Human Rights Watch in Saudi Arabia: dumb, dumb dumb.
07/15/2009 - 00:00
James Besser
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 I generally admire human rights watchdog groups, even if they sometimes show a little more enthusiasm in criticizing Israel than in criticizing its neighbors.  Human Rights Watch has always struck me as a useful group in a world overflowing with human rights disasters – contrary to the views of some pro-Israel groups, which regard any criticism of Israel as blasphemy. But for the life of me I can’t figure out what the group was doing in Saudi Arabia recently, fundraising by allegedly bragging about their battles with the pro-Israel lobby here. Saudi Arabia may not be the worst human rights abuser in the world, but when it comes to denying basic freedoms to whole big chunks of society – like women – it’s up there with the best of them. The fundraising excursion got the attention of George Mason law professor David Bernstein, who wrote an indignent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Online. That, in turn,  interested the Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg, who digs into stories the way most of us dig into breakfast.  In his blog he cites several exchanges with the Human Rights Watch official who was actually in Saudi Arabia – and then, when he didn’t get a direct answer, with Ken Roth, the group’s executive director. Roth makes some good points – but still offers no real answer to Jeff’s core question: “did your staff person attempt to raise funds in Saudi Arabia by advertising your organization’s opposition to the pro-Israel lobby?” Read the exchange here. I understand wanting to tap rich Saudis for contributions; after all, tapping them for oil has been official U.S. policy for decades. But using the group’s battles with pro-Israel forces here to gin up support from the repressive sheiks? Sorry, guys, that’s not going to fly if you want to be seen as an unbiased champion of human rights everywhere. It’s not going to work if you want your criticisms of Israel to be read as something other than one-sided rants. Wait, let me rephrase that. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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