Rights Advocate Who Villified Israel Steps Down

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director, announced Tuesday that he will be resigning this summer. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has announced plans to resign this August after 30 years leading the global non-profit organization.

While Roth was lauded for his work by many in the international community, he has been regarded as a nemesis of Israel, as HRW was a frequent and unfair critic, most recently in the release of a major report accusing the country of apartheid against the Palestinians.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, HRW acknowledged Israeli grievances, but insisted that its criticism was based on rights violations.

“Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked as a supposed anti-Semite because of the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses,” HRW said in a statement Tuesday.

Indeed, Israel and its supporters found nothing to admire in Roth’s organization’s treatment of Israel over the years.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry rejected the apartheid accusations out of hand last year, saying that  Human Rights Watch “is known to have a long-standing anti-Israel agenda. The fictional claims that HRW concocted are both preposterous and false.”

The ministry pointed out that Israeli society bears no comparison to apartheid South Africa. Unlike the latter, its Arab minority enjoys full civil rights, including the right to vote and run for the Knesset, where the Islamic Ra’am party has been a member of the governing coalition.

Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank, acknowledged that while discrimination against the Arab minority exists, it falls far short of apartheid. Kontorovich accused HRW of unfairly singling Israel out and trying to delegitimize it.

“Why say it’s apartheid? Why not just say Israel has some discriminatory policies that we don’t like?” he said. “Because for discriminatory policies, what do you do? You change the policies…. What do you do with an apartheid regime? You have to replace it.”

The Israeli-based right-wing NGO Monitor said HRW had a central role in the “blatantly antisemitic NGO Forum of the Durban Conference in 2001,” the group charged.

“In his 30-year reign as head of HRW, Ken Roth has obsessively distorted and exploited human rights to demonize Israel,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“His language reflects a deeply personal hostility to Judaism and Jewish self-determination, regardless of policies, and he has hired many staffers who share this antipathy, amplifying the structural bias against Israel in the UN and other institutions,” he said. “By abusing HRW’s power and $129 million annual budget (as of 2021) to systematically single out Israel and in applying double standards, instead of using these resources to address the worst human rights abuses, Roth has caused major damage to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Steinberg said.

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