News & Politics

Video of International Law Scholar Defending Israel Vanishes From YouTube

YouTube screenshot of Eugene Kontorovich on RT.

On Sunday, Eugene Kontorovich, an Israeli scholar at the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University, defended Israel’s response to Hamas rockets from Gaza in the current conflict. Yet on Monday, YouTube took down the video without an explanation. YouTube later restored the video, only to take it down once again. The second removal included a specific claim: that the video violated YouTube’s “violent criminal organizations policy.” YouTube again restored the video, explaining that the entire situation was a mistake.

In the video, Kontorovich told the Russian-government-funded outlet Russia Today (RT) that critics of Israel were “completely wrong” to suggest Israel’s response to Hamas’ rockets has gone too far.

“I think it’s important to start with what international law says,” Kontorovich explained. “International law requires all combatants — Israel and Hamas — to adhere to the principle of distinction. Distinction means military and civilian forces need to be separated and clearly marked, so that both sides can target each other’s military without killing civilians. Mixing the military amongst the civilians, putting military targets — military installations, rocket facilities — in or in proximity to civilian targets, itself is a violation of the law of war, and that’s what Hamas is doing.”

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“On the other hand, in fighting a war, the law of war and the Geneva Conventions understand it’s impossible to have a war without civilian casualties and the rule is those civilian casualties need to be proportionate to the military objective. Right now, Israel has destroyed much of Hamas’ capabilities, and the civilian casualties — while regrettable — are both proportionate and a direct result of Hamas’ using civilians as human shields,” Kontorovich explained.

“Critics who are making this argument essentially say that if Hamas hides behind civilians, they should be able to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and Israel just has to hold up its hands because they’re hiding behind civilians. At the same time, Israel uses every single method to minimize civilian casualties,” the scholar added.

The RT reporter noted that Israeli forces did not fire a warning shot before attacking Hamas in the conflict. Kontorovich explained just how ridiculous a requirement that would be.

“The fact that Israel sometimes warns people to evacuate sites so that it can destroy empty facilities and remove them from use does not mean it can’t target militants without a warning. No other country gives a warning,” he noted.

Kontovorich concluded the interview with a prediction that while the current conflict may only last another week, the overall conflict is “probably going to go on forever” and be “a permanent sore in Israel’s side” due to European and UNRWA funding to Palestine and Hamas.

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While Kontorovich’s message may be controversial, his analysis did not conflict with YouTube’s guidelines and it certainly did not support “violent criminal organizations.”

Yet on Monday, YouTube removed the video for allegedly “violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

YouTube removal Israel
Twitter screenshot of YouTube removal notice.

While the video platform restored the video shortly after that first removal, the video disappeared once again on Monday.

This time, Kontorovich received an email in which YouTube announced that “our team reviewed your content, and we think it violates our violent criminal organizations policy.” Later on in the email, YouTube noted that “due to the recent global health crisis related to COVID-19, a number of our normal review processes have been disrupted.”

YouTube removal Israel Kontorovich
YouTube notice of video removal.

In a statement to PJ Media, YouTube claimed that the platform removed the video by mistake. YouTube attributed the error to its “automated systems.”

“Professor Kontorovich’s video does not violate YouTube’s Community Guidelines and the video is available on YouTube again,” a YouTube spokesperson told PJ Media on Tuesday. “As part of our response to COVID-19, we are temporarily relying more on technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers. In this case, automated systems removed content that did not violate our policies, and we worked to quickly reinstate it.”

While this explanation may have worked for the first ban, it seems unlikely to account for the second removal of the video, which included the email to Kontorovich. If a “team” reviewed his video, then it does not make sense to blame “automated systems” for the error.

The American-Israeli computer scientist Judea Pearl suggested that anti-Israel animus may have motivated the temporary ban.

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“It’s not [YouTube’s] fault,” Pearl argued. “All it takes is for some low-level clerk at their ‘community standard’ department to have a Zionophobic background, and you are blocked for a day or two. Its not censorship, just sloppiness in clerk hiring.”

The video is currently available on YouTube, and it is well worth a watch. It seems a supporter of Hamas may have attempted to block Kontorovich’s legal analysis, which makes his interview even more important.