HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH VERSUS THE UNKNOWN LOBBY. This post by Alan Dershowitz, arguing that human rights groups' criticisms of Israel should be dismissed, overwhelmingly focuses on Amnesty International, but does offer up a token attack on Human Rights Watch:

The two principal "human rights" organizations are in a race to the bottom to see which group can demonize Israel with the most absurd legal arguments and most blatant factual misstatements. Until last week, Human Rights Watch enjoyed a prodigious lead, having "found" - contrary to what every newspaper in the world had reported and what everyone saw with their own eyes on television - "no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack."

Shocking. Now let's look at what the HRW report "Fatal Strikes: Israel�s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon" (PDF) actually says:

The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah, and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack. Hezbollah occasionally did store weapons in or near civilian homes and fighters placed rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers, which are serious violations of the laws of war because they violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. However, those cases do not justify the IDF�s extensive use of indiscriminate force which has cost so many civilian lives. In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack.

That sounds much more reasonable, does it not? But selective quotation and spurious attacks on the motives of human rights groups is a lot easier than trying to rebut the specific accusations HRW has leveled. Now what is true is that the evidence HRW presents is overwhelmingly drawn from interviews with Lebanese people. Probably at least some of the interviewees are lying or misremembering. And it's at least possible, though certainly unlikely, that they're all lying. But this is the standard method for cases like these. HRW reports -- as do other human rights groups -- about violence in Darfur or the Anfal campaign in Iraq that idealism-minded American Jews otherwise have no problem citing. And rightly so; albeit imperfect, this is the best way available to get information about crisis situations.

You can see more on The Lobby That Must Not Be Named's attacks on Human Rights Watch here. I found the Dershowitz article, naturally, through a link proferred by Martin Peretz who complains of "the treachery of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch." In his very next post he reminds us of an article that ran on his magazine's website that was, in Peretz's words, "dealing with the same subject" without mentioning that the article, while critical of Amnesty, praised Human Rights Watch for its principled commitment to criticizing both sides in an even-handed manner.

--Matthew Yglesias

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