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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Frum Law Prof’s Charming Legal Case for Israel

Kontorovich says, "international opinion is squarely against Israel, and if international law were a popularity contest, Israel would be voted off the island. But the whole point of international law is to buffer international politics, rather than serve them."

Eugene Kontorovich

Eugene Kontorovich

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Eugene Kontorovich is an unlikely media darling, at least on paper. He is a legal scholar whose specialties include international law, maritime piracy and law and economics, and he has a slight Russian accent.

But Kontorovich is one of the most entertaining legal scholars one is likely to come across. This is true both because of his youth, his charming accent, his sense of humor and his lively delivery. And readers of The Jewish Press will be interested to know that he is also a frum family man and knowledgeable Torah student.

Kontorovich’s lecture, “The Legal Case for Israel,” available on TorahCafe.com, has just become their single most popular lecture with more than 70,000 views. This particular lecture was given last August at the National Jewish Retreat, which is a yearly event hosted by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.

Given the milestone, The Jewish Press spoke with Kontorovich to provide some background. In particular, why he gives these talks to Jewish groups, and whether they generally have the appetite and stamina to listen to a lecture about international law.

Kontorovich explained that he really enjoys speaking about the issue and finds that what he explains is of crucial importance in the current global delegitimization of Israel campaign. He speaks on college campuses, law schools, Jewish and professional groups, at Federations and as a scholar-in-residence at intellectually-inclined synagogues across the country. He gives maybe 20 – 30 such talks every year, and it’s increasing all the time. “The reason for doing these talks is that people are barraged with unsupported claims about Israel violating international law,” Kontorovich explained.

In particular, because Israel is described as an international law violator so often, and by authorities such as major newspapers, news anchors, international leaders and even Israelis, “people assume it must be true, without any particular notion of what the international law is that Israel violates.”

That’s why, Kontorovich explains, “when one looks at the actual international rules in question, it is hard to see how they apply. Moreover, when one sees how they are applied to identical cases, it becomes clear that the rules applied to Israel are not applied anywhere else. And this means they are not rules.”

When pressed to explain what exactly are the kinds of flawed legal charges aimed at Israel, he cites the usual ones of “illegal occupation,” and “illegal settlements.” But, he says, “when people see the text of the provisions Israel is supposed to have violated, they are shocked.”

That is why he will continue to give these lectures as often as he can because the false information out there is defeating the pro-Israel crowd as much as anything else – if people just knew the truth they wouldn’t feel so defeated by the constant charges of criminal conduct against the Jewish State.

And he doesn’t just want to speak to those who are eager to be told that the charges against Israel are false. Kontorovich is more than happy to speak to audiences who are mighty convinced that Israel is a wrongdoer in the eyes of international law.

“To be sure,” Kontorovich says, “international opinion is squarely against Israel, and if international law were a popularity contest, Israel would be voted off the island. But the whole point of international law is to buffer international politics, rather than serve them.”

Kontorovich was born in Kiev and moved with his family to the United States when he was a young boy. He attended the University of Chicago for both undergraduate school and law school, and he is currently an associate professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law which is just outside of Chicago.

Last academic year Kontorovich was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Albert Einstein and others of the greatest scholars in the United States have been members of the famed Institute. Kontorovich used his time there to complete his latest book, one on maritime law called, “Justice at Sea,” which is being published by Harvard University Press.

Notices of Kontorovich’s talks and publications are posted on his Facebook page and he provides constant updates on his twitter account.

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About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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7 Responses to “Frum Law Prof’s Charming Legal Case for Israel”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    “when people see the text of the provisions Israel is supposed to have violated, they are shocked.”.

    Here is the text that causes the most problem for Israel. It is from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:

    "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

    http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/full/380

    The problem is that it was the explicit policy of many successive Israeli governments to do precisely that, particularly between 1977 and 1992 but to a lesser extent even earlier. The United States warned Israel about this all the way back in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson was President:

    http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v20/d137

    Ironically that problematic policy was pretty much abandoned after Rabin's election in 1992.

  2. Vladimir Weissman says:

    Charlie… That is exactly the point: Israel is NOT an occupying power. An occupation presupposes that the territory previously belonged to a state, more precisely to a party to the Geneva Convention. You know that the definition cannot possibly apply to Judea and Samaria. As opposed to: Northern Cyprus, Tibet, West Papua, Western Sahara, a quarter of Georgia, a chunk of Moldova – you fill in the rest. As victor in successive wars for survival, Israel has the same right to retain territories, as e.g. Poland and Russia have in (formerly German) Eastern Prussia. So! read Prof. Kontorovich. You might learn something.

  3. Who got "transfered"? Depends what transfer means. Hard to say people returning to the Gush were transferred, they just moved. The Dean Rusk memo you link to specifically does not say that all civilian movement into the territory is transfer. It says transfer is illegal, but do not define it other than as "setting up" settlements. Yet the dominant view of international lawyers is that any civilian movement into the territory is a violation. (Though with other countries, civilian movement, even with government support, has not been regarded as transfer.)

    Moreover, in all other uses of "transfer" in Geneva IV, it refers to compelled movement.

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    Eugene, thanks for you response!

    While one might argue about the 1967-1977 period, it is very clear that the policy of every Israeli government from 1977 to 1992 was to convince massive numbers of Israel Jews to move to the occupied territories, and this was promoted with massive governmental subsidies of settlements. As we all know, that policy was abandoned after 1992.

    If there was any personal coercion, it was very, very rare. (I do recall a story about some Latin American converts to Judaism being told a few years ago that their conversions would only be accepted in Israel if they agreed to settle in the occupied territories, but I've seen nothing else.) But lets get real. The Israeli government owns or controls almost all land within the Green Line, in annexed East Jerusalem, and in the occupied territories that are still not part of Medinat Yisrael. By hugely disproportionate investment of resources in the occupied territories at the expense of existing cities and towns, not to mention unpopulated areas that all who recognize Israel as a sovereign state see as within its boundaries mean anything other than an attempt to transfer large numbers of Jews? By claiming that it isn't, you are essentially calling Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Shamir, and Shimon Peres, and all their cabinet members who enforced this policy, baldfaced liars! That what was they said they wanted to do, and they did it!!!

    And arguing on this fact keeps us from bringing up the even more egregious policy of the Palestinian Authority to prevent even a Jew with no connection to Israel at all from living or purchasing property in areas under its control. (I accurately described it as a policy to make its territory "Judenrein" in a comment on dailykos.com and was threatened with a ban from the site.) While Salam Fayyad has publicly expressed his opposition to that policy, the rest of the PA leadership still supports it. Better to admit that Israel was out of compliance with a treaty that it had voluntarily signed and ratified, and to reinforce again (as it has done so many times) that it is willing to negotiate about the final status of such settlements — and to start to direct the focus back at the absolutely outrageous discriminatory policies of the PA. (I'll believe that the PA is ready for peace when it adopts Fayyad's plan as policy.)

  5. Eugene, Joseph Goebbels could have profited from the likes of you, but Germany's lawyers, unlike Israel's were not up to the task. Hence, Nuremberg. But never mind, as long as the US Congress remains Israeli occupied territory, Israel has nothing to worry about.

  6. Mr. Hall – your comments are the exact ones that Mr. Kontorovich talks about. Ignorant and posting false information.

    Have you ever actually read the Geneva Convention and I do mean all it and not just cherry picking the parts that appear to support your claims? I have a very hard time believing that you could have with so much false claims as to what it actually says.

    For an 'occupation' claim three conditions MUST be met. First the parties both need to be a "High Contracting Party". Second the party must have a sovereign claim. Third no other "High Contracting Party" can have a sovereign claim. These are stated in the Geneva Convention.

    Israel is a "High Contracting Party" – the Arabs are not nor have they ever been.

    Israel has a sovereign claim to the land according to the San Remo Treaty, Mandate for Palestine, and UN Charter – the Arabs do not have any legal claim.

    Since there is only "High Contracting Party" that meet 100% of the conditions and the Arabs meet 0% of the conditions.

    Nor has the Israeli government ever transferred their citizens – but it would be legal if they did so.

    This is exactly what Mr. Kontorovich is talking about. You are posting total nonsense.

  7. Keith David Reitman says:

    Jeff Blankfort is a quick on the draw hater to throw a Nazi curve ball at a thoughful conversation. Ease up Jeff. There may be a bit of truth coming from the other side of the fence, Bro.

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