Person

Aryeh Neier

Nationality:

American

Born:

April 22, 1937

Aryeh Neier is a left-of-center political activist, a co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society and Human Rights Watch, and the former president of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF).

Early Life and Education

Aryeh Neier was born in Berlin in 1937. His parents, both Jews, fled Nazi Germany for London in 1939 as refugees. Most of Neier’s extended family died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Neier grew up in Britain until he moved to the United States in 1947 with his family. [1]

Neier attended the elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City. He was the president of the history club and invited numerous Congressmen who were critical of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) to speak at the school. [2]

Neier attended Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations on a full scholarship. Neier attended a speech on campus by Norman Thomas, a repeat presidential candidate who identified as anti-communist socialist, and was inspired to establish the Cornell Forum, a left-wing student political group. Soon after, Neier affiliated the Cornell Forum under the national Student League for Industrial Democracy, and the following year, Neier became the president of the national organization. In 1959, Neier co-founded Students for a Democratic Society as a spin-off from Student League for Industrial Democracy. [3]

Career

After graduating from Cornell University, Aryeh Neier started his career in academia as a professor at Georgetown Law School, the University of Sienna, and New York University. [4]

In 1963, Neier began working at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and became the organization’s executive director in 1970. Neier oversaw an expansion of the ACLU’s membership from 140,000 to 230,000. [5]

In 1978, Neier led the ACLU in its controversial campaign to defend the neo-Nazi American National Socialist Party from lawsuits and unconstitutional restrictions against its proposed rally in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago and the home to numerous Holocaust survivors. That year, the ACLU lost 30,000 members to cancellations or failures to renew membership. Neier resigned the following year, though he denied the decision had anything to do with the ACLU’s defense of the neo-Nazi rally. He later wrote defenses of the ACLU, arguing that developing a culture and legal system that protects minorities across the political spectrum is the best way to prevent another Holocaust. [6]

In 1978, Neier co-founded and became director of Helsinki Watch, an organization devoted to observing the compliance of the Soviet Union with the Helsinki Accords human rights pact. The group would later be known as Human Rights Watch, a left-of-center human rights watchdog that lists the Ford Foundation as a partner. The group is best known for helping establish an international tribunal to prosecute war criminals after the Yugoslavian Civil War. [7] [8]

In 1993, Neier became the president of Soros Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and eventually became the first president of the Open Society Foundations (OSF). [9] [10] Neier left OSF in 2012. [11]

Social Justice

In 2013, Aryeh Neier wrote an article for Open Global Rights opposing international relations professor Stephen Hopgood’s argument that groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should refocus their efforts from traditional “human rights” to “social justice” priorities. Neier considered the two to be separate spheres that should be pursued concurrently by different organizations, and that redirecting Human Rights Watch towards left-progressive social justice would undermine the organization. [12]

Though Neier affirmed the value of social justice, he lamented that individuals, groups, and regimes that prioritized social justice often did so at the expense of human rights, asserting that human rights cannot interfere with social justice goals, but social justice goals can interfere with human rights. He said it is “frequently the case that partisans of social justice violate human rights when they have the power to do so” because violating human rights can be an expedient means of achieving social justice. Furthermore, he criticized calls for “mass mobilization” for broad social ideals as “means whereby proponents of social justice seek power.” [13]

References

  1.  “Aryeh Neier.” Buxus Stiftung Fritz Bauer Blog. March 11, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.fritz-bauer-forum.de/en/i-very-strongly-believe-in-resistance/. ^
  2. “Aryeh Neier.” Buxus Stiftung Fritz Bauer Blog. March 11, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.fritz-bauer-forum.de/en/i-very-strongly-believe-in-resistance/. ^
  3. “Aryeh Neier.” Buxus Stiftung Fritz Bauer Blog. March 11, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.fritz-bauer-forum.de/en/i-very-strongly-believe-in-resistance/. ^
  4. “Aryeh Neier.” American University Washington College of Law. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.wcl.american.edu/impact/initiatives-programs/warcrimes/advisory-board/aryeh-neier/. ^
  5. Goldstein, Tom. “Neier Is Quitting Post at A.C.L.U.’ He Denies To Defense of Nazis.” New York Times. April 18, 1978. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/1978/04/18/archives/neier-is-quitting-post-at-aclu-he-denies-link-to-defense-of-nazis.html. ^
  6. Goldstein, Tom. “Neier Is Quitting Post at A.C.L.U.’ He Denies To Defense of Nazis.” New York Times. April 18, 1978. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/1978/04/18/archives/neier-is-quitting-post-at-aclu-he-denies-link-to-defense-of-nazis.html. ^
  7. “Partners.” Human Rights Watch. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.hrw.org/about/partners. ^
  8. “Mr. Aryeh Neier.” American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.amacad.org/person/aryeh-neier. ^
  9. “Mr. Aryeh Neier.” American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.amacad.org/person/aryeh-neier. ^
  10. “Learning Opportunities.” Justice Initiative. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.justiceinitiative.org/who-we-are#:~:text=The%20Aryeh%20Neier%20Fellowship%2C%20named,the%20global%20Justice%20Initiative%20team ^
  11. “Ayreh Neier.” Open Global Rights. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.openglobalrights.org/aryeh-neier/. ^
  12. Neier, Aryeh. “Misunderstanding Our Mission.” Open Global Rights. July 23, 2013. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.openglobalrights.org/misunderstanding-our-mission/. ^
  13. Neier, Aryeh. “Misunderstanding Our Mission.” Open Global Rights. July 23, 2013. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.openglobalrights.org/misunderstanding-our-mission/. ^
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