[Opinion] Russell Tribunal: A legal farce and total failure
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The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP), held November 5 and 6 in Cape Town, was in trouble even before it began. Writing in the New York Times on October 31, Judge Richard Goldstone’s scathing assessment set an ominous tone: “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.”
As he foresaw, the event made a complete mockery of international law and human rights, with “jurors” considering whether – and predictably concluding that –“Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people fits the international legal definitions of the crime of apartheid.”
In fact, every element of this kangaroo court was easy to predict. Each “juror” had previously declared Israel guilty of “apartheid.” Alice Walker, for example, narrated a documentary film about Israel entitled a “Roadmap to Apartheid,” and Ronnie Kasrils published an op-ed entitled “Israel 2007: Worse than Apartheid,” among other attacks.
The “witnesses” selected all had records of anti-Israel bias, and included numerous Palestinian representatives of European funded NGOs, including Shawan Jabarin, alleged senior activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror organisation.
Perhaps recognising the immorality inherent in the farce, prominent scheduled South African witnesses Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela withdrew from the Tribunal on the day before its commencement, citing personal reasons.
In an attempt to present a façade of objectivity, the RToP organizers repeatedly claimed to have invited Israeli government officials. However, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria stated, “I have not seen any approach by the tribunal to Israel or the embassy.”
At the time of the Israeli Government’s scheduled RToP presentation, “juror” Michael Mansfield, a British barrister, explained to the audience that Israel’s silence – rather than being a reasonable refusal to participate in a kangaroo court – was an admission of Israel’s guilt. This legal “reasoning” received a standing ovation from the audience.
Given the utter absurdity and one-sidedness of the event, it was fitting that on November 7 the Tribunal published a statement that “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.” All legitimate Israeli security concerns were erased by the RToP, and while Israel was condemned for its blockade of Gaza, the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians were not mentioned.
Thankfully, the media was not duped by this event. The RToP failed to garner positive, mainstream 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. RToP participants were in a constant defensive position, repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to explain why they should be taken seriously. Tellingly, the only international television channel to report on the RToP was Iranian Press TV.
The Russell Tribunal not only was an embarrassing failure, but just the type of event that makes coexistence and peace more difficult to achieve in the region. Instead of promoting constructive dialogue, the Tribunal was little more than an expensive PR stunt whose sole purpose was to perpetuate the Durban strategy of delegitimisation.
Gidon Shaviv is a PHD candidate at Bar Ilan University and an Israel Research Fellow placed at NGO Monitor. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, policy or positions of the Israel Research Fellowship Program.