Human Rights Watch exec clarifies ‘Israeli interference in UK politics’ remark

Human Rights Watch exec clarifies ‘Israeli interference in UK politics’ remark

Sarah Leah Whitson, who heads the body's Middle East division, faced a flurry of criticism over comments, but claimed she's referring to an app online called Act.IL

Sarah Leah Whitson
Sarah Leah Whitson

A senior executive at Human Rights Watch has said she was only referring to a “problematic” Israeli app when she tweeted about “Israeli interference in domestic UK politics”.

Sarah Leah Whitson faced a flood of criticism from Twitter users over the weekend after reposting a claim that Israel was behind a “manufactured” attempt to smear Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn because of his pro-Palestinian stance.

An American lawyer and executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Whitson moved to “clarify” her comments on Sunday, saying they only related to “the Israeli government’s problematic promotion of an app in the UK”.

The app in question is called Act.IL which aims to “leverage the power of communities to support Israel’s image” and to “organise the pro-Israel community to work efficiently together via social media, thus creating a wide-scale impact”.

Sarah Leah Whitson’s tweet

The Electronic Intifada article she reposted suggested, among other things, that “the Labour right and the Israel lobby may be planning a damaging split from the party”. It also referenced an undercover Al-Jazeera documentary in which an Israeli embassy official was heard discussing how to “take down” a pro-Palestinian cabinet minister.

On Saturday, Whitson re-tweeted the article, adding: “Why is this #israel interference in domestic UK politics acceptable? Is it only a problem when Russia does this?”

She later said: “Some friends on Twitter have said they think my tweet is open to misinterpretation and bears clarification. My tweet commented only on the Israeli government’s problematic promotion of the app in the UK.

“Rising antisemitism is clearly an important issue in the UK, the US and many other places, and one that authorities, political leaders and all of society need to take seriously. So is hatred against many different religions and minority groups.”