June 24, 2008

Response to Nicolas Kristof´s op-ed "The Two Israels"

A Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, from Gerald Steinberg, Executive Director of NGO Monitor:

In his oped, Nicolas Kristof (June 22, “The Two Israels”) illustrates the danger of the “halo effect” that surrounds many powerful non-governmental organizations, which use distorted human rights claims to promote ideological agendas. While otherwise very professional journalists question and independently verify the claims of governments, corporations, and others, the statements of groups that assert moral objectives tend to be taken at face value. In this article, Kristof extols B’tselem and Machsom Watch (the women who "volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through"). As documented by NGO Monitor, both are political organizations based in Israel that have appropriated human rights rhetoric for partisan goals, mix fact with fiction, and grossly distort history in order to promote their private agendas.

For example, Kristof repeats the simplistic statements of these NGOs regarding Hebron – a city of immense religious and historical importance to the Jewish people – without mentioning the impact of the 1929 massacre and expulsion of the entire Jewish community. A limited return to this historic city was only possible after 1967. Since this context is inconvenient for promoting B’tselem’s political objectives, which would mean again removing the Jewish population from Hebron, these political activists focus instead on one-sided human rights allegations in which Palestinians are always victims, and Israel is always the oppressor.

Seduced by the “halo effect”, Kristof uses B’tselem’s very narrow window to strip the wider context and sell his own interpretation of the conflict and strip it of the wider context. Following B’tselem’s lead, Kristof also ignores the human rights violations of Jewish Israelis in Hebron, including the murder of a 10 month old baby – Shalhevet Pas by a Palestinian sniper. And claims regarding the impact of Israel’s separation barrier and checkpoints completely erases the fact that hundreds or perhaps thousands of Israeli lives that have been spared by preventing the entry of suicide bombers. This is also a primary human rights issue, which the activists in B’tselem and Machsom Watch find inconvenient, and which no human rights group has documented using video cameras.

Expropriating human rights rhetoric for partisan claims, erasing the context and complexity of conflict situations, and applying human rights exclusively to one side of a conflict is morally unacceptable. Such biased approaches from NGOs have severely undermined the ethical foundations and credibility of human rights, which are by definition universal and must be applied equally.

Gerald Steinberg
Executive Director
NGO Monitor
Jerusalem, Israel