National Security

Human Rights Watch: Even Jews in ‘Illegal Settlements’ Should Not Be Violently Abducted

Half-hearted condemnation draws fire

Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing teenagers outside the West Bank city of Hebron
Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing teenagers outside the West Bank city of Hebron / AP

The executive director of a leading human rights group is facing questions from pro-Israel activists after he tied "illegal settlements" to the recent abduction of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian terrorists.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Ken Roth remained largely silent about the widely covered kidnapping until Sunday morning when he classified the teens as "illegal" settlers and compared the terrorist act to the recent deaths of Palestinian rioters.

"Attending school at illegal settlement doesn't legitimize apparent kidnapping of Israel teens," tweeted Roth, who has come under fire in the past for bias against Israel. "They should be freed."

In multiple tweets about the kidnapping, Roth equated it with so-called "arbitrary arrests" by the Israelis and forcefully criticized the Jewish state for what he claimed is the intentional killing of Palestinians.

The series of tweets drew outrage from pro-Israel activists who slammed Roth and HRW for skirting their mandate and being beholden to a deep anti-Israel bias.

"Why does [Roth] feel uncomfortable criticizing the kidnapping on its own?" asked Gilead Ini, a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

"Ken Roth can't seem to avoid the word ‘but’ when posting on Twitter about the kidnapping of Jewish Israeli teenagers," Ini said.

In one missive on the kidnapping, Roth used the incident as a means to urge his followers to criticize Israel for the accidental killing of Palestinian rioters.

"Kidnapping 3 Israeli boys is wrong. So is killing 2 Palest'n boys posing no imminent threat. Join me to condemn both?" Roth tweeted.

In another tweet, Roth mentioned the kidnapping as a segue into criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

"Kidnapping is war crime under 4th Geneva Conv'n but Israel rejects its West Bank application to protect settlements," Roth opined.

He then tied the kidnapping of children to what he calls the "arbitrary arrests" by Israeli security forces of Palestinian suspects.

"3 abducted Israel boys should be released ‘immediately & unconditionally,’ but no excuse for arbitrary arrests," Roth tweeted.

Asked to further explain Roth’s tweets, an HRW spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon that "Ken Roth was trying to undercut one of the key arguments used to unjustifiably justify the kidnapping."

"He has separately condemned the kidnappings," the spokesperson said in an email, which included a link to Roth’s tweet slamming Israel for inadvertently killing two Palestinians during a riot.

CAMERA’s Ini took issue with Roth’s repeated equivocation of terrorism to Israeli security procedures.

"One tweet says the three boys should be released, but … ; another says kidnapping is a war crime, but … ; another artificially ties the kidnapping to the unfortunate death of Palestinians over a month ago," Ini said. "And yet another seems to find the existence of Jewish schools in the West Bank more objectionable than the abduction itself."

"The one bright spot in Ken Roth's begrudging tweets about the abduction is that he at least surpasses his Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson, whose Twitter account in recent days has only criticized Israel, and not the Palestinian kidnappers or those who incite them," Ini said. "It's no wonder the Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, has criticized his former organization for having ‘lost critical perspective' on the conflict."

Roth also came under fire from other Twitter users and U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, who criticized Roth for having a double-standard when it comes to Israel.

"Why would Roth even bother to mention that the youths—two of them aged 16—studied in an ‘illegal settlement?'" Neuer asked in an op-ed published by the Times of Israel.

"In all of history, was there ever a case where the head of a human rights group issued a statement concerning innocent hostages—while they were still in the hands of kidnappers—which deliberately connected them to an ‘illegal’ act, let alone devoting half the text to it?" Neuer wrote.

Roth’s comments, Neuer said, "reveals this person’s pathological, daily obsession with portraying the Jewish state as irredeemably irredentist, racist, or bloodthirsty, causing him to turn a blind eye, or, worse, explain away, terrorism committed against Israelis."

This is not the first time that HRW has found itself embroiled in a controversy over the hostility of its personnel toward Israel.

An anti-Israel whistle-blower revealed around a year ago that Roth routinely edits HRW's Israel-related releases himself, "which doesn't happen with any other country's reports," according to one senior official with a pro-Israel advocacy group.

"He is obsessed with Israel and with Israeli Jews. He hires people who share his ideology, like Sarah Leah Whitson, who was caught fundraising in Saudi Arabia by highlighting HRW's anti-Israel propaganda," the official said. "These are people who created and mainstreamed actual blood libels against living Jews."

"This kidnapping is the result of decades of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement. It's no wonder Roth can't criticize it without a bunch of caveats. He helped create it," the source said.

In 2009, pro-Israel blogger Omri Ceren—now an adviser to the Israel Project (TIP)—exposed HRW’s senior military analyst Marc Garlasco as a Nazi souvenir collector who was "obsessed with the color and pageantry of" the Third Reich.

Garlasco—who played a major role in authoring HRW’s reports on Israel—also had "published a detailed 430 page book on Nazi war paraphernalia," according to Ceren.