According to its mission statement, the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) seeks to advance “social justice through human rights,” and to promote “the universal right of every human being to housing, education, health, and a healthy environment, food, work, and an adequate standard of living.” In its extensive activities related to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, CESR identifies “the discrimination and brutality inherent in the Israeli occupation” as “the root cause” of Palestinian hardship, calling for “alternatives that recognize and promote equal rights for all people living under Israeli rule.”
CESR was co-founded in 1993 by two lawyers (Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi) and a scientist from Harvard University (Christopher Jochnick). Following a 2004 change in leadership, CESR is now headed by Eitan Felner, a former Director of Betselem and the onetime Chair of the Israeli Section of Amnesty International.
Established on a grant of just over $100,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Echoing Green Foundation, CESR currently operates on an annual budget of more than $500,000. Between 2001 and 2006, the organization received over $3 million in grants from the Ford Foundation. Other recent funders include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the Life Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Moriah Fund, and the Samuel Rubin Foundation. CESR has also received substantial donations from private benefactors like Elizabeth Benjamin, Carol Bernstein Ferry, and Claude Welch.
In May 1996, CESR released a report (which based its claims almost entirely on figures provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health) stating that as a direct result of the United Nations sanctions that had first been imposed against Iraq in 1990, the death toll of Iraqi children under age five was, by then, already “over half a million.” This CESR estimate represented a significant inflation of even the mortality estimates furnished by the Iraqi government at that time. To stress the gravity of the situation, CESR implied that the UN sanctions amounted to genocide: “In simple terms, more Iraqi children have died as a result of sanctions than the combined toll of two atomic bombs on Japan.”
In a May 12, 1996 report, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes filmed a CESR fact-finding tour of Iraq. On camera, she confronted then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright with the following: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and you know, is the price worth it?” A flustered Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” Anti-sanctions activists took this as an admission by Albright that the grossly inflated CESR figures were accurate.
CESR produces articles, fact-sheets, and reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and organizes conferences and teach-ins with such titles as “Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return,” and “Great Expectations, Bitter Realities: Human Rights Abuse and Economic Decline under the Oslo Process.” CESR publications invariably cast Palestinians as the innocent victims of Israeli oppression, entirely ignoring the context of Palestinian terrorism in the region. In addition, CESR’s special consultative status with the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has enabled it, over the years, to provide reports and oral testimonies to the United Nations and its (now-defunct) Commission on Human Rights.
CESR coordinates research projects on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its New York City and Gaza regional offices with a number of organizations, including the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Betselem, Birzeit University, Caritas, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, Defense of Children International/Palestine Section, LAW, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network, the Palestinian Ministry of Education, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
In October 2001 — together with more than 200 NGOs and individuals, including Christian Peacemaker Teams, Friends of Sabeel-North America, Grassroots International, the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, MADRE, and US Campaign to Stop the Wall — CESR helped to create U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. This umbrella group spearheads a concerted effort to divest financial assets from Israel, and promotes the Palestinian “right of return.”
CESR formerly employed Lucy Mair, who has written for Electronic Intifada and currently works for Human Rights Watch as a researcher on Israel/Palestine issues. Mair contributed to CESR reports to the UN, coordinated protests against Israeli officials, and organized events that promoted a one-sided and highly distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
A 2001 CESR report submitted to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, titled “Under Siege: Israeli Human Rights Violations in Palestine,” asserts that “Israel’s occupation is the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and that “the current systematic violations of economic, social and cultural rights in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] derive from Israel’s interrelated policies of … closure, curfew and siege.”
CESR is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.
This profile is adapted, with permission, from NGO Monitor.