Trial and tribulation – South Africa’s obsession with Israel

Early this year the so-called Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RTP) concluded in Brussels four years of regular meetings around the world.

Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Early this year the so-called Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RTP) concluded in Brussels four years of regular meetings around the world. The declared goal of the non-profit organization was “the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.” The sole focus of every single session of this “trial” was the State of Israel.
The RTP is in its form and content symptomatic of the global BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) displaying itself as a critical counter-movement to an imagined pro-Israeli mainstream. Many of today’s leading anti-Israel activists supported the tribunal or appeared as witnesses for this kangaroo court that sought to put Israel and its allies on trial in order to promote anti-Israel boycotts.
The leading question of the RTP’s Cape Town session was designed under the motto: South Africa has suffered a period of apartheid, so South Africans know best what apartheid is. The leading question for the jury assembled, of South African and international judges, read as follows: “Are Israeli practices against the Palestinian people in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under international law?” In South Africa the RTP staged a show trial against Israel accusing the country of an especially evil form of apartheid: “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid [...] The Palestinians living under colonial military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subject to a particularly aggravated form of apartheid.”
Exactly two years have passed since I addressed an op-ed in the South African daily Cape Times to the jury of that tribunal’s session in Cape Town. In that letter I demanded an answer to a question I was prevented from asking during the international press conference of the tribunal.
The question was: Hamas is not only responsible for murder, torture and human rights violations among their own people, but also for terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.
What official position does the Russell Tribunal jury take toward the Islamist regime of Hamas ruling the people of Gaza? This RTP-gathering in Cape Town was organized by the same crowd of the BDS movement that recently attracted global attention by chanting slogans such as “Shoot the Jew” during a concert by an Israeli jazz band in Johannesburg.
Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu headed the “international people’s tribunal” together with Stephane Hessel, a French Resistance member and concentration camp survivor who recently passed away. Hessel’s “Time for outrage!” essay sold worldwide as a booklet and was an inspiration for the “Occupy movement.”
The list of declared RTP supporters reads like a who’s who of global anti-Zionist academia: Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Ilan Pappe, Jean Ziegler, Norman Fineklstein, Jose Saramango, Harold Pinter and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
If these supporters of the tribunal were honestly concerned with the lives of Palestinians, why then was there not a single word mentioned about the abuse of Palestinians by Arab regimes such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, who keep them stateless, refuse them access to higher education and do not allow them the vote? If championing human rights, integrity and an objective hearing were the tribunal’s values – why then was it collectively silent when human rights abuses are perpetrated against Palestinians? Is it solely because Israel is not involved? In the course of this concluding press conference I was astonished by the lack of restrained professionalism that finally led to the public exposure of the RTP’s agenda, namely trying to sell itself as the spearhead of human rights, morality and a somehow critical truth.
When these BDS activists were reminded of the fact that applying a moral standard has a different quality than dissing the Jews, fury became their language of choice.
Their immediate thuggish response to my question was pavlovian – any question that did not fit in with their agenda of demonizing Israel was assumed to be from the mouth a “Zionist heckler” or “Zionist activist.”
I was not only prevented from asking the question, but three security personnel were sent in to violently remove me from the hall.
Their labeling of me as a “Zionist activist” was their attempt to delegitimize my argument and demonize me as a person.
Not only was I not allowed to ask any questions, but in attempting to raise issues of concern, I was thrown to the floor, dragged out of the conference and threatened with more violence.
The tribunal’s international press conference was a sham, displaying a total disregard and disrespect for the principles and procedure of jurisprudence.
If championing human rights, morality and “the quest for the truth” was their intention, the way they handled my straightforward question achieved quite the opposite.
This incident was typical of today’s numerous “Palestine solidarity” campaigns: While accusing Israel of “apartheid”, a relatively modest question that could disturb their cohesion – in this case a question about the jury’s stance towards the Islamist Hamas, was prohibited and resulted in my expulsion.
It would seem that my mere presence there constituted a threat so serious I had to be removed by any means. What they were afraid of was not that I would disturb their session, but that I would expose their biased and corrupt agenda.
While I laid a charge against the organizers of the tribunal for the physical assault and the threats against me, the CPT police department closed the proceedings two weeks later without any findings.
While failing to answer or apologize, the organizers of South Africa’s high-profile Russel Tribunal were exposed for their transparently one-sided agenda, and vicious implementation thereof, to demonize and de-legitamise the State of Israel, irrespective of the truth.
The author is a German freelance journalist with an MA degree in International Relations from the universities of Cape Town and Freiburg. He focuses on the Middle East, terrorism and conflict.