It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.
- Judge Richard Goldstone, “Israel and the Apartheid Slander,” New York Times, October 31, 2011

On November 5-6, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) held a session in Cape Town, South Africa. The session was convened, under the façade of a legal framework, ostensibly to consider “Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people fits the international legal definitions of the crime of apartheid.”

This PR stunt was a total failure; none of its stated objectives was achieved. The RToP failed to garner positive international media attention other than a single opinion piece placed in the Guardian (not known for favorable pieces on Israel) and coverage in Al-Jazeera. The tone of international coverage was set by Judge Richard Goldstone’s scathing op-ed in the New York Times.

“Witnesses”

  • Prominent scheduled South African witnesses Winnie Mandela and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela withdrew from the Tribunal on the day before its commencement, citing personal reasons.
  • The Tribunal heard from 24 “witnesses,” all of whom have a consistent record of anti-Israel bias, including representatives from European government-funded NGOs: Shawan Jabarin, alleged senior PFLP activist and director of the European-funded Al Haq; Raji Sourani, director of the EU- and European government-funded PCHR; Ingrid Jadarat, of European-funded Badil; and Jeff Halper, head of the European-funded ICAHD. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a prominent supporter of the BDS movement, also appeared. (Michael Sfard, legal advisor for NIF- and EU-funded grantees such as Breaking the Silence, presented at the 2010 Barcelona session on the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and was listed in the original program for Cape Town. He was replaced by his legal associate Emily Schaeffer, who also represents several NIF grantees, including PHR-I and Yesh Din. Also, in the London session of the RToP (Nov. 2010), officials from NIF-linked groups Machsom Watch and CWP, participated.)
  • During the proceedings, these individuals demonized Israel and denied Jewish self-determination. For example, Jeff Halper, head of ICAHD, claimed that the Israeli government views the demolition of Bedouin homes “as a garbage removal cycle.” Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi declared that “I would say, there was no justification for Zionist projects and to have a Jewish state in my homeland.” Al-Haq claimed that Israeli measures have led to the “fragmentation of the Palestinian population into sub-groups,” preventing the Palestinians from “participating in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and impede their full development as a group.”
  • Similarly, Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated: “We worship a God that is naturally biased in favor of the suffering, the underdog, those who are suffering underfoot ... In the Holy Land, the Palestinian people are the ones suffering.” Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) greatly distorted history in alleging that “We will not forget that the Israeli trade union federation Histadrut, which serves the racist Israeli state and the Jewish working class like White trade unions in South Africa served the racist state and the White working class, actively collaborated with the South African apartheid state.”
  • Although the RToP organizers claimed to have invited Israeli government officials to this “kangaroo court,” and the published schedule falsely listed a time for their presentation, the Israeli Ambassador in Pretoria stated that “I have not seen any approach by the tribunal to Israel or the embassy.”

“Jurors”

  • The legal farce included “jurors” who had all previously declared Israel guilty of “apartheid”: Alice Walker narrated a documentary film about Israel entitled  a “Roadmap to Apartheid”; Ronnie Kasrils, among other attacks, published an op-ed entitled “Israel 2007:Worse than Apartheid”; José Antonio Martín Pallín, stated, “Everyone knows that the State of Israel is an artificial ad hoc creation” (translated from original Catalan);  Maired Maguire, a participant in the May 2010 Free Gaza flotilla, who told the Israeli High Court that “Israel must stop its apartheid policy”; and Cynthia McKinney – a prominent “9/11 Truther” who blamed her electoral loss on “the Israel lobby” (video, 6:50).
  • RToP cynically and tragically exploited Holocaust survivor Stephane Hessel as jury chair and featured him as a spokesperson for the Tribunal.
  • On November 7, the “jury” released a statement, predictably repeating the fase allegation that “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid,” and that “Apartheid and persecution are acts attributable to Israel and entail its international legal responsibility.”
  • All legitimate Israeli security concerns are erased by the RToP. Israel is condemned for its blockade of Gaza, but the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians are not mentioned.

Negative Media Coverage

  • The Tribunal organizers failed to achieve their objective of portraying themselves as an objective panel and that their findings had any moral weight. The Tribunal’s legitimacy was constantly challenged and attacked by the South African media:
    • A series of op-eds and editorials attacked the Tribunal: Russell Tribunal a ‘kangaroo court’ (Times Online, Nov. 7, 2011); Lurid political theatre (The Citizen, Nov. 7, 2011); Demonisation and provocation (Business Day, Nov. 7, 2011), The Russell Tribunal on Palestine dishonours victims of apartheid (Mail & Guardian, Nov. 4, 2011); Lies told about Israel are beyond belief (Mail & Guardian, October 30, 2011).
    • During a radio interview (Nov. 4, 2011), “702 Talk Radio” presenter Chris Gibbons interviewed RToP juror Stephen Hessel. At the end of the interview Gibbons stated that it was clear that the Tribunal had made its mind up on the issue beforehand. 
    • During a Nov. 4, 2011 hour-long radio debate on “SAFM,” a national South African station, Prof. Gerald Steinberg put RToP “witness” and former UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard on the defensive by stating “for over 70 years, the Palestinians, the Arabs and their supporters like Mr. Dugard, have denied us our basic freedoms, have denied us the right to self-determination, have denied us the right to be able to revive our history.”
  • NGO Monitor developed and launched the website www.russelltribunal.org  to provide background on the RToP, the key figures involved, and the political objectives that motivate them. Material from this website was used by the local community and international activists in real time on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. 
  • A highly effective Facebook and Twitter campaign, featuring “Russell the Kangaroo,” was led by Fairplay South Africa which is run by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation
  • The success of the strategy was demonstrated in an Electronic Intifada blog post: “Russell Tribunal coordinator Frank Barat wrote on Facebook last week that ‘Zionists in South Africa are going mad. Every newsroom in the country has received [a] gift box and anti Russell Tribunal material.’”

Funding