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THE RUSSELL TRIBUNAL AND COURTS OF LAW

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THE RUSSELL TRIBUNAL AND COURTS OF LAW?
Maurice Ostroff November 7, 2011

In a November 1 article published by Australians for Palestine, (a pro-Palestinian organ that advocates boycotting Israel)Professor Dugard described the Russell Tribunal as resembling a court of law.

With great respect to Professor Dugards eminence as a jurist, there is no resemblance between the Tribunal proceedings in Cape Town last weekend and a court of law or even a high school debate. An international, carefully selected panel of persons, who had all expressed strong anti-Israel sentiments in the past, was ineptly labeled a jury; ineptly named because the members acted not as a jury but as both judges and prosecutors.

Only witnesses for the prosecution were called. Unlike in a court of law they were not cross examined but were allowed to make lengthy prepared presentations, some of which were embarrassingly circumlocutious and irrelevant. The jury looked bored while Ran Greenstein, an Israeli, delivered a rambling paper on the semantic nuances relating to the legal definition of apartheid. Nevertheless, jury members dutifully complimented each witness and made sympathetic remarks about their presentations.

The star of the show was Professor Allan Boesak, who despite appearing on short notice, delivered a lucid description of South African apartheid and then made tenuous comparisons with the situation in Israel. He was one of the few who kept to the time allotted. It is unfortunate that as in the case of all the presentations no witnesses were called to rebut the allegations.

In an article published in the Middle East Monitor on November 1, Professor Dugard wrote that the tribunal would consider the question of whether or not Israel is guilty of committing the international crime of apartheid in its treatment of the Palestinians. [Emphasis added.] This statement is misleading in that the Tribunal did not consider whether Israel was guilty of apartheid. There was no question of whether. Statements by all witnesses and jury members convincingly demonstrated they had already decided that Israel is guilty.

Having viewed the proceedings live on the internet I can only agree with the appropriateness of the kangaroo court appellation that many critics have applied (and which I avoided using until now). The expression refers to a sham court whose verdict is determined in advance. However, unlike a kangaroo court which may go through the motions of allowing the pretence of a defence representation, the proceedings in Cape Town did not even pretend to allow any defence whatever.

The only resemblance to a court of law was that whenever the jury arrived or left, the audience was asked to stand in ceremonious respect as we do for the judge in a regular court.

The concluding statements confirmed what had long been obvious to critical observers. The speakers pledged their continued support for the Palestinian cause, thereby defining the Tribunal as a political body that makes no pretence at objectivity.

The sad conclusion is that a great opportunity was missed. This very expensive event could and should have been used for a serious intellectually honest debate on the best method to achieve a just and equitable solution to the Middle East conflict.



 

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