HRW And Hamas

The Right To Remain Silent?

Because the Romney-Obama debate wasn’t depressing enough, I spent some time last night reading Human Rights Watch’s recent report on Hamas oppression in Gaza. It’s horrifying. Not only does Hamas regularly torture folks they believe to be supporters of their rival Fatah, but they also torture the defense lawyers meant to represent them! One can argue about the right way for Israel and the U.S. to respond. I think that Hamas’s cold war with Fatah, and Gaza’s isolation from the outside world, makes it easier for Hamas to brutalize its opponents, and that the best way to improve human rights there would be for Fatah and Hamas to reconcile sufficiently to allow free Palestinian elections. But regardless of one’s view about the correct policy response, the Human Rights Watch report leaves no illusions about the despicable nature of Hamas rule. And liberals who pretend otherwise are doing the Palestinian cause no favors.

But if the report poses a moral challenge to pro-Palestinian liberals, it poses a challenge to conservatives too. One might think that a detailed report documenting Hamas oppression would be greeted with delight by the "pro-Israel" American right. After all, they loathe Hamas more than anyone, right? Curiously, though, I couldn’t find mention of the report on the websites of Commentary, Jennifer Rubin, the Weekly Standard, the Republican Jewish Coalition, or the Free Beacon.

Perhaps they just haven’t gotten to it yet. (And if they do, I’ll give credit where credit is due). But the report was released yesterday morning, an eternity ago in blog time, and was today the subject of an article in the New York Times.

Why would the American right miss an opportunity to slam Hamas? Perhaps because in doing so it would also be legitimizing Human Rights Watch, which publications like Commentary and The Weekly Standard and folks like Emergency Committee head Noah Pollak often bash for its alleged bias against Israel and naiveté about Israel’s Arab and Palestinian enemies. In fact, when a Twitter associate of his quoted the Hamas report, Pollak replied, Pollak replied: "HRW is politicized and extremist. Probably not wise for friends of Israel to treat them as if they were credible."

When you think about it, it's a fascinating test case of the right's alleged passion for human rights in the Palestinian and larger Arab world. Here's Human Rights Watch doing exactly what "Pro-Israel" conservatives have long demanded: issuing a detailed, damning report on the abuses of Israel's enemy, Hamas. And the right ignores it because it undermines their effort to discredit HRW's criticisms of Israel. So maybe what the right really wants isn't a Human Rights Watch that fearlessly goes after all sides, but no Human Rights Watch at all. Which, incidentally, is surely what Hamas wants as well.