Human Rights and Anti-Semitism: Beyond the Partisan Divide | Opinion

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent declaration on "identifying organizations that engage in, or otherwise support" boycott campaigns singling out Israel is an important acknowledgement of an unfortunate reality. There is ample evidence that the agendas of such groups and their impacts go far beyond straightforward criticism of policies, and venture into anti-Semitism.

This problem has persisted at least since the 2001 NGO Forum of the infamous UN Durban Conference ostensibly on racism—led in part by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—at which anti-Semitism was very visible. The participants declared their objective was the "complete isolation of Israel as an apartheid state." In the two decades that followed, these groups have worked intensely to implement the goal of turning Israel into a rogue state. I have devoted the past 20 years to researching and documenting the activities of these and other non-governmental organizations, particularly as they relate to Israel.

Singling out Israel as the NGO forum did, referring to it as inherently racist and denying Jews the right to self-determination are among the examples listed in the consensus definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Major NGOs frequently act in ways that, by this definition, are anti-Semitic.

NGOs' hypocritical campaigns to condemn, isolate and punish Israel using false allegations and invented "reports" are echoed by journalists and diplomats, based on the reputations of the self-proclaimed arbiters of human rights.

From false accusations of "massacres" in Jenin in 2002 to the infamous UN Goldstone report on the Gaza War (2009) and the repeat performance in 2014, to the UN Human Rights Council's recent travesty of publishing a discriminatory blacklist, with many other examples, this powerful NGO network has led the way.

These hyperactive NGO campaigns are filled with examples of modern blood libels and whitewashing of terror, including allegations that Israel "stole land" and deliberately kills innocent civilians (including children). For anyone looking beyond the labels of the self-declared guardians of morality, the case for labeling these organizations as systematically anti-Semitic is clear.

Pompeo Friedman
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) walks with US ambassador to Israel David Friedman as he prepares to board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on November 20, 2020. Patrick Semansky / POOL / AFP/Getty

At the same time, some have expressed concern that the State Department declaration, coming at this time, is partisan and politicized, thus detracting from the potential impact. But the issues stemming from the hostile takeover of the human rights movement started long before the current administration, and should not be simply dismissed because of American political polarization.

Indeed, from the beginning, the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been at the bipartisan core of liberal values. Eleanor Roosevelt led the American delegation that drafted this text, and since then, the leaders of both major parties have continued to emphasize these issues, and to condemn violations by dictators and totalitarian tyrants around the world.

But many supporters lost the thread, joining in or at best turning a blind eye to the systematic distortions, including anti-Semitism, led by Human Rights Watch and others. The evidence is in plain view for all who care to look. To cite one of many examples, in 2006 Ken Roth derisively referred to the Israeli responses to a brutal Hezbollah terror attack as "An eye for an eye" and "the morality of some more primitive moment." Roth's accusations were, in the words of Abraham Foxman, the head of the ADL at the time, "a classic anti-Semitic stereotype."

Officials of organizations who purport to promote human rights have repeatedly and obsessively singled out Israel for attack on social media, while systematically erasing the history of terror and rejection it has faced. Legitimate criticism of Israeli responses must not be confused with or used to justify demonization and hatred.

Precisely because the abuse of human rights to promote hate and discrimination is important to both the Left and the Right, and the evidence is overwhelming, it is important that the State Department's initiative be joined by both Democratic and Republican Party leaders in the United States, and by Europeans. The demand for serious measures, such as pressing organizations to adopt and implement the IHRA working definition, is not bound by party affiliation. Human rights, anti-Semitism and the need to take a strong stand against campaigns that combine them are too important to be rejected on the basis of narrow political partisanship.

Gerald Steinberg is the president of NGO Monitor and professor emeritus of political science, Bar Ilan University.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own. A version of this piece was previously published in The Jerusalem Post.