By B. Cohen
The brazen double standards underlying the approach of Human Rights Watch (HRW) – arguably the world’s leading human rights NGO – towards the Middle East were again laid bare yesterday, as the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director urged the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to display images of “death and destruction” in Gaza, while separately praising the Qatari regime for taking a “welcome step” in reforming its slave labor system.
Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s top staff member dealing with region, took to Twitter in response to a posting from BBC correspondent Kim Ghattas, who pointed out that the Washington, DC-based Holocaust museum was now showing an exhibition about the brutal abuse of human rights in Syria. “@BBCKimGhattas @DRovera @HolocaustMuseum @BBCNewsUS should also show pics of death and destruction in #Gaza,” Whitson declared.
While there was little surprise at Whitson’s insinuation that Israel is a genocidal regime similar to that in Syria, her comments generated an angry reaction nonetheless.
“Is it Human Rights Watch’s position that what is happening in Gaza is genocide?” columnist Jeffrey Goldberg asked Whitson.
“It certainly would be appropriate for the Holocaust Museum to feature an exhibit on genocidal Hamas theology,” Goldberg added.
Other detractors issued a reminder of Whitson’s meeting in 2009 with Seif Islam Gadaffi, the son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi. During that encounter, she praised Gadaffi junior as an “impetus for transformation”, hailing the reality – as she mistakenly saw it – that “change is in the air.”
Separately, HRW today issued a statement on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, more than 2,000 of whom were killed last year building stadiums for the soccer World Cup competition that the Gulf state is hosting in 2022.
“Qatar has recognized that reform is necessary and has promised to take some steps in the right direction,” Whitson gushed in the statement. “At a time when Qatar’s detractors are seeking to strip the country of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s best defense would be to pass meaningful legislative reforms that end the sponsorship system, punish abusive employers, and end worker-paid recruitment fees once and for all.”
As well as undermining the work of those human rights activists advocating that Qatar – widely believed to have secured the World Cup hosting rights by bribing international soccer officials – be prohibited from going ahead with the competition, Whitson’s statement made no mention that the country’s notorious kafala system, which strips migrant workers of their most basic rights, is a modern form of slavery. As the human rights organization Migrant Rights has reported, 600,000 migrant workers in Qatar and elsewhere in region “are estimated to be in conditions of forced labor.”