Robert Bernstein’s new baby

April 3, 2011

Some of you may recall that a few months ago Robert Bernstein attacked Human Rights Watch – an organization that he founded – for going off course in the Middle East.
A lot of people thought that was the end of Bernstein and that he’d never be heard from again. But at 88, Bernstein has the energy of a much younger man. He’s starting a new human rights organization that will do it his way.

In late February, Bernstein launched Advancing Human Rights, a new organization meant to act as a corrective, one that hopes to return human rights to what Bernstein thinks are its forgotten fundamental principles. Among its board members are Yelena Bonner, the Soviet dissident and wife of Andrei Sakharov, and Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian minister of justice.
Natan Sharansky, the onetime jailed refusenik and human rights activist who is now chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, is an old friend of Bernstein’s. When Bernstein was head of Random House, he published Sharansky’s memoir, “Fear No Evil.” And the two share the assessment that human rights organizations have gone astray.
“It’s not every day when someone at the age of 88 realizes that the child he brought up has betrayed him, and decides to raise a new child,” Sharansky said.
The stated mandate of the new group is broader than Bernstein’s initial complaint, though it stems from it. AHR will be focused on the struggles of dissidents in closed, autocratic societies, like those in the Middle East and China. Bernstein wants the group to more closely promote those rights enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights — specifically women’s rights and free speech — as opposed to the Geneva Convention and the other laws of warfare, which he thinks should be outside the purview of a human rights organization.
But underneath this new mandate, the clear motivating factor for Bernstein’s new initiative is his concern for Israel. It rises to the surface as soon as he is asked about the point of starting yet another human rights organization: Israel, as a democratic, open society, should not be under constant investigation by human rights groups, he said. The country and the way it wages war need to be better explained and defended.

Read the whole thing. Note that in this post, I don’t have to talk about human rights in scare quotes.