Publisher and Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein died in Manhattan after a brief illness at the age of 96, his son Peter Bernstein confirmed on Tuesday.
Bernstein was president of Random House from 1966 to 1990, presiding over a generation of dynamic growth and change. Authors during that time included Toni Morrison, James Michener and E.L. Doctorow.
Bernstein also advocated for dissidents everywhere from the Soviet Union to Argentina. He helped found Helsinki Watch, Human Rights Watch and other organizations. He was among the first recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, presented to him in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, and received numerous other honors.
He founded Human Rights Watch in 1978, which monitors and documents human-rights abuses worldwide. The nongovernmental organization has since been deemed by critics to be anti-Israel, causing Bernstein to publish a New York Times piece in 2009 slamming the bias.
“The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human-rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel,” wrote Bernstein. “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields.”
“Bob Bernstein was a brave defender of human rights. He founded multiple organizations to promote these universal values, said NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg. “Unfortunately, human rights rhetoric and values are too often manipulated for narrow political agendas,” he added. “Bob Bernstein’s principled voice will sorely be missed.”