Sen. Barack Obama
U.S. Senate
Washington D.C.

Dear Senator Obama,

In your visit to Israel this week, you witnessed the results of attacks from Gaza against Sderot, spoke to the victims of recent Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem, and consoled the families of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. You clearly understand the reality of human rights violations in this region.

This reality stands in sharp contrast to the cynical exploitation of human rights rhetoric by powerful NGOs, as demonstrated in the infamous 2001 Durban conference. And in anticipation of your visit to the Middle East, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote an open letter to you (July 10, 2008). Roth discussed many issues, including allegations regarding Israel’s “significant human rights abuses” and “violations of international humanitarian law.” As with many previous HRW statements, Mr. Roth’s letter manipulates and misrepresents international law. His words seek to create a false and immoral equivalence between a country rightfully defending its citizens against indiscriminant attacks, including the one in Jerusalem that preceded your arrival, and the terrorists that perpetrate these attacks.

In his claims regarding Israel, and calls to reduce American defense assistance to this democracy, Roth confuses aggression with legitimate self-defense, and often condemns the latter while seeking to protect the former. In the section on Gaza, which ignores the extensive use of human shields to safeguard Hamas members who are responsible for rocket attacks, Mr. Roth accuses Israel of not properly “avoid[ing] harming civilians.” This accusation, which also does not mention the use of schools for launching deadly attacks, makes a travesty of human rights. The same is true for HRW’s often false claims related to the 2006 Lebanon War, as documented by NGO Monitor.

Mr. Roth’s attacks on the Israeli security barrier are also misplaced. He does not address the considerable evidence that this barrier has saved hundreds or perhaps thousands of Israeli lives, instead repeating claims that the barrier impedes the “fundamental right to freedom of movement” of the Palestinians.

Mr. Roth labels Israel’s closure policy toward Gaza “collective punishment of the civilian population”. As NGO Monitor has demonstrated, this rhetoric reflects the exploitation of international legal terminology and double standards. . Egypt, while mentioned as also preventing travel out of Gaza, is not held responsible for the crisis in Gaza, and Roth does not ask that the US halt financial aid to the Egyptian government. Despite the diversion by Hamas of humanitarian supplies, as well as rocket barrages and attacks on the Israeli border crossings, Israel has continued to provide hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza on a weekly basis.  This is above and beyond any obligation under international law, and the claim of “collective punishment” is entirely unjustified and is designed to vilify Israel on the international stage.

Senator Obama, as a candidate for the presidency of the United States, we urge you to oppose the Durban Review Conference, to be led again led by NGOs, and to work to promote real and universal human rights, without double standards and cynical manipulation.


Gerald Steinberg
Executive Director
NGO Monitor