Richard Goldstone’s op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week explaining why the claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” is baseless was primarily targeted against the so-called “Russell Tribunal on Palestine”, due to take place this weekend in Cape Town, which will allegedly “examine whether Israel’s practices against the Palestinians is in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under International Law.”
One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. 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.
Goldstone seems to have struck a chord with some of the Tribunal’s organisers – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Michael Mansfield have responded to Goldstone in the pages of the Guardian, defending the decision that the Tribunal has yet to officially consider.
As part of a South African religious delegation to Israel in the 1980s, Michael Nuttall, the bishop of Natal, pointed out that there were things happening in Israel that did not even happen in South Africa – forms of collective punishment. This has special resonance in the light of Richard Goldstone’s attempt to pre-empt the tribunal in the New York Times this week by an assertion that nothing in Israel comes close. His analysis is simplistic. No one is suggesting the two situations are identical.
These are all matters the tribunal will be assessing in order to ascertain what parallels and comparisons can be drawn. Whatever they may be, the ultimate objective is to consider the Israel-Palestine situation on its own facts and apply the norms of international law to identify three major issues. (emphasis added)
Notice that the tribunal is there to “ascertain what parallels and comparisons” to draw, not whether or if it is appropriate to draw such comparisons. It is fortunate that they are so clear on the mandate of the Tribunal, given that Mansfield will be one of the “jurors” that are to “deliberate” on how best to agree that Israel is an apartheid state.
Of course, the irony of a juror penning an op-ed before the trial effectively explaining why he has already decided on a guilty verdict is lost on all involved. In fact, a brief perusal of the list of “jurors” would indicate that the organisers of the tribunal did not exactly go out of their way to find a fair and balanced jury. The list includes organisers of anti-Israel boycotts, academics who have made careers out of attacking Israel, officials from anti-Israel NGOs and other prominently anti-Israel public figures. The list of “experts and witnesses” is even more impressive, featuring some of the top proponents of the apartheid accusation and no one else.
Tutu and Mansfield defend the apartheid claim as in Israel there are “separate roads and areas for Palestinians, the humiliation at roadblocks and checkpoints…”; on this, they do not seem to have checked their facts. The “separate roads” are for Israeli citizens – any of the 1.5 million Arabs who are also Israeli citizens can also drive on them and the “roadblocks and checkpoints” were implemented to prevent terror attacks and have been progressively removed over the past few years as the security situation has died down.
Of course, Tutu and Mansfield are right on one thing: the two situations are not identical. For instance, black South Africans under apartheid were forbidden from playing any role in South African civil society, whereas in Israel an Arab judge convicted a Jewish former president earlier this year.
It is difficult to see how a show trial, rigged to give a false verdict, will in any way help peace and negotiations. The Tribunal is an empty publicity stunt designed to attract headlines and nothing else.