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The Human Rights Watch Internal Battle on Iran

Leaked email shows Kenneth Roth comparing mullahs to Shas

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Kenneth Roth(HRW)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, David Feith deftly outlined a debate taking place within the ranks of influential nonprofit group Human Rights Watch (which historically has done some pretty important work).

On one side is Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who believes that the series of odious rhetorical provocations made by Iran’s religious and political leaders about annihilating Israel does not constitute incitement to genocide. On the other side is Roth’s internal critics at Human Rights Watch, who disagree.

Here’s some of what Feith wrote:

Asked in 2010 about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” Mr. Roth suggested that the Iranian president has been misunderstood. “There was a real question as to whether he actually said that,” Mr. Roth told The New Republic, because the Persian language lacks an idiom for wiping off the map. Then again, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s own English-language website translated his words that way, and the main alternative translation—”eliminated from the pages of history”—is no more benign. Nor is Mr. Ahmadinejad an outlier in the regime. Iran’s top military officer declared earlier this year that “the Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”

Mr. Roth’s main claim is legalistic: Iran’s rhetoric doesn’t qualify as “incitement”—which is illegal under the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948—but amounts merely to “advocacy,” which is legal.

Feith points to internal emails in which Roth essentially argues that because Iran has not yet actually set on its course to annihilate Israel, the words of Ahmadinejad and the various leaders in Iran (along with those missile-adorned street parades) are merely suggestions. Evidence about the country’s nuclear program as well as its indisputable bankrolling of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas aren’t clear proof enough either.

In another email leaked to Tablet, Roth washes his hands by comparing the words and deeds of Iran’s leaders and its military satellites to that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Israeli political party Shas. In the email, Roth wrote of Yosef:

Speaking initially of “Iranian rulers” but then simply of “Iran” (notably, not even the state of Iran) as well as Hezbollah, he said, “May God cut them down and destroy them off the face of the earth.”  This is similar to his statement two years ago directed toward the Palestinians: “Abu Mazen [Abbas] and all those evil men – may they perish from this world. May God Almighty strike them and these Palestinians.”

Would you suggest that Human Rights Watch denounce these statements as incitement to genocide?  If not, what is the difference between these statements and the ones by Iranian leaders that you consider incitement to genocide. After all, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s statements are arguably more direct than those made by Iranian leaders, and Israel, unlike Iran, has the means to carry them out.

I won’t defend Yosef’s disgusting remarks. Neither will a panoply of Jewish and Israeli organizations that condemned them, nor the Israeli government, which immediately said that Yosef’s words “do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel.” That’s the first distinction here.

The second and more obvious distinction, which makes Roth’s comparison between Yosef and Iran’s leadership all the more troubling, is that Yosef is a fringe, fanatical figure in Israel. While he remains influential in some circles, he is neither a head of state nor an official who sets government policy. And despite his inflammatory prayers, Yosef also opposes a military strike on Iran.

The same can’t be said for Iran and its leaders, whose incitements go unchallenged in Iran and, apparently, in the top offices of Human Rights Watch.

Related: Broken Watch
Dancing Around Genocide [WSJ]
PM Pulls Back from Yosef’s Words
[Jerusalem Post]

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Roth’s facile comparison of Ahmadinejad and Yosef is the product not of a careless mind but a dogmatic one. No lever is long enough to influence views set in concrete like his, the more so as HRW’s wanton disparagement of Israel accounts for much of its status on the Left.

Pam Green says:

Yosef’s remarks were by definition not incitement, as he explicitly calls upon God to deal with both the Iranians and the Palestinians. Not the Israeli government. Not any human agency. God. How can that be a threat? A curse possibly, but no threat. His message is, Leave them to Heaven.

As for HRW, it’s a despicable organization. Not just biased and unethical but hopelessly corrupt. Its tax-free status should be revoked.

Binyamin says:

Was Ronald Reagan guilty of inciting genocide when he called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” that should “disappear” from the pages of history? Was not Reagan’s life-long refusal to recognize the Soviet regime’s “right to exist” in effect calling for it to be “wiped off the map”?

When Reagan refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Soviet Union, some (on the left) accused him of being a genocidal maniac who would use America’s nuclear arsenal to annihilate the Russian people.

What the Iranians are saying about Israel is no different than Reagan’s critique of the Soviet regime: they are illegitimate because they are occupiers and oppressors.

And is it not the case that Reagan’s wish has come to pass?

Many nations get “wiped off the map” in the literal sense of that phrase. That does not mean they were victims of genocide.

Once all of the people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River have equal rights, the Arabs will have a majority in the Knesset and the first thing they will do is change the name of the state to Palestine. That’s not genocide; that’s democracy.

(And Mr. Chandler, you lost all credibility when you said the Rav is a “fringe figure” in Israeli politics. Shas is the fourth largest party in Israel; it currently has two cabinet seats, one of which is Minister of the Interior.)

    Pam Green says:

    Islamists follow their Koran, which explicitly orders them to kill or enslave every Jew and other non-believers. Not so our Constitution. So, you cannot compare the Iranians to Reagan. And what a sick joke you make when you claim that “once all the people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan have equal rights….”. No Islamist society has ever provided equality for all people living under its control! In theory and in practice over hundreds of years, Islamists have reduced non-Muslims to the status of animals, sexual slaves (or both). Inscribed in their holiest literature are definitions of Jews and Christians as dogs and swine.

    As for your discussion of majorities, democracy is not the same as majority-rule. These concepts are often confused but, in fact, rule by the majority is equivalent to rule by the mob, which is something that our American democracy is intended to guard against.

      FreedomComesFirst says:

      More vicious hate-filled Islamophobia to incite genocide against people in the Middle East.

        Pam Green says:

        Vicious and hate-filled? That would be YOU you’re talking about and your terrorist buddies.

          FreedomComesFirst says:

          You’re claiming I have terrrorist buddies. Yes you’re vicious and hate-filled, you Likud supporting fascist.

      Binyamin says:

      It is always amazing to me when supporters of Israel justify its actions by saying they are no worse than those of the “Islamic animals.” I though Israel held itself to a higher standard. Surely that is what you tell the trufan beleibers here in the U.S.

      And I love it when democracy automatically becomes mob rule when it’s an Arab-majority democracy.

      But I especially admire your candor Ms. Green. Please ask Bibi to appoint you ambassador to the U.S.

        Pam Green says:

        Don’t put words in my mouth. I did not “justify [Israel's] actions by saying they are no worse than those of the ‘Islamic animals’.” On the other hand, you thought right when you thought that Israel holds itself to a higher standard. It most certainly does, and it’s clear as day to anyone who pays the slightest attention.

9Athena says:

What kind of reasoning and comparison is going on here?
Ahmad who thinks he’s “the”silent one” ) the Moslem Messiah) and Yosef who is a screeching horror who stated publicly the “goyem were created to serve Jews” (a real crowd pleaser among our Gentile friends), in a delightful hate filled screed in 2010. Roth objects and our Jews are parsing the de juris applications to both hideous men. And then we have Reagan thrown into the pot for a further justification of—what? Here’s the real skinny: Ahmad is unbalanced and uses the Jews as a kicking can on his way to supercede Khoumeni (not gonna happen); Yosef is a grotesque monster who thinks he has superceded the Almighty; and Reagan was scared stiff of a Communist infusion and he wrecked the USSR by spending it into oblivion.
To compare these guys as similar is like comparing Hitler to FDR, Each one stands alone just like you. Don’t compare yourself to the next guy.
Only you are you. Get it?

Boychic says:

Is there anyone out there who truly believes that the Iranians do not wish to destroy Israel as a State and kill as many Jews as they can in the process? Whether one calls it genocide or intentional mass murder the objective is the same. Let Mr. Roth save his arguments until he looks upward and sees, God forbid, an Iranian missile descending on him and his kin. I doubt if the fanatics of the Iranian regime care one wit about Roth’s self-righteous dogmatic definition as they go about fulfilling their stated promise of annihilation.

    FreedomComesFirst says:

    I do not for a moment think Iranians wish to militarily destroy Israel or kill as many Jews as they can. Your baseless paranoia does not equate to evidence of intent.

      Boychic says:

      Does one need more evidence of intent than witnessing Iranian made missiles falling on Israel? Baseless paranoia or reality?

        Pam Green says:

        My advice, Boychic, is to not even bother trying to reason with that scum. “FreedomComesFirst” is toxic, a propagandist for terrorism.

          FreedomComesFirst says:

          Another vicious Likud-supporting fascist who uses vile defamatory accusations to try to smear those who reject her war-mongering war-propaganda.

        FreedomComesFirst says:

        Let’s examine your logic for a moment here.

        Iranian made missiles falling on Israel is not evidence that Iran’s leaders wish to militarily destroy Israel or “kill as many Jews as they can”, any more than American made missiles falling on Gaza is evidence that Iran’s leaders wish to militarily destroy Palestine or “kill as many Palestinians as they can”.

FreedomComesFirst says:

Ahmadinejad’s statements by themselves are a call for the end of the “Zionist regime”, which is a government, not a people, and his statements, when looked at in the context of his own words, are clearly not an incitement to genocide:

On 26 September 2012, in an interview with Charlie Rose, he strongly denied that Iran has ever threatened Israel:

CBS: “When have we threatened to attack the Zionists? We have never threatened them,”

He explained that the “wiped off” the map comments as a call for an end to occupation through a referendum by the indigenous Palestinians:

CBS: “And let me explain … We say that occupation should be done away with. War-like behavior should be done away with. Terrorism should be done away with. The killing of women and children should be done away with. Has the Zionist regime done anything other than this during the last 65 years? No, they haven’t .. We say do away with these things. And we have also suggested the solution. We have said the solution is that the Palestinian people should decide in a free election for their own country, their own land,” [117]

Netanyahu calling Iranians “Amalek” is maybe the most genocide-inciting statement made by a political leader in recent history.

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The Human Rights Watch Internal Battle on Iran

Leaked email shows Kenneth Roth comparing mullahs to Shas

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