Response to IHLRI

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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 www.ngo-monitor.org ). 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)

———————————————————-
HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH
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

May 20,2004

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

——————
To: Dean Barry Bloom

Re: Academic criteria and IHLRI website on Palestinian-Arab Conflict

Dear Prof. Barry,
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

————-
Initial email to: IHL Research Initiative
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR)
Harvard University

In your website dealing with Israeli security and the separation barrier, (The site is located at http://www.ihlresearch.org/opt/feature.php?a=36 ) 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 www.ngo-monitor.org. In contrast, this section conspicuously fails to include links to the major and important analyses located on www.jcpa.org (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, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/usr_doc/FDD_brief.pdf, 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 http://www.europeaninstitute.info/Publications.htm.

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]
http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~steing/conflict/conflict.html

Email update:
Michael Kleinman, an associate at the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research
Harvard School of Public Health, replied to my initial email and noted that they added a link to the analysis written by Avi Bell and Larry Rothenberg. A token change — the imbalance in links is only about 10:1 now. Questions on funding were rebuffed with the cliche they “retain full editorial independence”. Since I have not had time to read and dissect the full analysis, I have not made any substantive claims on this dimension, but a serious analysis should address the following issues:

1) Why is the Harvard School of Public Health investing resources in this website?
2) What academic credentials does the School of Public Health have to analyze highly complex issues in international conflict?
3) Why have they chosen to use the questionable methodology of international law, particularly as they are not a school of law or politics, or international relations?
4) What form of accountability exists to oversee and insure that academic standards are maintained, and that this project is not simply a political and ideological exercise?

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg

Response to IHLRI 2

Thank you, Steve.

James H. Ware
Dean for Academic Affairs
Frederick Mosteller Professor of Biostatistics
Harvard School of Public Health (617) 432-1026

On Mon, 3 May 2004, Steve Albert wrote:

> Dear Dr. Ware,
>
> I would like to bring to your attention the following response to the IHLRI Brief on Israel’s security fence. The response comes from the public health task force of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. The task force monitors medical and public health venues, here and abroad, and identifies those that inject political bias into what is supposed to be objective analysis. These typically contain an anti-Israel bias.
>
> The IHLRI Brief falls into this class of reports, as the response below indicates. You may want to consider this in any kind of internal review you may conduct of IHLRI activity.
>
> Regards,
>
>
>
> Steven M. Albert, Ph.D., M.Sc.
> Associate Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Science
> (in Sociomedical Science, Neurology, and the Sergievsky Center)
> Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center
> Columbia University
> 630 West 168th St., PH-19
> New York, NY 10032
>
> 212-305-2503
> 212-342-1838 (FAX)
> [email protected]
>
> www.columbia.edu/~sma10/
>
>
>
>
>
> Questions for International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative (IHLRI), IHL in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory: The Separation Barrier and International Humanitarian Law (http://www.ihlresearch.org/opt/feature.php?a=36 )
>
>
>
> This IHLRI Briefing Note presents two arguments, one explicit, one implicit. The explicit argument concerns the legality of the security fence currently being erected in the West Bank territories. The implicit argument is political. It is evident in the brief’s concern for the impact of the security fence on Palestinian communities without any comparable concern for the impact of not building the fence on Israeli communities.
>
>
>
> The legal issues are best addressed by experts in international humanitarian law. We have referred the Brief to such an expert. Even here, however, it is worth remarking that the International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative sees fit to examine the legality of the fence without any such concern for the legality of Palestinian terror attacks. This is all the more perplexing in light of the presence of IHLRI in a school of public health. Surely terror attacks, designed to kill and maim, are also a public health concern?
>
>
>
> The Brief’s political bias begins with its statement of the “basic facts” of the case, in which it states that the fence is “allegedly” designed to prevent infiltration of terrorist bombers. “Allegedly?” Israel did not begin building the fence until some 900 of its people were killed in terror attacks. The fence has demonstrably reduced the number of terrorist infiltrations in the areas where it has been built. This ought to be justification enough for the fence, as it places Israel squarely in the company of other countries that have built barriers to protect their citizenry; but the IHLRI’s political agenda puts Palestinian territorial aspirations over the lives of Israeli citizens.
>
>
>
> The Brief’s political bias continues with its assertion that the fence “is being planned, built, and operated by Israel along a route which runs predominantly outside Israeli territory.” This assertion assumes that “territory,” borders, have been established for the West Bank. The final status of the border, however, has not been determined. Accordingly, the Israeli government, as the Brief itself admits, considers the fence route temporary. It is designed to prevent terrorist infiltration (“military necessity”), and its route is governed by this need, with due regard to its effect on Palestinian communities (“proportionate harm”).
>
>
>
> The Brief draws attention to the International Court of Justice review of the fence, and the Court’s offer to members of the United Nations and other parties to the conflict to present legal briefs to the Court. But in a glaring omission IHLRI does not report that the United States, Israel, and the European states all declined to submit such briefs. They declined because the fence, like the border dispute, is a political and not a legal issue.
>
>
>
> Again showing its political hand, the arguments against the fence summarized in the Brief uncritically quote many outlandish charges made by Palestinian apologists: that the Intifada is not an armed conflict, that the fence is designed to protect Israeli communities in the West Bank, that the fence is designed to punish Palestinian communities, etc. None receive the critical scrutiny reserved for the pro-fence arguments summarized in the Brief.
>
>
>
> In the final analysis, the elaborate argumentation of the Brief is really beside the point. The fence is being built because of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens. If there were no such attacks, there would be no fence. When Palestinian leaders end such attacks and choose peace, there will be no need for a fence.
>
>
>
> The patent bias of the Brief raises suspicions about the motives of IHLRI. Why is it using its resources to advance a political agenda? Wouldn’t its resources be better spent pursuing its stated mission of applying humanitarian law to issues in public health?
>

Response to IHLRI

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SPME

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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