On Funding Evil To the Editor: Evan Kohlmann's criticism of my book Funding Evil[1] is self-contradictory. How can the book be, as he writes and I agree, a "valuable contribution to the study of how money eventually appears in the pockets of terrorists"

On Funding Evil

To the Editor:

Evan Kohlmann's criticism of my book Funding Evil[1] is self-contradictory. How can the book be, as he writes and I agree, a "valuable contribution to the study of how money eventually appears in the pockets of terrorists" if Mr. Kohlmann considers the sources I use unreliable?

Mr. Kohlmann claims that my sources "are newspaper articles from unreliable publishers," and goes on to give two examples:

First, he says "Ehrenfeld labels criminal suspects involved in a terrorist-linked scheme to trade Stinger missiles for drugs as 'members' or 'operatives' of Al-Qaeda without providing the evidence for this assertion." Far from an unknown newspaper, the source for this quote is a statement issued by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Second, Mr. Kohlmann says that I quote "an anonymous Western intelligence source stating that former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian—accused of helping fundraise and propagandize on behalf of Palestinian Islamic Jihad—was likewise 'one of Al-Qaeda's most important U.S. operatives.'"

This last fact is not widely known, even to those who follow the Arian case. However, the practice of quoting anonymous intelligence sources is commonplace. While the source could not be publicly revealed, his authority and claim—as with every source in this book —was fact-checked by the author, lawyers, and editors. As the Arian case proceeds, this and much more information will be revealed in court.

Funding Evil was reviewed and vetted pre-publication by many intelligence operatives in the U.S. and elsewhere who are familiar with the subject matter and who have been unanimous in their approval. The same goes for former CIA director James Woolsey, who wrote the book's foreword.

Sincerely,

Rachel Ehrenfeld

Human Rights Watch Denies Bias

To the Editor

Rather than acknowledge Israel's troubling human rights record, Gerald M. Steinberg tries to tar organizations that speak of it as biased ("NGOs Make War on Israel, Summer 2004). Anyone who addresses Israeli abuses, according to Steinberg, has adopted "the Palestinian political agenda" with the aim of "demonizing" Israel. That there might be any validity to their reports is not even considered. That blindness to reality does no service to Israel, whose global esteem has plummeted precisely because of its government's Steinbergesque failure to acknowledge and change policies that flout international human rights standards.

Steinberg's discussion of the April 2002 Israeli military incursion into the Jenin refugee camp is illustrative. After a detailed investigation, Human Rights Watch publicly rejected claims that Israeli troops had committed a "massacre." Yet because a finding favorable to Israel contradicts Steinberg's storyline on Human Rights Watch as an implacably biased organization, he reduces this highly publicized report to the grudging statement that the group's executive director "avoided repeating false claims."

In a careful, case-by-case analysis based on extensive eyewitness testimony, Human Rights Watch did report on several "war crimes" committed by Israeli troops in Jenin. The Israel Defense Forces tacitly accepted these findings by announcing changes in two of its troops' most criticized practices, but for Steinberg, the "allegations" of Israeli war crimes were "unsubstantiated." In Steinberg's view, direct and corroborated evidence that Israeli troops used Palestinian civilians as shields and forced them to perform dangerous military tasks demonstrates not war crimes but the "entirely subjective political and ideological preferences" of NGOs.

Steinberg can't avoid Human Rights Watch's 172-page report on Palestinian suicide-bombing attacks on civilians. He praises Human Rights Watch for labeling these attacks "crimes against humanity" and for spelling out their impact on Israelis "in detail." Yet he inexplicably calls the report "a major departure from [the organization's] previous policies." In fact, Human Rights Watch issued eight separate public statements condemning Palestinian suicide-bombing attacks on civilians in the fourteen months preceding the October 2002 report.

Steinberg charges that Human Rights Watch's suicide-bombing report "refus[ed] to consider the evidence regarding Yasir Arafat's direct involvement." Yet he never lets on that the report considered this evidence in detail and criticized Arafat for being insufficiently firm in condemning the attacks but found no evidence from any source showing that Arafat was directing them. Steinberg offers no evidence to support his assumptions about Arafat's guilt.

Much of Steinberg's ire is directed toward the August 2001 U.N.-sponsored racism conference held in Durban, South Africa. The conference surveyed discriminatory practices worldwide, but for Steinberg, it somehow indicated bias to suggest that Israel's practices were "an appropriate topic" as well. In a widely publicized statement, Human Rights Watch repudiated the NGO conference in Durban for accusing Israel of genocide and equating Zionism with racism. Yet Steinberg dismisses that statement of principle as an opportunistic attempt "to avoid a loss of credibility (and donations)."

Steinberg claims that Human Rights Watch denounced Israel's security barrier "without giving the Israeli rationale" behind it, when in fact the organization explicitly stated Israel's rationale but found it justifying at best a barrier on the 1967 border, not one that makes deep incursions into occupied territory. He calls Israel's targeted killing of terrorist suspects "the most discriminate of all counterterrorism measures," brushing aside the inconvenient fact that Israel has neither demonstrated the suspects' guilt nor showed that their arrest is impossible. He claims that "the international human rights NGOs invest vast resources [in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] in comparison to other conflict zones around the world," but never bothers to mention that the one researcher that Human Rights Watch devotes to Israeli and Palestinian abuses (in a staff of 180) is no different from the number assigned to other countries in conflict.

It does Israel no favor to pretend that its troubling human rights record can be reduced to a problem of others' bias. To salvage Israel's diminished reputation, its supporters should spend less time propagating Steinberg's falsehoods and half-truths and more time grappling with the disturbing reality.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
for Middle East and North Africa
Human Rights Watch
September 29, 2004

Gerald Steinberg Responds

In her emotional response, Sarah Leah Whitson repeats the Human Rights Watch party line, rather than rebut the issues raised in my detailed analysis of the political exploitation of human rights rhetoric by NGOs. Consistent with the fierce anti‑Israel campaigns at MADRE[2] where she worked before HRW, Whitson continues to peddle the fiction that the Durban Conference on Racism, in which the NGO network played the central role, innocently "surveyed discriminatory practices worldwide," and Israel bashing was only a sideline. In contrast, the Ford Foundation reviewed and eventually severed funding for NGOs responsible for this orgy of demonization.

Similarly, after taking credit for belatedly stating the obvious regarding the lie of the "Jenin massacre," she repeats HRW's "war crimes" claims in a way that highlights the absence of any definition or standard. Contrary to the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations charter, Whitson would deny nations the right to defend themselves against terrorism. If the Israel obsessed team at Human Rights Watch is objective in their criticism of the human shield issue, they would also lead a campaign against Fatah, Hamas, and others that launch missiles and dispatch suicide bombers from Gaza's densely-packed neighborhoods.

There are other instances where the partisan staff of Human Rights Watch sacrifices its human rights credentials, integrity and credibility for the sake of political advocacy. For example, Yasir Arafat's role in terror, including the Karine-A arms shipment and his personal allocations to bombers, simply does not fit into the Human Rights Watch political agenda. As a result, Whitson closes her eyes to the evidence. Her reference to "the 1967 border" should be to the 1949 armistice line, which has an entirely different status.

Whitson's misunderstanding of the reality created in the environment of mass terror hampers her judgment. Thus, her call for the arrest and trial of mass murders like Ahmed Yassin ignores the fact that Gaza is not a U.S. suburb, and terrorists tend not to answer subpoenas or arrest warrants, nor do their supporters picket peacefully outside the courtroom. Lastly, her denial of Human Rights Watch's neglect of real catastrophes in Sudan highlights the revisionism of the human rights community and underlines the need for careful monitoring and fact-checking of self-proclaimed human rights groups.

Gerald M. Steinberg

Editor, NGO Monitor

[1] "Reviews," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2004, pp. 85-6.
[2]See, "Palestine, Country Overview: The Conflict," MADRE website, New York, accessed Dec. 27, 2004, at http://www.madre.org/country_pale.html.