Veteran human rights activist targeting oppressive regimes meets Netanyahu
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
June 16, 2012
The Daily Beast recently interviewed human-rights veteran Robert Bernstein on his alliance with Movements.org co-founder Jared Cohen to help activists resisting oppressive regimes around the world in a new project called Advancing Human Rights. Asked about his personal involvement with AHR on a daily basis, the 89-year-old founder of Human Rights Watch revealed that on a recent trip to the Middle East he had met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever the two discussed during that meeting, it is unlikely that it had anything to do with helping activists resisting Israel’s oppressive occupation. As Bernstein implied in the interview, Tel Aviv won’t have to worry about criticism from Advancing Human Rights:
There is no question that democracies have their faults, and those need to be addressed. What human-rights organizations often fail to understand, recognize, and emphasize is that there are many people working to improve open societies. There is a free press, civil society, NGOs, independent judiciary, and fair elections. Dictatorships like Syria, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia don’t have a fraction of those rights. We don’t gain credibility by criticizing two human-rights violations in a dictatorship and two human-rights violations in a nearby democracy. Dictatorships must be brought up to the level of democracies. The failure to stress the enormous difference between democracies and dictatorships is a profound betrayal of the principles of human rights. There is no moral equivalence between the two at all.
There is also great confusion about war. Democratic armies, which are often demonized, take great pains to avoid civilian damage. Terrorist organizations like Hamas and al Qaeda, on the other hand, specifically hide among civilians in order to increase the damage. Some in the human-rights community also believe that they should be neutral in war. I don’t see how you can ever be neutral about those that call for genocide, like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, and democratic states.
Bernstein’s animus towards Israel’s enemies is revealing. Even more revealing, however, is the fact that the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, David Keyes, who accompanied Bernstein in his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, is a protégé of a Netanyahu appointee. Keyes was coordinator of democracy programs for the Jerusalem-based Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the right-wing Shalem Center, where he worked under the direction of Natan Sharansky, a prominent advocate of democracy promotion in the Middle East and beyond. In 2009, Netanyahu recommended the “Prisoner of Zion” as chairman of the Jewish Agency, the government-created body which works “to ensure the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish People with a strong Israel at its center.”
In light of such a clear Zionist connection, perhaps a more apt name for the new “human rights” group might be Advancing Israeli Interests.