During Israel’s approximately month-long war in the Gaza Strip from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009, Izzeldin Abuelish’s three daughters were inadvertently killed in their home by an Israeli tank strike targeting Hamas gunmen. It happened during “Operation Cast Lead,” a wide-scale ground attack against Hamas following years of incessant and indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire aimed at Israeli major cities. Thirteen years later, Israel’s Supreme Court denied Abuelish’s appeal for an apology and compensation, citing the “unfortunate side effect” of Hamas initiating war from a civilian population, a decision that Abuelish amounts to Israel “insisting to kill, to torture, to stab them again and again and again.”
If you ask Daniel Kovalik, an international human-rights professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the tragedy amounts to something uniquely sinister. In his December piece for the university’s legal news and commentary publication JURIST, Kovalik argues that Israel’s routine disregard for civilian life accounts for the many Palestinian child fatalities—Abuelish’s daughters among them—and qualifies as war crimes under international humanitarian law. Such violations, he explains, require an “affirmative attempt by armed actors to protect civilians.”
Kovalik doesn’t consider how the consequences of Hamas’s urban-warfare practices might answer for the civilian casualties. And his apparent call for violent resistance under the banner of civilian protection is just as absurd as it sounds—the “armed actors” he speaks of barbarically used Palestinian children as human shields during the war.
Categorically wrong as he may be, Kovalik’s anti-Zionist talking points are long exhausted and long discredited. They aren’t entirely uncommon among American professors. Kovalik’s record of peddling wild anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via Iranian propaganda networks is a whole other story.
In character with his embrace of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) Quds Force who was assassinated in Iraq in January 2020 by a targeted U.S. drone, Kovalik penned an article in November 2017 for the American Herald Tribune—a domain later seized by the FBI for use towards the IRCG-backed “global covert influence campaign.” In it, he recounts his anti-Zionist awakening, confessing that he no longer remain silent: “Israel is intent on the destruction of the Palestinian people, and it is engaged in a slow, patient, but systematic genocide.”
It’s apparently a genocide so slow that the Palestinian population has increased ninefold since Israel’s founding in 1948—this according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics no less. Such a groundless accusation only rouses the demonization of the Jewish state. Never mind the warning leaflets and regular medical aid, former National Review editor Jonah Goldberg notes, if by any definition of the word Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, “shouldn’t those numbers be going the other way?”
The illogic is the point. Anti-Zionism conforms to whatever social ill satisfies the irrational hatred, even if that means outright invention. Consider Kovalik’s pair of articles on RT America news, where he again decries war crimes against Israel for allegedly not aiding the Palestinians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If this is supposed to corroborate his notion of an ultimate final solution, then Israel has once again demonstrated gross incompetency.
The Oslo Accords, explains CAMERA Israel director Tamar Sternthal, state that the “Palestinian authorities, not Israel, are responsible for the health care, including vaccines, of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” The Palestinian Authority and Hamas instead “invest in terrorism at the expense of health care.”
Under no obligation, the Israeli government nonetheless provides Palestinians COVID-19 relief and not without complications. Beyond the P.A. rejecting 1.4 million doses of the vaccine, it went as far as to refuse supplies donated by the United Arab Emirates simply because the planes carrying them landed in Israel. The Zionophobic mania consuming the collective mind of Palestinian nationalism is so pervasive and absurd that their government would rather its citizens contract the coronavirus than allow Israel any degree of positive recognition from the family of nations.
Ultimately, the pervasiveness and absurdity that is the fear of Jewish self-determination reach an all too dangerous point. Following the Shabbat-morning shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, RT invited Kovalik to comment on the anti-Semitic motives of gunman Robert Bowers. The irony, of course, is that Kovalik and his ilk traffic in the same rhetorical anti-Semitic madness as the perpetrator.
Both Kovalik and Bowers propagate a Jewish eliminationist plot. For Bowers, the Jews are orchestrating the forced migration of non-white people to gradually dilute the white race into obscurity. For Kovalik, Israel’s master plan to “take over all of Palestine and beyond” benefits the American interest to exert white supremacy in the Middle East.
It’s critical to note that Kovalik advanced these anti-Semitic fantasies on a distinctively anti-Semitic network: PressTV, the Iranian state-controlled news network notorious for circulating Holocaust denial, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, delusions of Zionist culpability for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the July 2011 attacks in Norway and the Charlie Hebdo newsroom massacre in Paris in 2015. Accompanying Kovalik was Kevin Barret—the network’s recurring contributor and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist whose name produces endless testimonies of Jew-hatred on the Anti-Defamation League website.
There they discussed the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas last May. Among the many disturbing diatribes, Barret declared Israelis to be the “most sadistic people in the world who actually enjoy murdering children,” the ancient canard of ritual murder Bowers, too, endorsed. In the same vein as Bowers who claims “Jews are the children of Satan,” Barret denounces the “blasphemous” and “obscene” idea that the followers of Zionism—atheists that “despise” Jesus Christ and God—could ever rightfully “occupy” the Holy Land.
This is the company he keeps and the irrationality of anti-Zionism. As far as obscenity goes, Kovalik’s preoccupation with the Jewish state—one of the most worthy humanitarian projects in history—perverts the very nature of being a human-rights professor.
Aidan Segal is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and a 2021-22 campus fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.