Jewish Israeli to become new programs director of Human Rights Watch

Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth

Sari Bashi, the new programs director for Human Rights Watch. (YouTube screenshot/Open Society)
Sari Bashi, the new programs director for Human Rights Watch. (YouTube screenshot/Open Society)

Days after Kenneth Roth announced that he would step down as executive director of Human Rights Watch, the organization said that Sari Bashi, a Jewish Israeli activist married to a Palestinian man, would become its new program director.

“I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

She added that she will be leading “a team of 271 researchers, associates, specialists and managers, all trying, with humility, to build power and support the work of local and national human rights defenders.”

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

The New York-based HRW advocates for human rights around the world since its founding in 1978. It has over 550 employees in more than 100 countries and a nearly $100 million budget to campaign against human rights abuses. The organization is a harsh and constant critic of Israeli behavior, which has raised the ire of Israeli officials and diplomats over the years.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.”

American citizen Omar Shakir, the director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,, waves ahead of entering the departures area at Ben Gurion Airport on November 25, 2019, after being expelled from Israel. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Following the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last May, HRW accused both Israel and Palestinians in Gaza of war crimes.

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians.

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

Roth, who served as executive director of the organization for close to three decades, announced last week that he will resign this summer from the position. In the organization’s announcement of the move, it noted that Roth had made many enemies over the years due to his activities.

“Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked as a supposed antisemite because of the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

After Roth steps down at the end of August, Human Rights Watch said deputy executive director Tirana Hassan will serve as interim executive director while it holds a search for Roth’s successor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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