Leibovitz derisively calls Goliath a “brilliant new novel,” but Blumenthal’s book is not a novel and not fiction.
Indeed, author Chris Hedges, former New York Times Middle East bureau chief, calls Goliath “one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel.”
And it’s currently the number one seller on Amazon.com in the category of Israeli history.
Leibovitz has done key propaganda work for the Israeli army and is a principal of Thunder11, a public relations firm notorious for creating the fake “human rights” group Iran180.
Leibovitz’s intervention is a clear indication that Blumenthal’s Goliath is perceived at the very heart of Israel’s propaganda machinery as a threat that must be countered.
Leibovitz cannot debunk what Blumenthal reports in Goliath but he tries to explain it away.
Before the killings, some 100 members of the extended family were forced to gather in the house of Wa’el Samouni without sufficient food or water for their children. It was when some members of the family emerged from the house on the morning of 5 January to gather firewood that the first Israeli shell struck.
Leibovitz doesn’t deny any of that. In fact, after recounting the same details as Blumenthal, Leibowitz states, “All of the details depicted in this bloody scene are lifted from reality.”
But Leibovitz insists that it is somehow relevant or exculpatory that drone footage from the family’s home was “transmitted to a local command center, where the bits of wood the Samouni men were holding were mistakenly identified as RPG missiles.”
Leibovitz confirms that the Israeli colonel in charge, Ilan Malka, ordered repeated strikes on the Samounis despite being told that those targeted were almost certainly terrified civilians. All of this is supposed to make us more sympathetic to the killers, even though the Israeli army refused to bring any charges against those involved.
This does absolutely nothing to undermine Blumenthal’s account. If anything, it only confirms the sheer disregard for Palestinian life which has resulted in the killings – with impunity – of so many civilians.
Israeli army ties
Although Leibovitz hasn’t followed in the footsteps of his father Ronnie, a notorious bank robber, his current occupation is no less dishonest.
Leibovitz is currently on the team of Thunder11, an Israeli army-linked PR firm that does propaganda work for the Israel lobby in the United States.
The pair met a decade earlier in the Israeli army where, the company press release states, “they both were entrusted with revising the Army’s strategic media infrastructure.”
In 2010, Thunder11 created Iran180, an astroturf operation posing deceptively as a “human rights” group. Its real goal was to demonize and incite confrontation with Iran.
Iran180’s most notorious activities have included street performances depicting sexual assaults and intended to portray former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a gay Jew. Other Iran180 productions include bizarre music videos that portray Ahmadinejad defecating and him and Bashar al Assad as misogynistic, married gay men.
Leibovitz was one of the main people behind Iran180, an initiative coordinated through the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
I exposed Iran180 in Summer 2012 in a series of blog posts. Since being exposed, Iran180 has continued to operate but with an extremely low profile.
Iran180 was part astroturf street activism and part astroturf survey research – in other words dubious research designed not to reveal public opinion but to shape it.
Leibovitz’s contributions to the project were mostly in the latter. When I was researching Iran180, he shared an unpublished report on Internet censorship in Iran that was produced for Iran180.
I passed the report over to an expert on global internet censorship who noted that the report neglected to use well-known and well-respected research about the subject. The expert suggested that Iran180 was not familiar with the basics of Iranian internet culture and law.
Another survey of college student views of Iran doesn’t carry Liel Leibovitz’s name (or any name except Iran180). It isn’t clear if Leibovitz is responsible for the survey that measured ignorance of Iran’s imprisonment of people who wear nail polish.
A few of Iran180’s workers were also students at New York University where Leibovitz is a visiting assistant professor. One worker, Stephanie C. Llamas, was simultaneously producing research about internet censorship in Iran for Iran180 while Liel Leibovitz was her thesis advisor.
Since last year when I first wrote about Iran180, I’ve continued to learn about Iran180 and its sources of funding, though I continue to seek corroboration of the specific details.
Needless to say, what I’ve learned doesn’t relieve Leibovitz of any responsibility for Iran180’s activities.
But the more I learn, the more absurd it seems that Leibovitz thinks he is in a position to accuse anyone else of producing fiction.