Human Rights Watch Defends Shawan Jabarin

Who is Shawan Jabarin? This week Harold Evans reported anger at his appointment to the Human Rights Watch advisory board on the Middle East. Critics cite the finding by Israel’s Supreme Court that Jabarin leads a double life as a human rights activist who has a secret association with a terrorist organization. That’s a “curious and misguided” charge says the HRW program director. Its new board member is part of “the reason that tyrants in the Middle East are now trembling in their boots.”

02.17.11 11:02 PM ET

On the one hand, there's the “secret information.” The critics cited by Sir Harold Evans rely on it exclusively in questioning the appointment to our advisory board of Shawan Jabarin, although neither they, nor Jabarin and his lawyers, have ever seen it. On the other hand, there are decades of distinguished human rights activism, defending victims of abuses by Palestinians and Israelis. Jabarin runs the largest and most prestigious human rights organization on the West Bank. In addition to his criticisms of Israeli violations, he has been one of the leading Palestinian voices condemning torture by the Palestinian Authority, and suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israelis frequently accuse people, on the basis of “secret security material,” of posing a security threat. But in this case, they are not even alleging that Jabarin has committed any crime. He has been periodically detained and barred from traveling, but this “dangerous” man is allowed to move about freely in most of the West Bank and has occasionally been allowed to travel abroad—except for the purposes of collecting honorary degrees and human rights awards. In 2009, for example, he was barred from visiting the Netherlands to collect an annual prize given in honor of someone who best embodies the spirit of resistance to the Nazis. He shared the prize with the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, a close and enthusiastic partner of Jabarin's.

Secret evidence submitted by Israeli intelligence, that can't be contested? Or a long and important career defending victims of human rights abuse, no matter who the perpetrator? We chose the latter in making him part of the organization's advisory group on the Middle East.

People like Shawan Jabarin are the reason that tyrants in the Middle East are now trembling in their boots. The critics have chosen exactly the wrong man, and the wrong moment, for this curious and misguided attack.

Iain Levine is the program director at Human Rights Watch.