web analytics
October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Kontorovich’

Pro-Israel: ‘Intellectual Peaceniks’ v. ‘Rejectionist Idiots’?

Friday, January 17th, 2014

The Open Hillel (OH) movement, which rejects National Hillel’s Israel guidelines, and J Street, which seeks to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel, are trying to assert control over Jewish discussions about Israel.

These two organizations insist on campuses and in the media that their position represents the objective truth – and the only morally acceptable position – on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  As a result, those who differ with them are labeled morally deficient and inferior.

Capitalizing on western society’s natural aversion to war and violence, these groups have succeeded in marketing themselves to the masses. They quickly label opposing groups and individuals as “warmongering” and “rejectionist.” Traditional Zionist thought is labeled with that hateful term, “conservative,” while those who hold it are portrayed as the opponents of peace. The marketing has been very successful.

According to its website, J Street is “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” It also claims as its mission being “pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-Palestinian,” and to seek having an “open and honest discussion about Israel.” OH’s mission statement proclaims itself as “a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.” Given these groups’ stated devotion to diversity and openness, one would assume that everything would be up for debate, including what it means to support peace in the Middle East.

But rather than allow for different conceptions of what it means to be “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian” or “pro-human rights,” members of these two groups claim an inviolable monopoly over these terms. They refuse to allow debate on what it means to advocate for solutions in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The same people fighting for inclusion in the Hillel “pro-Israel tent,” are simultaneously delegitimizing and peremptorily rejecting those with alternative perspectives.

In an article by the President of J Street U’s National Student Board, “Hillel And Its Donors Repress Real Conversation About Israel” Jacob Plitman writes,“as some conservative donors demand a tighter conversation and enforce their political values, we risk losing that generation of young progressive Jews who won’t settle for tired hasbara and an Israel right-or-wrong approach.” J Street U Communications Co-Chair Benjy Cannon followed suit in Haaretz, where he opined that “Hillel’s tactic is no better than that of the ASA: It serves to exclude the very voices it should engage.”

The hypocrisy in their cry for “openness” is breath-taking, given J Street’s relentless insistence that only its beliefs are kosher.

J Street’s bullying is on display in an article by Plitman and Rachel Cohen in The Daily Beast. They write: “pro-Israel advocates cannot support the two-state solution in name only; we must all work to provide support for the Kerry initiative as a whole and for each of the difficult concessions necessary to reach an agreement. True backing means mobilizing support for peace talks based on pre-1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and robust security guarantees.”

Talking about conflict resolution in such absolute terms endangers the very democracy they demand. They believe and assert that “true backing” can only be achieved by endorsing J Street’s policy positions. According to Plitman and Cohen, if you do not back peace talks based on pre-1967 borders, you are not a true supporter of Israel. Rather than present their opinions as just that, opinions, they present their perspective as infallible, absolute truth.

Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and a frequent J Street U guest speaker. Eugene Kontorovich, a constitutional and international law scholar, is avowedly both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.

In a recent article in Commentary, Kontorovich explained the fallacy of labeling Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs as undemocratic. In response, Ibish tweeted that “even by the standards of the Comintern (‪@Commentary) pro-occupation cult, this is certifiably insane & barking mad.” In place of an intellectual response to Kontorovich’s article, Ibish dismissed and labeled Kontorovich, and everyone at Commentary, as insane and “cultish.”

On January 8th, Ibish tweeted:“Anyone, Arab, Jewish or otherwise, opposed to a two-state solution is a fanatic and part of the problem. This is clear.” Ibish – a J Street U favored speaker is unabashed: if you do not see the resolution of the conflict on his terms you are a fanatic and an obstacle to peace. Such narrow-mindedness sets up a single rigid dichotomy: “intellectual peaceniks” on one side and “bloodthirsty idiots” on the other.

On January 7th, Alan Elsner, Vice President of Communications for J Street, penned an article attacking Israeli Knesset member Naftali Bennett. Elsner characterized Bennett as only offering, “many spurious arguments, among them that the demographic clock is working in Israel’s favor and that whenever there are peace negotiations terrorism increases.“

“This is the nature of the opposition to peace. We can’t say we haven’t been warned,” Elsner concluded. Rather than attempting to explain why he thinks Bennett’s statements are wrong, Elsner jumps to an intellectually dishonest conclusion that fits perfectly into J Street’s marketing message: Bennett opposes J Street’s position, ergo, Bennett is an opponent of peace.

For Elsner, for J Street, for Open Hillel, to oppose the imposition of its favored peace plan on Israel by the United States (which is not a party), makes even a democratically elected member of the Israeli government an opponent of peace.

As it stands now, It is impossible to have a productive discussion about who is really pro-Israel with J Street and its ilk because when others disagree they are labeled as insane and barking mad (Ibish), opponents of peace (Elsner), or conservative and exclusive (Plitman).

With their monopoly on morality, the last thing that these groups can claim is to encourage dialogue and discussion. Their policies are not a subset of the “open conversation” but rather the precursor. Rather than having a solution as a result of discussion, the “agreed upon conclusion” is established before anyone begins talking. J Street U Brandeis’ mission statement epitomizes the greater demand that specific policy trumps actual, open conversation: “Our mission is twofold: (1) Primarily, we are working to achieve a two-state solution through creating an informed and invested student body that will influence Congress to push for American diplomatic leadership on this issue. (2) Simultaneously, we are working to engage the American Jewish community in an honest and open conversation about Israel.”

‘Islamic Rights in Jerusalem’ Why No ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ Decision (VIDEO)

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

A federal court released its decision regarding whether it is permissible for the United States to refuse to enter “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passport of an American born in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 23.  The result was not unexpected.  The court decided that a portion of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which congress enacted in order to allow Israel to appear alongside Jerusalem on such a passport, was an unconstitutional law.  The basis for that decision was that in enacting that law, congress had impermissibly intruded upon the exclusive power of the Executive branch to conduct diplomatic relations with foreign entities.

But the surprise, and the anger – for those who disagree with the decision – should be directed at the Executive branch for its long–held position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel.  And we learn in this Opinion, what is driving this long-held position. It is a fear of anger and violence if the U.S. does something to “undervalue” “Islamic rights in Jerusalem.”

Got that? The U.S. is afraid of undervaluing “Islamic rights in Jerusalem.” Perhaps the decision makers in the U.S. Department of State and all the Secretaries of State never had the opportunity to view the very important interview of Arabic Studies professor and scholar Mordechai Kedar gave to an Al Jazeera anchor.  See that interview at the end of this article.

Congress sought to correct what it viewed as an incorrect decision by the Executive branch. But the judiciary branch could not allow that.

BACKGROUND

Menachem Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem to American parents.  Shortly after his birth, Zivotofsky’s parents applied for a passport for him.  In the application, Zivotofsky’s mother listed his birthplace as Jerusalem, Israel.

But the U.S. State Department issued the child’s passport listing only Jerusalem – no country was listed – as his place of birth.

That year, 2002, Zivotofsky’s parents filed a lawsuit against the State Department on their son’s behalf, seeking to have a passport issued to their son which would list, as requested in the original application, Jerusalem, Israel, as the child’s birthplace.

This case has traveled up and down the federal court system, stopping in some courts more than once.  It even reached the U.S. Supreme Court where a subsidiary issue was heard two years ago, before being sent back down the court system for further development.

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declared unconstitutional a portion of the 2002 Foreign Relations Authorization Act which would permit a passport to be issued listing as the place of birth Jerusalem, Israel for  Zivotofsky and others in his position.

This is the relevant portion of the FRAA which the court declared unconstitutional:

(d) RECORD OF PLACE OF BIRTH AS ISRAEL FOR PASSPORT PURPOSES. For purposes of the registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel.

What the court did was – not surprisingly, even if one disagrees with the result – rule that congress exceeded its powers by passing legislation which, the court found, wrongly interferes with matters over which it does not have ultimate authority. That exclusive authority instead rests with the Executive branch. The power to recognize the sovereignty of another country and to determine foreign policy, is one of the powers which the U.S. government’s separation of powers doctrine grants to the Executive branch.

What is significant about this case is not that the Court of Appeals has ruled that Jerusalem is not part of Israel.

The more interesting question is why the Executive branch is so set against even something so small as to allow a child’s passport to state that when a child was born in Jerusalem, he was also born in the country of Israel.

The D.C. court noted that it has always been the position of the Executive branch to remain neutral on the question of who has sovereignty over Jerusalem.  It quotes from the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual which was in effect in 2002, when Menachem Zivotofsky was born and when his parents sought to have his passport list Jerusalem, Israel as his birthplace.  The FAM explicitly states that, “for an applicant born in Jerusalem: ‘Do not write Israel or Jordan’ on his passport.”  It also states that “Israel ‘[d]oes not include Jerusalem.’”

Frum Law Prof’s Charming Legal Case for Israel

Monday, February 18th, 2013

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/frum-law-profs-charming-legal-case-for-israel/2013/02/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: