Gerald M. Steinberg

From Goldstone to the NGO Campaign Exploiting Children

Almost a decade ago, Judge Richard Goldstone put his name on a report, officially published by the UN Human Rights Council, condemning Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza. The contents of this 500-page document, ostensibly on the three week 2008/9 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, mainly recycled claims by respected human rights organizations. But Goldstone was immediately challenged by inconsistencies and questions that he could not answer, and realized that that he had been exploited by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These events led to his retraction of the report and ultimately the destruction of his reputation and career.

But the NGO network – led by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International – continues to single out Israel and make claims with no basis in fact. The pattern of publications based on their faulty information and imagined concepts of international law continues.

In March 2018, the NGO umbrella group Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict published a lengthy document urging the UN Secretary General to add Israel to a list of “grave violators” of children’s rights. Led by HRW, this group again claimed to have collected “evidence” that should lead to Israel’s isolation, condemnation, and sanctioning.

As with the NGO-Goldstone case, Watchlist’s methodology fails to meet basic requirements for human rights reports. They claim to rely on “all publicly available reports related to grave violations against children in 25 relevant country situations in 2017,” but provide no information on how the credibility of reports are evaluated, if at all, and on criteria for including or excluding sources.

In its analysis of alleged Israeli “grave violations,” Watchlist claims that 13 minors (some of whom while in the process of carrying out terror attacks) were killed by Israeli forces in 2017. In comparison, Watchlist lists “533 verified child casualties” in Syria, “several hundred Rohuungya villagers” (including children) in Myanmar, at least 64 children killed in the Congo. Erasing the gross disparity, the IDF (which the authors conflate with police and other security forces) gets far more attention in the Watchlist Policy Note than any other country or armed group.

As NGO Monitor demonstrates in its analysis of the 2018 Watchlist Policy Note, Watchlist’s so-called research methodology is even more skewed and is deliberately misleading. The NGOs recommend listing Israel because the alleged number of “killing and maiming” of Palestinian children (13) in 2017 is above an entirely fictitious threshold.

The erasure of the terror context, and the Palestinian practice of deliberately using minors in violent confrontations, coupled with extensive incitement, is standard among these NGOs. Terror groups that routinely commit “grave violations” against Palestinian minors, including Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), are not mentioned in the Watchlist report. Similarly, the countless videos of children being trained as child soldiers in Hamas summer camps and the incitement by various Palestinian factions is missing.

Many of the allegations are sourced to an NGO going by the name of Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P). This group, in turn, is closely linked to the PFLP, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel.  Numerous DCI-P staff and board members are hailed by the PFLP as “comrades” and/or “leaders.” In addition to its terror affiliations, the group has no credibility and fails to meet Watchlist’s claim to base its claims on “reputable international nongovernmental organizations.”

As in the case of the Goldstone report, HRW, Amnesty International, and local Palestinian human rights NGOs are skilled at selling their products to allied UN bodies, journalists, and diplomats. DCI-P and other members of the Watchlist group are also core participants in a “UNICEF Palestine” working group that is supposedly tasked with protecting children. Unsurprisingly, this is another venue used to exploit children for propaganda.

When Judge Goldstone courageously acknowledged that he was wrong and misled into joining the cynical campaign to label Israelis as war criminals, he set an important example. Unfortunately, the leaders of the NGOs behind these campaigns, and their funders, learned nothing. The bogus Watchlist report and the series of UNICEF “reports” focusing on children merely the latest examples.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)
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