New York Daily News
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Dagger Aimed at Sharon Really Meant for Israel
By Zev Chafets
Nineteen years ago, during the war in Lebanon, Christian militiamen massacred Palestinians at two refugee camps. Israel controlled the area, and its defense minister, Ariel Sharon, was accused of allowing the slaughter to take place.
Within a year, he was tried by an Israeli commission of inquiry, found guilty of "indirect responsibility" for the killings and forced to leave his post.
This week, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, said that Sharon — now Israel's prime minister — should be put on trial as a war criminal for what happened in 1982. "There's no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
At this point, I need to mention my personal involvement in the aftermath of the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps. At the time, I was director of the government press office of Israel. I thought then (and still think) that Sharon bore a measure of responsibility for what happened.
As a government spokesman, I couldn't defend what he did or his defiant, unapologetic posture. And so I quit. The massacre cost me my job.
I suppose this should make me sympathetic to the campaign to brand Sharon a war criminal.
But I'm not, because I don't think Human Rights Watch is acting in good faith.
The timing makes me suspicious.
Roth says his organization is going after Sharon now simply because earlier this month a group of Palestinians from Sabra and Shatila lodged a criminal complaint in a Brussels court.
In other words, it's just a coincidence.
But that is, to be polite, disingenuous.
The Belgian law allowing foreigners to file war crime charges has been on the books since 1993.
The Palestinian plaintiffs came forward now as part of a well-coordinated international campaign (including a BBC documentary) to demonize Sharon and Israel.
On the very week Sharon is visiting the White House, Human Rights Watch uses the occasion to call on President Bush to "urge Sharon to cooperate in any investigation."
In other words, the President of the United States should tell the prime minister of Israel to arrest himself and turn himself over to the authorities.
At least that's the theory. "Obviously," Roth says, "this isn't going to happen."
Obviously. And just as obviously, the timing and intent were to embarrass Israel.
This isn't the first time Human Rights Watch has intervened in the Mideast propaganda war.
A few months ago, it came out for the Palestinian right of return, a scheme by which millions of Arabs would be eligible to immigrate to Israel. "Right of return" is well-understood code for the nullification of Israel as a Jewish state.
No Israeli government could accept the right of return, but it does have its supporters.
Internationally, they include Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Syria's Bashar Assad, Libya's Moammar Khadafy and terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden.
In America, the "right" to replace Israel with an Arab state is championed most prominently by two groups: Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam and Human Rights Watch. This is the foreign and domestic coalition that wants Sharon tried as a war criminal.
There are people I respect who say Human Rights Watch does important work. Maybe, but in this case it is engaged in something perverse — and dangerous.
After all, human rights law is an evolving field. Someday the government of Belgium may decide that it's a war crime to have engaged in propaganda on behalf of terrorists and thugs.
When that day comes, I bet Ariel Sharon will be down at the courthouse with a warrant for Kenneth Roth's arrest.