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The assault on Human Rights Watch and Shawan Jabarin

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A little wave came out of the Israeli agitprop machine yesterday: Harold Evans wrote a piece in the Daily Beast, soon amplified  by one of the Washington Post’s resident Israelists, Jennifer Rubin. They attacked Human Rights Watch, the venerable organization once called Helsinki Watch, where it monitored Soviet bloc compliance with the Helsinki Accords.

HRW now has a global reach and still shines a light on practices which dictatorships and oppressive regimes prefer would go unnoticed. 

Recently, HRW appointed Shawan Jabarin, a West Bank Palestinian activist, to its Mid East advisory committee. Like all politically active Palestinians, Jabarin has been subject to decades of harassment by Israel—travel bans, detentions, the typical kind of thing. Many of the actions against him have been justified by Israeli courts by reference to “secret evidence”. On that basis, Evans and Jennifer Rubin label Jabarin a “terror activist.” An Israeli agitprop outfit, NGO Monitor, references Jabarin’s connections as a student activist in the 1980’s with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group which carried out several high profile airline hijackings about forty years ago. 

In a pointed letter to the Daily Beast, HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson noted that Jabarin has a long and internationally recognized career as a human rights activist and a dense record of cooperation with Israeli human rights groups. Next to that accusations of terrorism based on murky “secret evidence” and ties to a group which was active two generations ago don’t mean very much. I concur completely. 

But the episode underscores another question: what are Palestinians supposed to do to fight for their rights? Three facts always belong in that discussion. Two involve the former Israeli prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Both worked at the highest levels of organizations seriously engaged in terrorism in the years leading to Israel’s founding—deploying terror against Arab civilians and British troops. Together the two make up their own cornerstone of the cliché “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Because their cause was victorious, the two have been received with pomp and circumstance in Congress and the White House, and are of course revered in Israel and by Israel’s friends in the US.

To the cases of Begin and Shamir should be added the statement made in 1998 by former Israeli general, prime minister and current defense minister Ehud Barak. Asked by an Israeli journalist what he would have done if he was born Palestinian, Barak replied simply “I would have joined a terrorist organization. ” I assume there is not much to the “secret evidence” against Shawan Jabarin. But what if there were? On what basis does anyone put Palestinian terror on different moral plane than that initiated by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Why not try to judge both acts by a single standard?

Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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