Becca Wertman: Human rights for all! …Or just some?

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      By Becca Wertman

      December 10 marks the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the declaration that acknowledges that an “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” In short—all human beings are equal and we all deserve to have our human rights defended. 

      Nongovernmental organizations often claim that they are upholding the declaration and its universal values. Indeed, they are considered by many to be trustworthy and impartial organizations that aid in the protection of human rights and in holding governments accountable. International, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs are no exception to this perception.

      However, NGO advocacy often stays far from the true universality of human rights, and instead more narrowly focuses on a specific political agenda.

      The so-called human rights NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict instead routinely condemn Israeli security measures, including the killing of Palestinian assailants perpetrating attacks against Israeli civilians. Yet they remain silent when deliberate terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians take place.  

      I happened to be at one such attack.

      On June 8, 2016, two terrorists opened fire at a Max Brenner café in Sarona Market—an outdoor restaurant complex in Tel Aviv. I was sitting at the nearby Café Landwer deciding whether to order a salad or splurge and have pasta.

      Four innocent Israelis were murdered that night, and 16 were injured from the shooting spree. Upon hearing the gunshots I ran into the restaurant and hid inside the bathroom for over an hour—until police informed me that it was safe to come out and cope with the terror I had just experienced.

      While a life-altering experience for me, apparently the attack was not so significant to two of the largest human rights organizations, despite their stated commitment to upholding and advancing the human rights of all peoples. This lack of concern is not unique, and the Sarona terror attack is in fact a prime example of the systematic disregard for the human rights of Israeli civilians and one-sided focus by many NGOs that claim a universal concern.

      Human Rights Watch (HRW), one such NGO, prides itself on its “accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of media, and targeted advocacy”. Yet time after time, the organization fails to release statements regarding terror attacks such as the one this summer at Sarona, while simultaneously issuing constant condemnations of Israeli political and military actions. As has been documented by NGO Monitor research, HRW’s publications reflect the absence of professional standards, research methodologies, and military and legal expertise as well a deep-seated ideological bias against Israel.

      Another major international NGO, Amnesty International (AI), similarly states that it campaigns for “a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.” However, it disproportionately singles out Israel for condemnation, focusing solely on the conflict with the Palestinians, misrepresenting the complexity of the conflict, and ignoring severe human rights violations in the region.

      AI did release a statement on its website regarding the shooting, which begins with an apparent genuine disdain for the events that transpired. The post continues to criticize Israel’s response to the incident—namely sealing off the town where the terrorists came from during the investigation. AI does not suggest how Israeli authorities should instead conduct an investigation, nor how Israel might effectively protect its civilians from such heinous acts. AI additionally fails to give equal attention to Palestinian leaders who incite such violence, choosing instead to focus on bashing Israel even at a time when its citizens were mourning—a form of victim blaming.

      HRW’s and AI’s responses to the Sarona terror attack are just two examples of the broader phenomenon of a lack for universal concern for all people affected by the Arab-Israel conflict. When innocent civilians are harmed, HRW and AI should speak out, regardless of the religious, cultural, or national identity of the victims.

      Unfortunately, for the most part, these two organizations, along with numerous others that are politically active in the Arab-Israeli conflict, choose to instead take a more particularistic position.

      Perhaps this is due to NGOs’ simplistic perception of the conflict through the false prism of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli aggression. Regardless of the true complexity of the situation, and the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as well as the stated missions of these NGOs) advocates for the protection of all peoples, hundreds of civilians running for their lives during a murderous rampage is not worthy of any sympathy, unless it is accompanied by a healthy dose of condemnation.

      So, today, on Human Rights Day, I ask the following question: if the lives of all people are created equal, why do so many NGOs clearly view some lives as more valuable than others?

      Becca Wertman is a former Vancouver resident and deputy editor of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.

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