I just learned that my former colleague and longtime friend, Richard Falk, has been pushed out of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Here's how it went down, as I understand it: Kenneth Roth of HRW received a letter from Hillel Neuer, the Executive Director of an organization called UN Watch, dated December 17 th, attacking Richard as a "racist and enemy of human rights," and, of course, an anti-Semite1 (since — surprise! — UN Watch is an offshoot of the neocon American Jewish Committee and part of the uber-Zionist watchdog network). Roth and HRW then turned to Richard, and, without telling him about this letter, asked him to resign because his UN position as Special Rapporteur2 conflicts with an HRW policy that members (of its "regional support committees"?) should not have any official position with an intergovernmental agency like the UN. Apparently, HRW had forgotten about this policy during the four years since 2008, when Richard was appointed, but just happened to remember it within 24 hours of receiving the UN Watch letter. Good and trusting person that he is, Richard agreed to comply with this newly-unearthed policy. Only when a commenter on his blog3 asked him about it, did Richard realize that there was "more to the issue" than what he had been told:
Ms. Açelya Dano?lu
December 18, 2012 at 3:34 am #
Dear Professor Dr. Falk,
I heard that the Human Rights Watch removed you from their board of directors! Is it true? Your name is no longer listed on the website: http://www.hrw.org/cities/santa_barbara/committee
Did you resign because of the pressures from the UN Watch NGO which accused you of "antisemitism"? Did the board remove you? I do not understand.
December 18, 2012 at 7:30 am #
I was asked to resign, but supposedly because of my connection with the UN, which is contrary to HRW policy. Perhaps, there is more to the issue than what I have been told.
Look at the time stamps here. Remember that the UN Watch letter is dated December 17. That's some fast customer service!
Having learned that there was "more to the issue" than he had been led to believe, Richard, as I understand it, then went back Roth, et. al., for clarification. Was HRW asking him to resign because of the newly discovered a policy conflict, or because they were accepting and endorsing the UN Watch complaint? If not the latter, then would HRW make a statement supportive of him, and give him some assurance that he would be welcomed back once his mandate at the U.N. expired? Of course, no such statement of support or respect was forthcoming from HRW. UN Watch has no doubt about what happened, and why: "'You're Fired': Richard Falk Expelled from Human Rights Watch."
And neither should we. Everybody knows what HRW was responding to. Ardent Zionists, who are increasingly isolated in the world, are desperate to shut up and shut off anyone — especially anyone in the US, especially an impeccably articulate American Jewish intellectual — who dares provide a voice for the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Richard Falik's is precisely the kind of calm, reasonable voice of critique that is most threatening to the Israeli colonial (and the American imperial) project. HRW's act is a capitulation to UN Watch and all that it stands for. The weasly vision of Roth, et. al., rooting around in the HRW by-laws for something to tell Richard that would make it seem as if they were doing something other than capitulating to UN Watch should be called what it is: a flimsy, pathetic excuse. Let them at least have the courage to own what they've actually done, and say: "Yes, Richard, despite how well we know you and the work you've done with us, and throughout the world, for decades, we take seriously the charge that you are a "racist and enemy of human rights,' and, for that reason, we are asking you to leave.." Let HRW, and Richard Falk, be judged on that.
There is no question who will be found wanting. That anyone would pay any heed to people who would characterize Richard Falk in this way is ludicrous, and — to those who are less inclined than Richard to a sense of calm and patience — infuriating. It's especially so for HRW, an organization which claims to be independent and progressive. Anyone who knows Richard — and there are just too many whom he has taught and touched for this to go down any other way — knows that it is he who should be proud, and HRW which should be ashamed. It is their credibility, which voices like Richard Falk's gave them, that has been undermined. It's their loss, not his.
We have all watched HRW's struggle to be fair. On balance, I think they've done good work and I've been a supporter. Given their donor base and their ties to the US elite, they are under enormous pressure. Nonetheless, given what is now the ever-more-blatant willingness of the US and Israel to do anything they want with impunity, American-based human-rights organizations like HRW are going to find it increasingly difficult to maintain their credibility unless they are willing to clearly and unequivocally denounce the outrageously illegal activities of the countries their donors are prone to identify with. They know that, until and unless they call for American and Israeli politicians in the dock at the ICC, their denunciations of African and Third World dictators will ring increasingly hollow. If they cannot stand up for a man who's been one of the outstanding voices of peace and human rights of our age, in the face of ludicrous charges from reactionary neocons who spend their lives promoting war, then there is little chance they will do anything other than avoid the hard judgments that are likely to be necessary in the face of the future actions by the world's worst aggressors.
I will certainly have nothing more to do with HRW unless they make some statement abjuring the UN Watch complaint, and assuring Richard Falk that he will be welcomed back once his UN appointment is over. I urge everyone to make their feelings known to HRW.
1Neuer condemns Richard for "anti-Semitic" acts and remarks about eight times in the letter, which you can find here: http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2012/12/17/human-rights-watch-should-remove-antisemitic-u-n-official-richard-falk-from-its-board/. The letter makes a mistake, that's repeated elsewhere, identifying Falk as a member of the HRW "Board." He was, in fact, a member of the Santa Barbara City Committee, a part of what HRW calls its "global network of regional support committees."
It is a fool's errand to try to respond to any of the specifics of the letter. Richard is a target because he has been a fair and persuasive advocate of justice for Palestine and the Palestinian people. Period. The rest is hogwash. And everybody knows it.
2His official title is "Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967."
3The discussion of the HRW flap is in the comment section of this post on Falk's blog: http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/responding-to-the-unspeakable-killings-at-newtown-connecticut/ . You'll also see what I mean about Richard's calm and patient voice in response to the incessant Zionist trolling that's in play.