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HRW Official Collects Nazi Memorabilia

More problems for rights group accused of anti-Israel bias

Marc Tracy
September 10, 2009

Pro-Israel columnists and groups long accused Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization that tries to ferret out and document humanitarian abuses around the world, of evincing an anti-Israel bias. Earlier this summer, the Netanyahu administration pledged to put a bulls eye on the group after reports emerged that it attempted to raise money from rich Saudis by boasting of its criticism of Israel’s military conduct. Additionally, the group’s deputy Middle East director, reports said, attended a 1976 anti-Zionism conference run by Saddam Hussein. Now, this week, it emerged that the group’s senior military expert, a former Pentagon intelligence officer named Marc Gerlasco, is an avid collector of Nazi military memorabilia, and has published a 430-page monograph on Wehrmacht badges.

“A war crimes investigator who is an avid collector and trader in Nazi memorabilia is perhaps a new low,” Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, told the Jerusalem Post. NGO Monitor, another HRW critic, said that the revelations, “when combined with his central role in the condemnations of Israel under false banners of ‘human rights’ violations and ‘war crimes,’ show that he is entirely inappropriate as a human rights reporter.” Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, issued a strong rebuttal, stating, “Gerlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.” Gerlasco, it says, had a grandfather who was conscripted into the German military, though he never joined the Nazi Party. Gerlasco’s great-uncle, meanwhile, worked on B-17s for Uncle Sam; Gerlasco also collects U.S. Air Force paraphernalia.

Collecting Nazi memorabilia, of course, is not proof of being a Nazi sympathizer. And let’s concede that Gerlasco is no anti-Semite, and that his hobby is, well, just that. Still, we would gently advise HRW that endorsing Gerlasco’s views on Israel’s actions is not the best way to be taken seriously on an issue where, fairly or not, it is already walking on controversial ground. The point is not only to prevent bias from creeping into ostensibly neutral reports; it’s to avoid even the appearance of and potential for impropriety. This week, people who talk about Human Rights Watch’s reports on Israel are not talking about their substance, but about the process behind them, and that process’s alleged flaws. Is that really what Human Rights Watch wants?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.