“Antisemitism is always wrong, and it long preceded the creation of Israel,” tweeted Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth on Tishah B’Av. So far, so good.
But then, having done his de rigueur duty, he added a retweet of a July 15 Haaretz article stating that antisemitic incidents in the U.K. increased by 365% from May 8-June 7, the sharp spike in Jew hatred coming during and in the wake of Israel’s war with Gaza. Mr. Roth wrote that the surge “during the recent Gaza conflict gives the lie to those who pretend that the Israeli government’s conduct doesn’t affect antisemitism.”
The insinuation that Israel’s actions stoked antisemitism rightly outraged many.
Numerous public officials, pundits and citizens of several countries condemned Roth’s comments as justifying antisemitism and blaming the victim.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris minced no words, replying to Mr. Roth by writing, “No, antisemitism is always wrong, period. Just as racism is always wrong, period. Coming from an alleged human rights defender, totally and utterly despicable.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted: “Blaming Israel for the recent rise in violent antisemitic incidents, instead of blaming the antisemitic actors themselves, is plainly false and offensive.”
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon also weighed in, explaining that “To justify anti-Semitism as a result of our just operation against Hamas in Gaza is to give it legitimacy. I would suggest focusing on the human rights violations in Gaza under Hamas rule.”
And, for its part, the British organization Muslims Against Antisemitism insisted that “The underlying antisemitism IS the problem” and added, “Let’s not make excuses for any form of hate.”
Such responses — and there were many more — forced Mr. Roth to attempt to walk back what he clearly meant to insinuate.
“Interesting,” he condescendingly, and disingenuously, asserted, “how many people pretend that [my] tweet justifies antisemitism.” He maintains that he meant to simply and innocently call attention to “the correlation noted in the Haaretz article between recent Israeli government conduct in Gaza and the rise of U.K. antisemitic incidents.” For what purpose, he didn’t say.
By Tuesday, after the avalanche of outrage, Mr. Roth summoned the wisdom to delete his offensive tweet, saying that it had been “misinterpreted.”
Something indeed was misunderstood, but by Mr. Roth. Namely, the nature of Jew-hatred.
That it always finds a “reason,” some excuse to express itself. But the excuse is just that, an excuse, not a cause.
Mistaking an excuse for a cause is foolish. And promoting such foolishness is ridiculous. Mr. Roth’s eventual realization that his having done so yielded him much criticism doesn’t erase the fact that his mindset, like those of so many other self-righteous commentators on international affairs, sees Jews as the reason for hatred aimed at them.
The “Israeli government’s conduct” that Mr. Roth views as having produced antisemitic acts was, he might have reflected upon from the start, a response to incessant rocketfire aimed at the country’s civilians. That he didn’t see fit to reflect on and acknowledge that trenchant fact, and pull his itchy fingers back from his keyboard is arguably itself a subtle act of antisemitism.
One thing is certain, it’s nothing new. In the summer of 2006, during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Mr. Roth wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Sun criticizing Israel’s “excessive” Israeli response, and opined that “An eye for an eye — or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment.”
The HRW executive director, a Jewish man who was married in an Anglican ceremony, may prefer that Israel, when under attack by mortal enemies, choose to just turn the other cheek. But that is a path to oblivion for any country facing an existential enemy.
And in 2015, Mr. Roth tellingly tweeted a truly offensive comment, on reports that Israel had sent aid to Nepal, which had endured a major earthquake that killed 9,000 people and injured tens of thousands others.
“Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster,” he commented, “than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza.” And then, for good measure: “End the blockade!”
As if saving lives after a natural disaster were somehow antithetical to, rather than consonant with, protecting lives from the murderous intentions of a terrorist regime.
It could not be clearer from the Human Rights Watch’s head’s comments, past and most recent alike, that he and his group are on the watch not for violations of human rights but rather for opportunities to slander Israel and provide solace to antisemites everywhere.