Harvard’s Twisted Report on Israel’s Invasion of Lebanon

First it was (and is) that would be tenure-denying, torture-justifying, Israeli occupation-apologist, opponent-smearing, Alan Dershowitz. I could deal with Alan.

But now it’s Marvin Kalb! A boyhood hero of mine!

When I spent a year at Harvard Law School, studying the Chinese Legal System a while back Dershowitz did not appear particularly out of control.

Neither did Marvin Kalb when we chatted at a Washington NBC function and who seemed reasonable enough as moderator of Meet the Press. So the problem for sure has got to be Harvard! Or maybe it’s just me!

Currently a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s, Joan Shorenstein Center, (no hard feelings that it’s paid for by Walter Shorestein-AIPAC’s favorite member and Californian fundraiser or that its DC office is very cozy with the nearby AIPAC office), Kalb recently published a ‘study’ : The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict. He was joined by Carol Saivetz. So far so good. I’m all for ‘academic studies.

The JTA news desk featured Kalb’s work on May 3, 2007 and AIPAC is now busy flooding Congress with this “academic study” as they attempt to intimidate the fourth estate with shrieks of “See we told you so! You guys are anti-Israel and maybe closet anti-Semites! We have Harvard scholarship to back it up!”

Some Harvard scholarship!

I won’t nitpick Kalb’s heavy duty sources for his tome: Fox News, Bill Kristol’s, Weekly Standard, Anderson Cooper’s ” Hezbollah is still a Secretive Organization”( I hope they are or I’m in trouble!) The Jewish Press’s Media Monitor, and as Kalb assures us “interviews with many Diplomats”, none of whom he names. Forget about the DC Madams phone records, I am more curious about Kalb’s secret ‘Diplomats” and my concern is about what Harvard publishes as ‘scholarship’ these days.

Kalb doesn’t tell us how much time he or his sources actually spent in Lebanon doing research during or since the July war, but there were many solid journalists here, and while they don’t need me to defend their work, I would offer Marvin a couple of fact-checks and an observation or two.

Kalb’s Abstract of his ‘research paper’ succinctly presents his thesis: During the Hezbollah-Israel “summertime war” (as in picnic, I guess) “the media moved from being objective to becoming “fiery advocates (of Hezbollah) and thus “a weapon of modern warfare”.

Kalb claims the media gave Hezbollah, which he calls “a closed sect” (that doesn’t sound too good) “total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda” (not the planet I was on!) and this fact ” victimized Israel” because the latter is ‘an open society” whereas Hezbollah is ” a closed society, that engages in ” undemocratic control of the media”, is militant, secretive, a religiously fundamentalist sect, a state within a state, subnational(not good)’Party of God”,, resisting ‘the infidel’ and seeking ‘divine victory’ and supported by Iran and Syria (!) And, if that is not enough, is similar to the Madhi army. Kalb never mentions that Israel is supported by the US to the tune of 15.1 million dollars a day or 300 times more than the CIA claims Hezbollah gets in foreign aid each year and receives 83% of its weapons from the US.

Kalb’s first problem with the media focuses on the UN media website. His research reveals that the much maligned UNIFIL observers, who Israel has bombed and shelled 15 times in the past quarter century, posted on its media web site Israeli cross border incursions that took place each preceding day. The same job the UN has been tasked to do since 1978, as it has documented more than 18,000 Israeli violations of Lebanese territory including its air and sea space. Remarkably Kalb’s ‘research’ in this respect is identical to that of AIPAC’s Lori Lowenthal Marcus,

“What Did You Do during the War, UNIFIL?” in The Weekly Standard of September 4, 2006. Kalb and Marcus claim that Hezbollah fighters, if they had laptops with internet connections (there was no electricity in the south after the first few hours of Israel’s bombing) Hezbollah fighters learned something about where the Israelis were and hence got “a gift” from the UN which became an extremely valuable intelligence asset for Hezbollah, and Hezbollah exploited it.”

Fact check: Kalb and Harvard’s Shorenstein Center may want to know that Hezbollah fighters, organized in groups of two or three (sometimes five depending on the weapons used) know every inch of their assigned areas in South Lebanon, in fact, much better than the UN does. They were born in these villages, have fought the Israelis in this hilly terrain since the 1970’s and on July 12th knew exactly which 3 entry points (out of a possible 24) the IDF was going to use to invade Lebanon and they were waiting for them. Hezbollah also had a fairly good idea where every Israeli was at any given time during the conflict. Israel’s problem was that they could not find Hezbollah until they wanted to be found whether it was at Marun al Ras, Eita Chaab, Bint Jbeil, Yarun or anywhere along the ‘blue line’.

The Harvard study complains that the UN did not report on Hezbollah movements, thereby exhibiting anti-Israel bias.

Fact check: Excuse me Marvin but if the IDF with the latest US technology and night vision equipment, scores of cameras mounted on Israeli Heron, Searcher Mk II, or Hermes 450 drones, and close up satellite imaging could not find Hezbollah fighters the UN observers along the blue line dodging Israeli shells were unlikely to. (On July 26 Israel did bomb the UN post near Khaim killing four UN observers-Canadian, Chinese, and Finnish) Moreover, the UN mission is to report crossings of the ‘blue line’ (only Israel was doing that), not to survey what is going on inside Lebanon.

Moreover, blaming the UN for doing its job, which Israel has done for 25 years, and claiming Hezbollah fighters, under a blitz in a free fire zone, including an estimated 4.8 million cluster bombs, were running around with laptops and relied on the UN website for Israeli movements is patent nonsense. His conclusion that “the UN media gave Hezbollah an extremely valuable intelligence asset which they exploited” is fantasy. “Tink tank” ‘researchers’ really should to get out to the field more often and learn the lay of the land, so to speak.

Kalb is troubled by what his research revealed:

They (the Israelis) couldn’t keep a secret. Hezbollah, on the other hand, controlled its message with an iron grip. It had one spokesman and no leaks. Hezbollah did not have to respond to criticism from bogglers, and it could always count on unashamedly sympathetic Arab reporters to blast Israel for its “disproportionate” military attack against Lebanon During the 2006 summertime war in the Middle East, it was Israel versus Hezbollah, led by the charismatic Hassan Nasrallah, and because Israel did not win the war, it is judged to have lost.

Fact check: Hezbollah operated an efficient press information office (run by a woman) with several spokespersons and plenty of backgrounders and volunteer staff who answered every question they could and who did help the media. Nasrallah gave no live interviews during the 33 day conflict but did issue statements. With virtually the whole Israeli military after him, plus Lord knows who many foreign paid assassins hunting him, the fellow was lying low.

Kalb’s research found that “the media showed too much destruction of Lebanon and in its reporting did not credit Israel ‘s argument that international law allowed Israel to bomb civilian areas if soldiers were hiding within these homes .” Israel used this same argument during its 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, invasions, as it does in Palestine today. In the summer of 2006 it was very easy for the media to find evidence in Lebanon. 950,000 civilians were bombed out of their villages and the 32,000 homes destroyed and were crowded into public parks in Beirut and schools and all over north Lebanon and Syria. The media had lots of eye witness sources regarding the destruction of Lebanon and they properly reported what they learned.

Kalb cites Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s statement to the New York Times, following the slaughter at Qana, “When you go to sleep with a missile, you might find yourself waking up to another kind of missile” as authority. Israel later admitted there were no missiles fired from Qana, and no Hezbollah in the area, but that it had made a mistake in killing those 28 civilians hiding in the shelter. Kalb might want to inform diplomat Livni that none of the 10 adults or 18 children had gone to sleep with a missile at Qana.

Fact check: Again, researcher Kalb seems not to understand very clearly how the war was being fought on the ground here in South Lebanon. Hezbollah was not hiding from Israeli forces among the civilians. Contrariwise, they were eager to engage Israel every chance they got. Typically Hezbollah fired their missiles from camouflaged areas such as banana groves, orchards, dense foliage, bunkers, holes in the ground, sides of rocky hills and valleys not from houses or towns. They knew very well that Israel would not hesitate to bomb civilian houses which they have been doing since the late 1960’s. After particular missions, sometimes including two day “shifts”, Hezbollah fighters would ditch their weapons and try to sleep. Only rarely making their way back to their villages to check on their families or property.

With respect to Israel’s admitted mistake of bombing the Qana shelter, according to NGO-Lebanon, Israel made 6,979 ‘mistakes’ in bombing during the 33 day July War. Maybe Kalb finds that statistic acceptable given that Israel launched more that 17,000 attacks at more than 8,000 targets, including 300,000 artillery shells and approximately 4.8 million cluster bombs. The juggernaut international Israeli press operation did. Most of the media did not.

Kalb’s research also finds problematical the fact that “not only diplomats but the media forgot about who started the war and focused on Israel’s “disproportionate response.” (Kalb’s quotation marks imply that his research found no disproportionate response which puts him at odds with virtually all the world’s media including Israel’s) ). So they did and should have. The applicable principle of international law is simple enough. When one side trespasses, captures soldiers or commits a hostile act that does not allow the other side, in retaliation, to slaughter hundreds of civilians and destroy much of the country. The related principle of international law is the obligation to discriminate between civilian and military targets. Israel’s responsive killing of more than 1,250 civilians, nearly 1/4 of them children, many fleeing in convoys waving white flags, or following Israeli orders to flee, or hiding in cellars with no fighters in the area, was indeed disproportionate to the capturing of the two soldiers. The international media properly reported these war crimes.

Kalb’s research revealed that “Supporters of Israel’s position, ( including scholars) tend to dismiss the proportionality/disproportional debate as misleading and foolish”. He may be right regarding the first group but he’s dead wrong regarding the second.

Kalb fails to mention the reams of available material on the subject of Israel’s illegal “disproportionate” bombing, which he denies occurred, including many testimonies from the Israeli military to the effect that Israel “lost it” early in the conflict, after being repeating ambushed and not being able to locate Hezbollah fighters and in a vengeful frenzy carpet bombed much of south Lebanon creating a free fire killing zone.

“What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs we fired 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets” ( IDF head of just one rocket unit quoted in Ha’aretz on 9/12/06)

“In the last 72 hours we fired all the munitions we had, all at the same spot, we didn’t even alter the directions of the gun. Friends of mine in the battalion told me they also fired everything in the last three days-ordinary shells, clusters, whatever they had.” (Israeli reservist in an artillery battalion, quoted in Ha’aretz on 9/8/06)

Kalb, admits that Israel has tough military censorship laws, which did not allow reporting, or example, of the weapons stores and bases in northern Israel that many of Hezbollah’s missiles were aiming at, rather than targeting civilians, but his media research criticized Hezbollah for restricting movement during Israel’s bombing in Lebanon. Hezbollah press aids did sometimes suggest, during intensive bombing that for safety reporters might want watch the action on Al Manar TV. The reason is that Hezbollah films most of its battles live because over the years Israel undercounts its causalities and over counts Hezbollah’s (Kalb uses Israel’s claim of 600 Hezbollah killed in the July war when the actual figure is 264).

Fact check: Al Manar viewership is often higher in Israel during conflicts than Israeli stations because Israelis have greater confidence in Al Manar for truthful reporting than their own government fed stations. Despite this well known fact, scholar Kalb, perhaps recalling his days as a reporter in the USSR, smears Al-Manar: “for reports and information about the war, Al-Manar was to Hezbollah what Pravda was to the Soviet Union.” Israeli TV viewers don’t agree.

Kalb finds a media ‘clash of civilizations’ problem when Newsweek did not run a gruesome photo and Arab media did. His research concludes:

Two value systems were clearly in collision: one didn’t go with the gruesome photo, one did go with it, in fact deliberately spread it far and wide, wanting nothing more than to use any and every weapon of “information” to defeat Israel

Interestingly Kalb’s conclusion is nearly word for word, the one that appeared on AIPAC’s website, before Kalb completed his own ‘study’.

To paraphrase Alan Dershowitz’s statement on his website (“I like Carter”) re President Carter, just before he trashed him, I want to say: “I like Marvin Kalb”. And I won’t trash him. But if he’ll come to Lebanon I’ll show him around and help him with additional sources for the next printing of his ‘study’.

Franklin Lamb is author of the recently released book Syria’s Endangered Heritage: An International Responsibility to Preserve and Protect. He is currently based in Beirut and Damascus and reachable at fplamb@gmail.com. Read other articles by Franklin.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. samir B said on May 8th, 2007 at 5:52am #

    Your article is intersting enough to be read twice.
    Let me state first that I do not belong to a “closed sect” nor to a “religiously fundamentalist sect” I am a Lebanese born Christian and tolerant to all religions, including Judaism. Educated at the American university of Beirut, I clearly see the bias attitude of the Official American policy in the Middle East area. For so many years, this policy have negatively affected our lives and deeply jeopardized our future in this area.
    Fundamentalism expansion has roots in injustice . Your article is pretty sound in providing us with deep analysis of facts correcting mistakes in the former report.

  2. Lori Lowenthal Marcus said on May 8th, 2007 at 7:24am #

    So long as you are touting yourself as an expert at fact checking – how about doing some of your own? You cite the piece I wrote about the UN’s posting of Israel’s positions during the Second Lebanon War, and refer to me as “AIPAC’S Lori Lowenthal Marcus.” How much more delicious for you had you only done some fact checking – I am actually a regional president of the ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA – we’re even scarier than AIPAC for people like you.

    Whatever Kalb’s editorializing was on my research, the facts I reported were just that: facts. During the Hezbollah war last summer, the UN posted information about Israel’s troop movements in news releases it placed, inter alia, on its website. That is a violation of its mandated neutrality and the requirement that it refrain from the provision of any information regarding either side during military conflicts. That’s a fact. The UN’s fealty to this standard was reflected in its refusal to provide Israel with videos and other evidence it had of an earlier Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in 2000. Neutrality uber alles. You may think it was just fine for the UN to publish Israeli military information on its website or you may not, but the fact is they were not permitted to do that.

    While I’m on the subject of fact checking, you might want to check a book on grammar : according to US standards, commas always go within the quotes, when using quotes, there must always be a close quote, and dropped words and letters tend to distract readers’ attention. I hope your book editor is paid well.

    I won’t bother with your substantive (I’m sure you and your fans consider them to be substantive, I find them to be as ironclad as your sloppy journalism) allegations.

    And, to quote someone who may be your source of military intelligence, Gomer Pyle: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” I am a Harvard Law graduate – class of ’88.

  3. David S. said on May 8th, 2007 at 3:22pm #


    I’ve read the complete Harvard report.

    Fox news is mentioned four times, when its coverage is described as being sympathetic to Israel and unfavorable to Hezbollah, which is a fact. Beyond that, it is not sourced in the footnotes or
    anywhere else.

    Please cite the part of the report that uses Fox news as a “source”, as you claim. I can’t find it.

    The Weekly Standard is only footnoted twice, in reference to Ms. Marcus’s article.

    Most of the other sourcing comes from the major news outlets – including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg. Some other internal research is cited.

    It’s obvious you disagree with the report, but I don’t see how mistating its “sources” makes your case.

    On the contrary, your polemics contain no sourcing.

    And I’ll believe Anderson Cooper’s version of how Hezbollah was operating over yours – being that I know he was there and recorded the ambulance staging first hand – any day.

  4. John said on May 9th, 2007 at 7:38am #

    The simple fact is that Hezbollah defeated Israel. Israel was given green light from everyone to go smash Hezbollah. It failed. And now its leaders including the Prime Minister Olmert are facing the sack. Generals have been fired. Defence Minister is resigning. Israel has admitted that it lost the war. Winograd Commission is a national disgrace for Israel. This was the first time that mighty Israeli military had been crushed by a bunch of guerillas in 30 days. At the end Israel begged the UN to stop the war. Hezbollah was willing to go for much longer. The kidnapped Israeli soldiers are still being held hostage by Hezbollah, and the group still has thousands of missiles with which to terrorise Israel for years to come. Shame on Israel.

  5. Vince said on May 9th, 2007 at 1:39pm #

    Israel defeated? Not close. Israel only admits to not crushing Hezbollah but it seriously damaged their terrorist operations. THe problem is that Iran and Syria have subsequently re-armed Hezbollah.

  6. Hue Longer said on May 9th, 2007 at 3:10pm #

    While we’re humping ad hominem’s leg, I too will lose the point, congratulate Ms. Marcus for her grammar, and then scold her for her use of, “While on the topic of fact checking”. It was as unnecessary as me bringing it up. You were already on the subject and it come across as defensive in a sniveling pretentious manner. Please don’t think I meant that you are, we’re just in here to help each other’s writing skills. I myself could use some help in determining what I should have done after, “…bringing it up”. Should I have left the sentence open to help the reader continue with my thought? Perhaps an easy out would have been, … (Or is that, “…”?). Now on to my take of Mexican agriculture and Harvard graduates drop shipping subsidized corn products…I agree with the other guy that said something about that.

  7. lastdregs said on May 10th, 2007 at 2:02pm #

    lori, if israel abided by U.N. mandates instead of disregarding them then, perhaps, they could expect U.N. neutrality. Oh, poor Zionists, boo hoo.