen in other polls across the world, showing that Israel is consisently [sic] among the world’s most negatively viewed countries.”

While Abunimah’s last point is correct, both his blog post and a tweet that was popular among Israel-haters were wrong in asserting that only North Korea was seen more unfavorable than Israel.

Celebrating Israel demonizationApparently, Israel-haters all work from the same cherry-picked talking points and can’t be bothered to check them – because if they had checked the relevant table in the study, they would have realized that Russia was entitled to their “gold medal” as the country that was seen as “especially unfavorable” by a majority (56%) of the British public. But it would have been really awkward for Abunimah to crow about Russia’s propaganda efforts not paying off, since some of his best friends – like Max Blumenthal, for example, or Electronic Intifada contributor Rania Khalek – are popular guests on Putin’s well-financed mouthpiece RT. The channel has also featured various Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, and neo-Nazis, and it reportedly provides a nice source of income for British politician George Galloway, who has been honored for his devotion to the Palestinian “cause” by Hamas leader Haniyeh and who supplements his salary as Member of Parliament with appearances on RT as well as Iranian and Lebanese TV.

While there is no reason to downplay the truly dedicated efforts of Abunimah and his ilk to do their part in order to ensure that the world’s only Jewish state is among the world’s least favorably viewed countries, the negative image of Israel that is once again reflected in the Chatham House study has long been promoted by a wide array of opinion shapers. As the Simon Wiesenthal Center put it in reaction to a 2003 poll that showed a majority of Europeans viewing Israel as the foremost threat to world peace, this result indicated “that Europeans have bought into the vilification and demonization campaign directed against the State of Israel and her supporters by European leaders and media.” However, other polls show that this is not only a European problem. World-wide polls conducted by the BBC for 2012 and 2013 ranked Israel as a country seen to have a mainly negative influence along with North Korea, Pakistan and Iran.

This is actually somewhat unfair to North Korea, Pakistan and Iran – at least if you form your world view on the basis of reports by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A recent post by blogger Elder of Ziyon provides a stark illustration of the pervasive demonization of Israel in a chart that tracks how often countries are mentioned in the new HRW 2015 “World Report.” According to this chart, only Syria – a country where in recent years not only hundreds of thousands have been killed, wounded or displaced, but where also more than 10 000 people have been systematically tortured to death – is mentioned more often than Israel.

EoZ HRW biasAnyone who needs some additional illustration of HRW’s preposterous bias should note that when the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson recently learned that the US Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. was exhibiting some of the gruesome evidence of systematic torture in Syrian jails, she immediately demanded that the museum “should also show pics of death and destruction in #Gaza.”

In an exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg, Whitson later protested that she had neither intended to equate the recent war between Hamas and Israel with the Holocaust nor to suggest that Israel was guilty of genocide in Gaza; instead, she claimed she had just “urged showing of images of #Gaza destruction.”

Of course, one can hardly argue that images of the destruction in Gaza from the last war have been ignored by the media. Indeed, one recent example that would perhaps have pleased Whitson was a Sky News program on Holocaust Memorial Day that featured images of this destruction while the interviewer questioned the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis about possible connections between Israel’s actions and the rise of antisemitism in Europe. Contrary to countless misleading media reports, Sky News did not apologize for suggesting a connection between Israel’s actions and rising antisemitism and merely acknowledged “that the particular circumstances of the use of the pictures from Gaza was unfortunate.”

Opinion shapers in the media and in NGOs like HRW have obviously a large part in the public’s long-documented negative view of the world’s only Jewish state. As Matti Friedman put it so well in a recent presentation:

“How have the doings in a country that constitutes 0.01 per cent of the world’s surface become the focus of angst, loathing, and condemnation more than any other? We must ask how Israelis and Palestinians have become the stylised symbol of conflict, of strong and weak, the parallel bars upon which the intellectual Olympians of the West perform their tricks.”

Friedman has previously explored the problematic media coverage of Israel in several superb articles; in this presentation, he argues that “the minute state inhabited by a persecuted minority in the Middle East is in fact [seen as] a symbol of the ills of the West – colonialism, nationalism, militarism, and racism.”

“The West today is preoccupied with a feeling of guilt about the use of power. That’s why the Jews, in their state, are now held up in the press and elsewhere as the prime example of the abuse of power. That’s why for so many the global villain, as portrayed in newspapers and on TV, is none other than the Jewish soldier, or the Jewish settler. This is not because the Jewish settler or soldier is responsible for more harm than anyone else on earth – no sane person would make that claim. It is rather because these are the heirs to the Jewish banker or Jewish commissar of the past. It is because when moral failure raises its head in the Western imagination, the head tends to wear a skullcap.”

Millions nodded along when the Nazis asserted that “the Jews are our misfortune.” Millions nowadays nod along when the media and NGOs suggest that the Jewish state is the world’s misfortune.

* * *

First published on my JPost blog 02/12/2015; also published on the Polish blog Listy z naszego sadu.