Citing overhaul, new Human Rights Watch chief pans Israeli ‘rampage’ on human rights


The new chief executive of Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused the government of being “on a rampage” against human rights in Israel, taking particular issue with the coalition’s planned judicial reform.

“With the current state of the Israeli government and the attacks on the judiciary in particular, we see that this is not a government that fulfills human rights,” HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan, an asylum claim lawyer, told Reuters.

“This is the government that is really on the rampage against human rights at home against its own people in Israel,” Hassan said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted progress on judicial reform legislation for talks with the opposition on Monday, following months of nationwide protests.

As it stands, the legislative package — among other things — will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with a bare majority, protect laws from judicial oversight, and put the selection of judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

While supporters say the judicial reform will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the measures will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, endangering democracy and leaving many rights unprotected.

A protest outside the Knesset against the government’s proposed judicial reform, in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Hassan said she hoped the US would “leverage” their relationship to hold Israel accountable for its alleged violations and push it to change course, fearing the human rights ‘disaster’ would be judicial recommendations.

Marking a low point in bilateral relations since Netanyahu returned to office, US President Joe Biden publicly expressed his displeasure with the prime minister’s judicial reform for the first time on Tuesday and said “no” when asked the he would be inviting Netanyahu to the Prime Minister. White House, adding: “Not soon.”

“We expect the US … to hold Israel accountable for abuses with the same intensity that they are willing to hold China accountable for their abuses,” Hassan said Thursday.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Lior Haiat blasted the new head of HRW, labeling the remarks “a great example of how biased she and the organization are.”

“Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy. The demonstrators of the last few months are a great example. Hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating in the streets. Without violence. Protected by the police. This is how real democracy works,” she said.

“It’s another example of an organization targeting Israel for nothing, with minimal understanding or fairness. So sad,” Haiat said

HRW is widely praised among human rights activists for its work, but its harsh criticism of Israel – including allegations of war crimes and apartheid against the Palestinians – has angered Israeli authorities and pro-Israel groups.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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