The World’s Most Potent Bad Actors

The NGOs that fly under a false flag.

The world’s most potent bad actors—because they are widely admired and treated as moral arbiters—are the NGOs that fly under a false flag, claiming to be champions of human rights.      

Human rights NGOs bear a major responsibility for the demonizing of Israel in the West.  In Catch the Jew Tuvia Tenenbom, masquerading as Tobi the German, focuses on the hundreds of so-called human rights NGOs, heavily funded by European governments (including that of Germany), that infest Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories and are hunting for Israeli misdeeds—and fabricating them (sometimes staging them) as they come up short.  Robert Bernstein, the publisher who founded Human Rights Watch and served as its chairman for 20 years, publicly disassociated himself from the organization in a 2009 op-ed in the New York Times. Although Bernstein’s focus is on Human Rights Watch, no one has put the problem with these outfits better than he:

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses.  But we saw that they have the ability to correct them—through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform. That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic world.…Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies. Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records…The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepared report after report on Israel.

Since then the assaults on Israel have only grown more blatant, with Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of war crimes.    Recently its executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted a link to an article by Nadia Ellia, a Palestinian activist in the BDS movement, which declared that “white supremacy and Zionism are two of a kind.” Israeli Foreign Affairs spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon has called Human Rights Watch a “blatantly hostile anti-Israeli organization whose reports have the sole purpose of harming Israel with no consideration whatsoever for the truth or reality.” Human Rights Watch’s most recent initiative (with financial support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund) is to encourage punitive measures against banks that provide services to Israelis living in communities beyond the Green Line (the armistice lines of 1949).

Amnesty International, the other big fish in the human rights pond, assails Israel year after year, waxing especially indignant when Israel finally had enough of incessant rocket attacks and took on Hamas. Its one-sided reports ignore the years of unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas, the use by Hamas of human shields and Israeli efforts to spare civilian casualties to blithely accuse Israel for breaching the laws of war “by carrying out direct attacks on civilians.”  Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor in an interview with Voice of Israel radio said of Amnesty: “Almost all of the reports are hearsay from Palestinian sources.  All of this is a game. There is no ethical basis to their research.”  Not to be outdone by Human Rights Watch’s most recent initiative on banks, Amnesty has now declared “we’ll consider whether the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories meets the international definition of apartheid” a process that “will require thorough research and a rigorous legal review of the evidence.”  Given what passes for research at Amnesty and the ability to use as “evidence” the wildly distorted reports that pour from UN agencies, it’s not difficult to predict Amnesty’s conclusion.   And given that “practices of apartheid” are listed as grave breaches of international humanitarian law, Amnesty will feel free to demand the most punitive international measures against Israel.

Critics of one or another policy position of human rights NGOs almost invariably stipulate that their “intentions are good.”  No, they are not.   Their attempts to destroy the legitimacy of the Jewish state (and ultimately the state itself) bear witness to the fact that most are malign actors.

But Israel is a small country and in the last few years the human rights NGOs, while by no means neglecting Israel,  have embraced a much larger target—the European Union.  In this case they are not flirting with genocide, but are using human rights—in this case the rights of refugees, as they define them—to deny Europeans the right to borders. The same romanticism of third world peoples and hostility toward the supposedly forever-guilty colonialist West that partly informs the animus against Israel pervades the effort to throw open the borders of Europe to all who would come there, whether in flight from civil unrest or in search of economic opportunity. Human rights NGOs not only seize the moral high ground to shame Europe’s political elites into accepting huge numbers of migrants who come uninvited to their shores, but box in EU member countries through legal challenges and by deploying their own ships at sea. 

The extent to which human rights NGOs have mobilized to physically transfer migrants to Europe’s shores is not widely appreciated. In 2014, according to the Italian coastguard, rescue boats operated by NGOs brought in less than one percent of all migrants. Thus far, in 2017, the Italian coastguard reports NGOs have picked up more than a third of all migrants. (Frontex, the EU border protection agency, provides an even larger estimate of 40%.) The NGOs are aided by a legal ruling in 2012 by the European Commission on Human Rights (ECHR) in Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy, known familiarly as the Hirsi ruling (in which Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and two other NGOs were given the right to participate as “third parties” and were liberally quoted in the ruling). The suit was on behalf of 24 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea, part of a group of 200 who had been rescued from drowning at sea by ships of the Italian Revenue Police which transferred them to an Italian military ship.

The lawsuit challenged the Italian policy that had sent the migrants back to their point of departure in Libya with the cooperation of the Libyan government (then headed by Moammar Gaddafi). The 17-man ECHR court ruled unanimously that once on an Italian ship migrants were on Italian soil and each individual had the right to “independent and rigorous scrutiny” of his asylum claims plus a right to appeal the initial decision.  The court awarded 15,000 euros (plus legal costs) to each of the migrants, a princely sum in their countries of origin.   Not surprisingly Amnesty hailed the ruling as “historic.” As Belgian author Drieu Godefridi has pointed out, in Africa everyone understood that if they could reach the Mediterranean Europe’s navies would be obliged to ferry them directly to Europe.  The objective was no longer to reach Europe but to be intercepted. 

Traffickers no longer bothered to fill the tanks on the unseaworthy boats and rafts they crammed with humanity—they just had to make it beyond territorial waters. In the last four years, more than 600,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria is the largest single source), have reached Italy. In the first six months of 2017  85,000 arrived, 9% above the number in 2016, with 10,000 in the last week of June alone. In July an increasingly desperate Italy –as the rest of Europe blocked the path of the migrants northward-- pushed back, demanding the human rights NGOs operating in the Mediterranean (among them Doctors without Borders, Jugend Rettet, Save the Children, SOS Mediterraneee and Sea Watch) agree to a code of conduct.  The code is designed to stop the NGOs from in effect partnering with human smuggling rings. 

Thus, to take a few items, the code prohibits the NGOs' ships from turning off their tracking devices (with the devices turned off they can go undetected into Libyan territorial waters), bans light-signal communications used to signal traffickers a good moment to launch their boats, requires NGO boats that pick up refugees to take them to ports in Italy (not unload them onto larger ships and immediately engage in further close-to-Libya “rescues”), and requires NGOs to allow Italian police on board their vessels (ostensibly to check for the presence of smugglers aboard the refugee boats but whose effect would also be to impede violations of the code).  Predictably Amnesty and Human Rights Watch mounted their virtuous high horse, declaring that “attempts to restrict NGO search and rescue operations risk endangering thousands of lives.”  Four of the eight NGOs  active in the Mediterranean refused to sign on to the code. But Italy showed it meant business by impounding the ship Iuventa, operated by one of the refusers, the German Jugend Rettet (Rescue the Youth),  on the grounds, according to public prosecutor Ambrogio Cartosio, that “there were contacts, meetings, understandings” between the boat and the traffickers, and migrants were “handed over” to the Iuventa by smugglers rather than being “rescued.”

The number of migrants trafficked out of Libya has fallen dramatically, presumably in good part because of Italy’s action. Indeed the Italian coast guard threatened to attack boats operated by NGOs, prompting several to suspend their operations. But few believe this is anything but a temporary respite, given the huge profits made by traffickers and the enormous demand for their services.  Gatestone Institute Fellow Soeren Kern reports that according to a (leaked) classified German government report more than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe.   The report says one million are waiting in Libya, another million in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia and 50,000 in Morocco. More than three million waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing over to Europe by Erdogan in accordance with the deal he struck with the EU.  An African Union-European Union summit that brought 55 African and 28 European leaders to the Ivory Coast on Nov. 29-30 to come up with longer-term measures to stem the refugee flow came up empty, the only concrete decision to evacuate 3,800 migrants stranded in Libya. 

There have been thoughtful proposals to control the refugee flow, as for example in Douglas Murray’s The Strange Suicide of Europe.  But little will be achieved unless Europe’s decision makers and opinion shapers wake up from their delusion that human rights NGOs offer the moral touchstone by which to evaluate their actions.  (At present European countries in fact provide a substantial portion of their funds.) The first essential step is for European leaders to recognize that far from holy humanitarians, these NGOs are destructive ideologues who would deprive the citizens of European countries of their rights to all that is most important to them--their legal and political systems, their cultures and traditions.  In the perspective of the human rights NGOs, citizens have no better claim to their country than foreigners who demand to enter, whether genuine refugees (although major NGOs have shown little concern for Yazidis and Christians, truly in need of refuge) or people fleeing conflict zones or escaping poverty.  Add them all up and virtually all the peoples of Africa and the Middle East have claims to a life in Europe.  There are layers of irony here.  The NGOs draw upon Europe’s feelings of guilt for its colonial past and above all for the Holocaust.  Indeed the laws and rulings invoked by the various EU courts on behalf of the refugees are for the most part based on rulings made to assure that Europe would not again close its doors to those fleeing for their lives, as it closed them to the Jews.  Germany, as the perpetrator of mass murder, obviously bears the chief guilt and as a result Angela Merkel has been in the forefront in welcoming the newcomers—“we can do this.”   Yet it is precisely the huge wave of Moslems, the vast majority of migrants, with their entrenched anti-Semitism, that will ensure that Jews are forced to flee a hostile Europe. 

The human rights NGOs fail to recognize that citizens have responsibilities as well as rights, responsibilities that it is especially incumbent upon their political leaders to understand and fulfill.  Journalist Peter Hutchens put it very well in 2015.  He was writing about England but what he says applies equally to the rest of Europe:

Actually we can’t do what we like [with Britain].  We inherited it from our parents and grandparents and we have a duty to hand it on to our children and grandchildren, preferably improved and certainly undamaged.  It is one of the heaviest responsibilities we will ever have.  We cannot just give it away to complete strangers on an impulse because it makes us feel good about ourselves.

Rael Jean Isaac is author of several books, including The Coercive Utopians, Madness in the Streets and Roosters of the Apocalypse.

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