Human Rights Watch was saddened to read in The New York Times on October 20, 2009 that its founding chair, Robert L. Bernstein, feels he must "join the critics" of our work on Israel. We fundamentally disagree with Mr. Bernstein's views.
Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of "closed" societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny. If that were the case, we would not work on US abuses in Guantanamo Bay, police abuse in Brazil, the "untouchables" in India, or migrants in South Africa. "Open" societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses and pressing for their end.
Human Rights Watch does not devote more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region, or in the world. We've produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases, and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000, and the vast majority of these were about countries other than Israel. Furthermore, our Middle East division is only one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch. The work on Israel is a tiny fraction of Human Rights Watch's work as a whole.
It is not the case that Human Rights Watch had "no access to the battlefield" after the Israeli operation in Gaza in January 2009. Although the Israeli government denied us access, our researchers entered Gaza via the border with Egypt and conducted extensive interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, United Nations officials, local authorities, and others. As in war zones around the world, we also visited attack sites, analyzed ballistics evidence, photographed wounds, and examined autopsy and other medical reports.
Mr. Bernstein brought his concerns about our work on Israel to a full meeting of the Human Rights Watch Board of Directors in April. The board unanimously rejected his view that Human Rights Watch should report only on closed societies, and expressed its full support for the organization's work.
Human Rights Watch stands fully behind the work we have done on Israel and around the world.