Garlasco, defending Israel?


The London Times has a smart critique of Human Rights Watch up on its website.

It’s in the best tradition of partisan British journalism:  The reporter doesn’t hide his bias — he thinks HRW are effete east coasters blind to the realities of the Islamic world — but he also lets the other side speak for itself.

There’s also a nugget of a paradox I hadn’t seen: The reporter, Jonathan Foreman, walks into the story by taking up the case of Marc Garlasco, HRW’s military researcher who was drummed out after pro-Israel groups revealed his enthusiasm for collecting Nazi memorabila.

So here’s the thing: HRW stood by Garlasco at first, but eventually drove him out. Foreman says Garlasco didn’t quite fit in — he depicts him as an ex-military gun type hanging around a bunch of effete east-coasters.

But more substantively, there was a difference between Garlasco and his colleagues on — of all things — Israel:

Associates of Garlasco have told me that there had long been tensions between Garlasco and HRW’s Middle East Division in New York — perhaps because he sometimes stuck his neck out and did not follow the HRW line. Garlasco himself apparently resented what he felt was pressure to sex up claims of Israeli violations of laws of war in Gaza and Lebanon, or to stick by initial assessments even when they turned out to be incorrect.

In June 2006, Garlasco had alleged that an explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people had been caused by Israeli shelling. However, after seeing the details of an Israeli army investigation that closely examined the relevant ballistics and blast patterns, he subsequently told the Jerusalem Post that he had been wrong and that the deaths were probably caused by an unexploded munition in the sand. But this went down badly at Human Rights Watch HQ in New York, and the admission was retracted by an HRW press release the next day.

So let me articulate fully what Foreman does not:

Marc Garlasco, who clashed with colleagues over his attempts to redress HRW’s alleged anti-Israel bias, was pushed out after a campaign launched by bloggers obsessed with HRW’s alleged anti-Israel bias.

In retrospect, this may not be surprising: According to Foreman, HRW took Garlasco on because they needed his Pentagon cred (he had guided targeted attacks during the Iraq war). Someone with a background in combat in civilian-heavy areas is going to come to the Gaza war with a more nuanced perspective.

But it has a lesson for all of us.  Sometimes gut-level reactions get the better of us (myself included): Garlasco’s hobby was weird, icky, off putting — but did it say anything, really, about his professionalism?

(I also think Foreman is slightly credulous about believing accounts that Israel’s government was hands off in this matter — I’ve noted how eager Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer was to jump into this fray.)

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