Exchange with the Harvard School of Public Health

  • 0

The following email exchange concerns the political analysis presented by the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR), Harvard School of Public Health, regarding political bias in the HPCR website on Israel’s separation barrier:

1) From: Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel

To: IHL Research Initiative
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR)
Harvard University
[email protected]

February 26 2004

In your website dealing with Israeli security and the separation barrier, (The site is located at ) you include a section labeled
“Selected Reports and Links”. These links are overwhelmingly to reports from pro-Palestinian political organizations and NGOs (including Hamoked, B’tsetlem, Amnesty, Electronic Intifada, etc.) The biases of these organizations and their abuse of human rights terminology is documented in detail on In contrast, this section conspicuously fails to include links to the major and important analyses located on (in particular, Israel’s Anti-Terror Fence: The World Court Case Laurence E. Rothenberg and Abraham Bell #513 and Should the International Court of Justice Give an Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Fence? Prof. Ruth Lapidoth #3-18). Similarly, see the brief submitted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, , as well as many other analyses that are missing from your list.

This political bias regarding sources is reflected in the analysis of the issues on the IHL website. In addition, the sponsorship of this website by highly ideological anti-Israel organizations such as Diakonia, reinforces the concerns regarding bias. Another sponsor, the Swedish Development Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, funds the PLO’s Negotiation Support Unit, whose propaganda activities, particularly on this issue, are documented at

If you wish to be seen as a credible academic source, and not merely another element in the ideological war, I strongly urge you to remove these biases and their sources.

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel
Tel: 972-3-5318043, Fax: 972-3-5357931; [email protected]

2) Response from IHL February 26 2004:

Mr. Steinberg,

Thank you very much for your email, and for your suggestions about possible other sources to add to the portal. As you noted, it is critically important to us to present as balanced a view as possible about all the issues on the portal. To that end, thank you also for pointing out a source for new reports on the Separation Barrier — I look forward to going through the reports that you mentioned, and adding anything appropriate to the portal.

I would also like to emphasize our efforts to ensure that the portal presents a balanced view on all issues. We believe that one of the strengths of the portal lies in giving the reader direct access to the arguments made by both sides in the debate — especially Israeli and Palestinian primary sources. To take the Separation Barrier as an example, we have combed through Israeli sources in order to present all Israeli government reports and justifications for the Barrier on the portal, including:

Saving Lives: Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Fence (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 01 January 2004
Letters and Statements from Israeli Diplomatic Sources on Separation Barrier 01 January 2004
Statement by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN General Assembly 10th Emergency Special Session 08 December 2003
The Security Fence Area (Israel Embassy in the United States) 23 July 2003
The Anti-Terrorist Fence (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Israeli Security Fence (Israeli Ministry of Defense)

Further, we try to post other primary Israeli sources, such as Israeli court cases and military orders. Within the briefing notes themselves, we portray the positions taken by all parties, including of course Israel, with the goal of mapping out for the reader the IHL parameters of the debate. Again to use the Separation Barrier as an example, we map out in detail Israel’s argument that the Barrier is justified under the IHL doctrine of military necessity. Finally, we are in the process of translating our briefing notes into both Hebrew and Arabic, in order both to ensure as wide a readership as possible, and to encourage debate and an exchange of views.

Thank you again for your email, and please do not hesitate to email with any further questions or concerns — it is only through exchanges like these that we can try to ensure that our portal evenly presents the views of all sides,


Michael Kleinman
Program Associate
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research
Harvard School of Public Health

3) On February 26 2004, Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg wrote:

Mr. Kleinman,
While your site does in fact include references and links to a few Israeli government sites, the question I posed related to a major section on “Selected Reports and Links”, and the ways in which the claims made in the reports and analyses were woven into the analysis. This section embodies a systematic pro-Palestinian bias, beyond the fact that your project chose not to set up an equally detailed website on “Palestinian Terrorism and Rejectionism and Israeli Defense Options”, for example. (The section on “Suicide Attacks Against Civilians” is a minimalist approach with a few links, and pales in comparison to the scale of this brutality and the lives that have been destroyed.) And in your response, you also chose not to address the question of funding for this site provided by Diakonia, which has history of support for organizations active in the demonization of Israel.

I look forward to your explanations on these central dimensions of the project.

Gerald Steinberg

4) At 14:56 26/02/2004 -0500, IHL Research Initiative wrote:

Mr. Steinberg,

Thank you again for your email. As you will notice, we have included reports from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on the portal. Any other suggestions for sources for reports is, of course, always welcome.

As for the tragic issue of suicide bombings, we are in fact in the process of developing a briefing note on the topic. As for any disagreement that you might have with our funding organizations, all that I can say is that we retain full editorial independence, and only ask to be judged on the content of our work, and not be pre-judged by any other criteria.


Michael Kleinman

5) To: Michael Kleinman
From: Gerald Steinberg (February 27 2004)

Dear Mr. Kleinman,
Re your claim to “retain full editorial independence”, the recent history of foreign funding for Harvard activities related to the Middle East has raised some core ethical issues that cannot be simply swept away with the usual cliches. What arrangements have been made to allow others to verify this claim? And what form of independent oversight exists to insure that academic standards are maintained in this highly complex area?
If you are not familiar with Diakonia funded projects (including for cartoons that were rightfully seen by many as anti-Semitic), you might want to check this out soon. The file is getting bigger. The Protestant Swedes may not the appreciate comparison with the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, but if the shoe fits….. As I pointed out in my earlier email, this would not be the only example of Swedish government funding for anti-Israeli groups and activities (and not only art pieces that glorify terrorism). While I have only had time to form a preliminary impression, the core judgement of the degree of politicization and ideology incorporated in site will indeed be based on its content.

Gerald Steinberg

6) Letter to Dean Barry Bloom, 14 April 2004
Dear Prof. Bloom,
I am attaching two emails referring to the questionable academic content of the IHLRI website. I understand that you have been asked to conduct an evaluation of this issue, and I would be interested in receiving a copy of your findings.

Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel

7) Response from Dean Barry Bloom: May 20,2004

Barry R. Bloom, Dean
Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue Boston, Massachusetts 02115-6096 617-432-1025 Fax:617-277-5320
Barry Bloom <[email protected]>

To: Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel

Dear Prof. Steinberg:

I write in regard to your recent inquiry concerning the International Humanitarian Law Research Institute (IHLRI) website, a project of the School’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In response to your question concerning its academic content, I have examined the issues, namely: the relation of IHLRI to the mission of the Program, the procedures and scope of input into IHLRI content, and its responsiveness to comments and criticism.

While I am certain that you are familiar with the enclosed materials from the websites of both the Program and IHLRI, I have included them rather than quote them extensively in this letter to indicate the interconnection from the goals of the Program at the school to the specific IHL portal on Israel and the OPT. In terms of the breadth of input and expertise to the program and IHLRI, I would note that governments and major international agencies including the UN and the ICRC are supporters and participants.

The program director, Claude Bruderlein, is among leading IHL experts, and he can count on the support of a number of IHL scholars from around the world participating in this endeavor. The portal is transparent and comprehensive in its documentation. Finally, I was very satisfied with the promptness and clarity of the response from Program staff to the concerns you brought to their attention.

In short, it is my conclusion that the Program is operating under standards appropriate for an academic institution and that it commands considerable respect. I appreciate your inquiry and the opportunity to take a self-critical look at an important set of issues.

Yours sincerely,

Barry R. Bloom, Dean

8) Response from Prof. Steinberg to Dean Barry Bloom

Dear Prof. Bloom,
In the first paragraph of your response to my inquiry, you wrote “I have examined the issues, namely: the relation of IHLRI to the mission of the Program, the procedures and scope of input into IHLRI content, and its responsiveness to comments and criticism.” Unfortunately, the rest of your letter and the references to the IHLRI do not provide information on the results of this examination.

Indeed, your claim “that governments and major international agencies including the UN and the ICRC are supporters and participants” of the IHLRI is, in fact, further evidence of the absence of the academic criteria and standards, as both are clearly highly political and biased bodies. You and your colleagues at the IHLRI are no doubt aware that the infamous Durban “conference on racism” in September 2001, which focused on the demonization of Israel and the justification of terror, was held under the auspices of the UN. (See the section and analysis of the Durban conference at Similarly, as Prof. Don Habibi has recently shown, the ICRC has also become a political body, undermining its credibility and effectiveness.

The other substantive point in your brief letter notes that “the portal is transparent and comprehensive in its documentation.” Yet you do not provide any hint regarding the criteria by which such “comprehensive documentation” is judged as credible, in terms of the academic standards of the Harvard School of Public Heath. With all due respect, any academic site that relies on “the Electronic Intifada” for its sources is difficult to take seriously. And while you claim to be “very satisfied with the promptness and clarity of the response from Program staff to the concerns”, I find this hard to accept, given their minimal and highly perfunctory response.

Although I can certainly understand your reluctance to examine the political and academic dimensions of the IHLRI website, you will probably be able to understand why a substantive and independent inquiry is required. In a similar case in which a highly politicized article was published under the guise of health care research, the editorial board of Public Health, which is under the auspices of the Royal Institute of Public Health, UK, has initiated an independent inquiry into the publication and review procedures. (See Public Health, Volume 118, Issue 4, June 2004, Page 307; Public Health 2004; 118:131­42; doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2004.04.002 )

I look forward to your response to this proposal, and to a more substantive response to the questions and very serious issues raised in my letter and included below.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
(On behalf of the SPME Task Force on Medical and Public Health)

Incoming mail is certified Virus Free.
Checked by AVG anti-virus system (
Version: 6.0.740 / Virus Database: 494 – Release Date: 8/16/2004

Exchange with the Harvard School of Public Health

  • 0

Gerald M. Steinberg

Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, where he founded the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. His research interests include international relations, Middle East diplomacy and security, the politics of human rights and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Israeli politics and arms control.

NGO Monitor was founded following the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban South Africa, where powerful NGOs, claiming to promote human rights, hijacked the principles of morality and international law.  NGO Monitor provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

In 2013, Professor Steinberg accepted the prestigious Menachem Begin Prize on behalf of NGO Monitor, recognizing its “Efforts exposing the political agenda and ideological basis of humanitarian organizations that use the Discourse of human rights to discredit Israel and to undermine its position among the nations of the world.”

Steinberg is a member of Israel Council of Foreign Affairs; the Israel Higher-Education Council, Committee on Public Policy; advisory board of the Israel Law Review International, the research working group of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and participates in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA). He also speaks at a variety of high-level government sessions and academic conferences worldwide.

Publications include “NGOs, Human Rights, and Political Warfare in the Arab-Israel Conflict" (Israel Studies); "The UN, the ICJ and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means" (Israel Law Review); and Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding (co-author), Nijhoff, Leiden, 2012.

His op-ed columns have been published in Wall St. Journal (Europe), Financial Times, Ha’aretz,International Herald Tribune, Jerusalem Post, and other publications. He has appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CBC, CNN, and NPR.

Read all stories by Gerald M. Steinberg

Skip to toolbar