Israeli Foreign Ministry Smears Human Rights Watch Analyst
In the past few days a tempest in a teacup has been brewing regarding charges of pro-Nazi sympathy, raised by Avigdor Lieberman’s foreign ministry and amplified by the ministry’s megaphone NGO Monitor, against Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military analyst. The rap against Garlasco is that he is an avid collector of “Nazi” memorabilia.
That’s the claim. Here’s the truth: Marc Garlasco’s grandfather served in a Wehrmacht anti-aircraft unit (another relative served in a U.S. B-17 crew), hence he has an interest in the insignias or badges worn by members of these units. As such, he’s written two books aimed at collectors regarding this subject and he participates in online forums devoted to World War II memorabilia. In one posting, he’s pictured wearing a sweatshirt displaying an Iron Cross. Gerald Steinberg and his ilk are trumpeting the fact that the Iron Cross is a Nazi symbol. Not only isn’t it, it is today part of the official logo of the German army, the Bundeswehr, as you can see from this graphic on its website.
Garlasco collects other World War II memorabilia including objects representing U.S. forces. He has never uttered a word supportive of Nazism. In fact, the opposite. The introduction to one of his books notes that the Nazi movement was evil and brought nothing but horror upon the world. But all that will be forgotten as the pro-Israel far-right smear industry goes to work doing a “Freeman” on Human Rights Watch’s senior munitions expert.
Why do they hate him so? HRW recently published a scathing report criticizing Israel’s attack on Gaza and its human rights record in general (it also criticized Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in a separate report which you’ll hear nothing about from Steinberg). Garlasco was a key participant in this effort. As such it is imperative that the Israeli government impeach the reporting in any way possible. One of the cheapest and easiest is to raise charges of sleazy associations by someone like Garlasco. Make him look like a weirdo, pervert, neo-Nazi. That cuts the report down to a manageable size out of which the Israelis can then make short work.
The truth of the matter is that the Israeli-Palestinian issue can be a confusing mess. You can’t reduce it to a sound byte. Human rights work on this issue is also incredibly complex. Rather than addressing complicated issues or refuting claims which are rock-solid, Israel chooses to slime the messenger. Then it doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting in addressing the substance of HRW’s claims. This is a tried and true tactic of bigots and demagogues (including politicians like Lieberman himself). This is the reason Marc Garlasco is being slimed.
They even have someone who is otherwise one of the most lucid of Middle East analysts, Helena Cobban, dazed in the headlights. Helena read the NGO Monitor report on Garlasco and came away thinking he was a near neo-Nazi pervert. I have nothing but admiration for Helena. But on this I think she got it wrong and several of the commenters in her post thread on this subject correctly took her credulousness to task. Clearly, as a Quaker, war and militarism disgust her. And I respect that view. This country and world would be much the poorer for not having the good sense of Quakerism in it. But to penalize Marc Garlasco because he doesn’t share her pacifism or detestation of things military seems unfair.
Do I think that the Marc Garlasco affair will harm or damage HRW in its future work regarding the I-P conflict? No. Does Helena? Yes. She sits on the HRW board. I don’t. I’m afraid that if Helena and Gerald Steinberg have their way, HRW will part ways with Garlasco. This will satisfy no one except perhaps Helena. It certainly won’t satisfy Israel or the lobby. Nor will it have much impact on the public at large for whom this will be an internal matter.
And let’s keep our eye on the ball. The true slime is the Israeli Occupation and the mayhem inflicted by the IDF against Palestinains who resist (and also violence against innocent Israeli civilians). Making Marc Garlasco the issue is helping the pro-Israel right do its work for it.
Let me be clear. I don’t know Marc Garlasco or the reasons for his hobbies. They’re certainly not hobbies I would choose. Some of the statements he made online which Helena quotes make me wince. But he comes out of a military background (and calls himself a “military geek”) and served in the Pentagon for eight years. Do we wish to criminalize or even ostracize people for their personal hobbies? Is that what it’s come to? Let’s not be hoodwinked by this vicious smear. Let’s consider the source.
The victim of this smear has written an explanation of his behavior that should be read by anyone who wishes to be fair (Steinberg & Lieberman: don’t bother, there isn’t any further ammunition with which to impeach him).
25 thoughts on “Israeli Foreign Ministry Smears Human Rights Watch Analyst – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Iron Cross has been used since 1813.
In Finland are several collectors who collect Soviet Army memorabilia. Many because their relatives “gathered” a basis for the collection in our WW2 wars against Soviet Union and some as hobby to support their military history studying interests. Nobody in his right mind would accuse these people of being communists or as secret Stalin sympathisers simply because of their hobby. Actually many of these collectors are fierce and vocal “anti-Soviets”.
Surely there are Israeli historians and military men who have collected some medals etc of different WW2 armies. Owning now in this time and age a WW2 Iron Cross doesn’t make anybody a Nazi more than some non Israeli who has managed to buy an old Israeli medal for example Medal of Valor will automatically became a Zionist.
My war collection consists of an old German style helmet which I bought at the age of 14 from some farmer’s boys whose farm was located near a place of a battle of our civil war in 1918 and two Soviet medals which I bought from a flee market in Helsinki in the beginning of 90’s with the price of one Euro. Does that make me a Nazi and communist sympathiser?
This non-issue has been allowed to fester for far too long. Thank you for finally injecting some common sense into the conversation and refocusing attention on the real issues.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the attack on Garlasco is part of a larger strategy: the latest NGO Monitor report smears by name almost every single person at HRW connected with the organization’s work on Israel/Palestine. It seems that they’ve gotten further with the Garlasco allegations only because of the third-rail nature in public life surrounding discussions of WWII Germany.
Another interesting point in this: when pushed, Garlasco’s detractors almost uniformly protest that they are not accusing him of being a Nazi or sympathizing with them, but merely of being “weird,” or “creepy,” hypocritical (i.e. comparing him to an animal rights activists who collects furs).
The first two charges are completely subjective judgments about a man’s personal hobby that have nothing to do with his work. The third is simply preposterous — Garlasco is interested in military memorabilia, specifically anti-aircraft artillery. How that is inconsistent with HRW’s mission of promoting respect for the laws of war is beyond me.
“That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”
–Flak88 (aka Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch Senior Military Analyst, wehrmacht-awards.com, 2005)
And, in case we’re interesting in honesty, the details of Marc Garlasco’s “hobby” (obsession is more like it) were initially raised by blogger Omri Ceren at Mere Rhetoric, not by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
And while we’re on the subject of honesty, the sweathshirt Garlasco was wearing in the picture in question is clearly NOT a Bundeswehr sweatshirt, but a sweatshirt about the Iron Cross medal, with various dates in which it was introduced and reintroduced into the Prussian and German military, including 1939, printed below the iron cross.
The Iron Cross was a Prussian military symbol developed in the 19th century. It was not developed by the Nazis. I wasn’t claiming Garlasco was wearing a Bundeswehr sweatshirt. I was claiming that the Iron Cross as a symbol is a German (including contemporary German) symbol and not a Nazi one.
When I was recently playing one of my favorite online tactical shooters, there was this guy named David from Israel, playing on the other side – which was, incidentally, Nazi Germany. He ran me, playing the valiant Red Army soldier defending the motherland, through with his bayonet, the sneaky bastard! Talk about icky.
Being interested in German WW2 military stuff no more means you’re a Nazi than being a Civil War Confederacy military buff means you’re a racist. (To put that analogy straight.)
Still, probably not the ideal person for the job.
Human Rights Watch has made the claim that the Israeli foreign ministry is behind the claims. Israel has many ways of feeding information into the mainstream public debate on issues that concern it. I’m sure that Gerald Steinberg & Omri Cohen have many friends in the Israeli government who feed them information when it is deemed convenient.
Indeed, the NGO Monitor website makes clear that Steinberg is also a consultant for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Richard, thanks for sending me your contribution here. One important clarification: I am NOT on HRW’s board; I’m on their Middle East advisory committee– one of around half a dozen they have for different areas of their work. I give my advice; they don’t always take it! It is not a position of any line responsibility within or over the organization.
I do differ with your analysis, evidently. But these are differences that you and I can discuss amicably– inasmuch as we want to let this tragic topic dominate our thoughts and discussions. The main thing is to minimize the damage the Garlasco affair does to the much broader effort (including, broader than just HRW) to win protection of the rights of very vulnerable populations in the ME and elsewhere.
As someone whose family was very much affected by the Blitz of London, maybe I have a block in being able to see an obsessively pursued hobby of “collecting” Nazi-era German military memorabilia (which is, overwhelmingly, what MG seemed to be collecting) as something normal or acceptable. I see it as directly analogous to collecting KKK memorabilia. Would you send someone who’s an obsessive collector of KKK memorabilia to investigate allegations of corruption in a Black church? Most likely not, I think.
Thanks for the correction, Helena.
I think I’d change yr analogy to this since Garlasco collects WWII memorabilia & not exclusively Nazi memorabilia. If someone collected historical artifacts of the Civil Rights movement, including KKK ones, I think I’d be willing to have them responsible for investigating bombings at Black churches. Again, you & I may be uncomfortable with his hobby (you more than I), but I don’t see that as disqualifying him as an expert on munitions, which is what his job is. Yes, there is context and fallout fr. his hobbies. But except in the minds of Gerald Steinberg & some others, this has no bearing on his skills in his professional field. If he’d made outright statements of sympathy with Nazism or its policies or expressed stridently anti-Israel rhetoric I’d be with you in a heartbeat. But I don’t see any such statements emerging.
Welcome to hard knuckles politics.
There’s no question that collecting Nazi medals is an icky hobby. And Michael Jackson’s career proved that people have a fairly high tolerance for “icky.” But since Israel and its defenders have decided to use the Johnny Cochran defense (turning Marc Gerlasco in to Mark Fuhrman), it does put HRW on the defense and an appeal to reason won’t be enough because defense of war crimes isn’t based on reason either.
HRW should commission an independent review of its report, perhaps in cooperation with another human rights organization, to salvage both the report’s and it’s own credibility. HRW should also do some background checks – similar to what political parties do with potential candidates – of its most visible researchers and directors to avoid being blindsided in the future. This may sound extreme, but if you haven’t noticed HRW is under attack as vicious as a candidate’s in an American primary election.
As for Mr. Gerlasco, I think he has become a liability to HRW and should be asked to fall on his sword for the organization. That’s the reality.
It happens every day in politics.
The swastika is an ancient symbol that was adopted by the Nazis. According to the Wikipeida, it comes from ancient Indo-Europeans civilizations. Now, if we saw a demonstration where people were waving this symbol at a demonstration and the person doing so said “I am using this as a way of identifying with the ancient Indo-European culture that used it”, what would most people think?
Context is everything. In your example I’d be a bit concerned indeed because one of those “ancient Indo-European cultures”, even though a fictitious one, is otherwise known as “Aryans”.
Also according to Wikipedia, Japanese maps use swastikas for the locations of Buddhist temples. Since Japan and Germany were allies in WW II, should we infer that Buddhists = Nazis?
If you only look hard enough you’ll find wrong dots to connect in every field.
It’s not just map symbols. It’s a very common, and important, symbol in Buddhism (and even more so in Hinduism.) In Temples and Buddhist artwork you have plenty of swastikas, although in Japan, the “inverted” version from what the Nazis used is more common. The symbol is simply normal. Nobody would assume it has a sinister meaning devoid of context.
Still, in other nations, especially Israel or Germany, you could probably stir up a major scandal displaying certain artwork with Swastikas.
A good friend of mine, an Orthodox Jew living in Israel told me his grandfather, who was an Orthodox Jews living in Germany was in the German Army in World War I and he was awarded the Iron Cross. Fortunately, he got out to England in time. Do you think he would go around showing it to everyone in England, Israel or the US after the war?
Marc Garlasco is not a child of survivors nor Jewish. If he was I’d expect he’d have a diff. hobby. But he isn’t. Do you wish to penalize him because he doesn’t share yr views & sensitivities? Should we vet every HRW employee as to whether they might do or say something offensive in the mind of some Jews (or any nation they might investigate) at some pt in their career?
Helena Cobban pointed out its a conflict of interest. And selling and buying Nazi memorabilia is illegal in the EU. HRW and many Lefty bloggers don’t seem to get it. Marc Garlasco claims to be objective where Israel is concerned but his hobby casts doubt on it as well as on the reputation of the organization for which he works. As for anti-Semitism, reasonable people can draw their own conclusions.
Can you provide a source that verifies the fact that historical collectors actually violate a law by collecting WWII Nazi memorabilia? Second, the U.S. is not the EU nor does Garlasco live or work for an employer based there. So that’s irrelevant unless you want to argue that we should adopt the entire EU legal code (or selected parts).
Pls point out how his hobby has anything to do w. his judgements on Israel. Pls. pt out any hostile comment he has made about Israel that would indicate any connection whatsoever to Nazism. In fact, pls. pt out any hostile comment he has ever made about Israel that reveals inordinate bias against it. If you can’t then I’m afraid your views will go into the dustbin.
NormanF is wrong. AFAIK (IANAL) collecting and trading original WW II memorabilia (even original editions of Mein Kampf, but not copies) is legal even in Germany within the restrictions of §86 and §86a StGB (penal code).
http://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/86.html, …86a.html (in German)
Those restrictions (§86.3) mean that civic education, defence of the Constitution, art, science, research, teaching, reporting and similar activities are exempt from the prohibition.
Well, the restrictions of §86a are actually relevant, but would not apply to this case. Possession, acquisition and private use are not at all illegal. Public display and distribution would be, but this is not the case here.
That said, when it comes to swastikas, German authorities often have a “confiscate first, look up the laws later” attitude. There was a long legal struggle a while ago after stickers displaying a crossed-out swastika were declared forbidden by overzealous authorities. Stickers of this type are, of course, used by anti-fascists:
Even for public display and distribution it depends on context. History books about the Third Reich for example would regularly (and legally, of course) display some “forbidden” items on their covers. My copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Mother Night, also sports a swastika on the front. There’s no question that such use is legitimate.
The BGH, Germany’s highest regular court, has fortunately reversed that scurrilous “AF stickers are forbidden” decision.
I want to see if I got this right because I only heard about this now. Is Garlasco the guy posting on a forum as a premium member called “German Combat Awards” under the name Flak88 and has an avatar with a swastika on it while talking to “Giel” who also has an avatar with a swastika on it and Garlasco is wearing the “iron cross” shirt which I assume he posted on the forum?
This post is full of inaccuracies, foremost the headline and first paragraph. As the New York Times has reported, the Garlasco-Nazi memorabilia story was first raised on the MereRhetoric blog (http://www.mererhetoric.com/archives/11275875.html). NGO Monitor (http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/expert_or_ideologues_hrw_s_defense_of_marc_garlasco_s_nazi_fetish) and others have expanded this analysis.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry (MFA) was not involved in any way in the research or publicity of this issue. To suggest otherwise is entirely false, and is a transparent, and baseless, ploy to change the story to Lieberman, instead of dealing with the real problem: HRW’s and Garlasco’s lack of credibility.
Also, as far as I am aware, the MFA has not commented on Garlasco at all. Perhaps you are confusing the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office),where Ron Dermer works, with the MFA: they are both 3 letters, after all.
Human Rights Watch wrote in The Guardian of the foreign ministry’s involvement. I even provided you the link to the story where you could’ve read about the claim & dealt with it. But you’re either too lazy or too caught up in yr own righteousness to care. I didn’t make it up though you’d like people to think so. I trust HRW’s record of accuracy far more than NGO Monitor’s, which is one of the sleaziest of the members of the Israel lobby slime industry.
And to call NGO Monitor’s work “analysis” does a deep disservice to the term. Propaganda, smear–those are far more apt terms of description.
There’s no need for MFA to do its own dirty work here. Thatis what it has its consultants like NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg, for.