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Chicago law professor praised right-wing Israeli settler group in West Bank lecture

A law professor at Chicago’s Northwestern University gave a lecture as the guest of a right-wing Israeli organisation whose head supports the “transfer” of Palestinians, it has emerged.

Eugene Kontorovich, described on his faculty website as an expert in international law, is a public apologist for Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, he attacked the European Union’s guidelines for the labelling of settlement produce.

What is not well known, however, is that Kontorovich is himself a West Bank settler. Two years ago, Kontorovich emigrated to Israel from the US, and moved to Alon Shvut, an Israeli colony south of Bethlehem. According to his listing at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, Kontorovich now lives in Neve Daniel, another settlement within the Bethlehem governorate.

But Kontorovich is not just a settlement resident; a video that has come to light shows him expressing support for a notorious right-wing settler group that sees all of the West Bank as “the exclusive possession” of Jews.

In December 2013, Kontorovich gave a talk as a guest of Women in Green (WiG) “on how to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] without jeopardizing the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”

The event took place in Ush Ghurab, on the outskirts of Beit Sahour, where settler activists waged a long campaign to ensure the land remained out of bounds for local Palestinians. Ultimately, the settlers succeeded in “squash[ing] a plan for building a hospital for Palestinian children” on the site.

As can be seen in the video, after an introduction by WiG co-head Nadia Matar, Kontorovich described it as “an honour” to be at an event “hosted by the Women in Green organisation”, who he professed to having “long admired, and which does such extremely important work.”

In a separate video with a conservative US radio host, apparently recorded on the same day as the lecture, Kontorovich is interviewed alongside Nadia Matar with Beit Sahour in the background.

As the pair discuss the problem of keeping ‘Arabs’ off the land, Kontorovich suggests that Palestinians have a “lot of time”, while “the biggest obstacle we have I think is we are normal middle class people and everyone has a job and can’t be out doing this all the time.”

So who exactly is WiG? Founded in 1993, the organisation describes itself as a movement “dedicated to safeguarding our G-d given Biblical Homeland.”

Its co-founder and current co-leader Nadia Matar, who in in 2009 called for the assassination of Mahmoud Abbas, openly supports the removal of Palestinians from “the Holy Land”, as laid out in an article called ‘Transfer of Arabs is the Only Solution for Peace’.

In case of any confusion about what ‘transfer’ really means, see the photograph of Matar at a protest in Jerusalem on March 17, 2002: “Expel the Arab Enemy”, reads the slogan in both English and Hebrew. In a report inThe New York Times on a right-wing protest in 2008, Matar was direct: “We have to make the Arabs understand that their place is not here.”

This then, is the group Kontorovich praised for its “extremely important work.”

In the media, Kontorovich is presented purely in his academic capacity – as “a professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.” The Washington Post, where he writes a blog, describes him as “a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on constitutional and international law”, who “writes and lectures frequently about the Arab-Israel conflict.”

Kontorovich has chosen, however, to keep a few of his activities out of the spotlight. For example, he is a member of the legal advisory board of NGO Monitor, an Israeli organisation that specialises in smearing human rights defenders, and a fellow at Brooke Goldstein’s Lawfare Project.

He is also a legal advisor for a campaign that seeks to persuade the Israeli government “to adopt the Levy Report in principle and practice.” That report denied the existence of a military occupation, and suggested ways for legalising settlement outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

17 percent of Neve Daniel settlement, where Kontorovich currently lives, is privately-owned Palestinian land; the figure for Alon Shvut, where the law professor moved to in 2013, is 28 percent. According to one study, 19 homes stand on privately-owned Palestinian land in Neve Daniel.

Both Alon Shvut and Neve Daniel are key colonies within the so-called ‘Gush Etzion’ bloc, and both continue to expand. Neve Daniel overlooks the ‘Tent of Nations’, a Palestinian-owned farm and peace project; in 2003, armed settlers uprooted the family’s olive trees.

All Israeli settlements in the OPT are considered illegal under international law by the United Nations (expressed in both Security Council and General Assembly resolutions), the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and others.

Israel’s settlements policy is also, in the words of Amnesty International, “inherently discriminatory”, causing “the mass, systematic and ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights.” In fact, under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the policy is a war crime.

It is this consensus position Kontorovich seeks to challenge – but his commitment to Israel’s colonisation of the OPT goes far beyond academic debate. The question is now: will his activities, and the groups he endorses and supports, be seen as beyond the pale by Northwestern University?

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