[BDS in South Africa] Russell Tribunal Palestine: Trial & Tribulation

In March 2013, 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 organisation was “the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East”. However, the sole focus was on the state of Israel. The leading question of the session in Cape Town read accordingly: “Are Israeli practices against the Palestinian people in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under international law?”

Cape Town, November 2011: Session of "The Russell Tribunal on Palestine" (Photo: Janis Just)
“Promoting Solidarity and International Law”.
South Africa, November 2011: Session of “The Russell Tribunal on Palestine” in Cape Town´s Apartheid-museum (Photo: Janis Just)

Two years have passed since I addressed the letter below to the jury of the tribunal´s session in Cape Town. In South Africa the RTP staged a show trial accusing Israel 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.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the proceedings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Cape Town, Nov. 2011
Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the proceedings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Cape Town, Nov. 2011(Photo: Janis Just)

The RTP-gathering in Cape Town was among others organised by the same BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) crowd that recently attracted global attention by chanting slogans such as “Shoot the Jew”  during a concert by an Israeli jazz band in Johannesburg.

Anti-Zionist academia
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 world wide as a booklet and served as an inspiration for  the “Occupy”-movement. The list of the declared RTP´s supporters reads like a who`s-who within global anti-Zionist academia: Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Jean Ziegler, Felicia Langer, Ilan Pappe, Naomi Klein, Etienne Balibar, Norman Fineklstein, Jose Saramango, Harold Pinter, and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The Tribunal’s international press conference was a sham displaying a total disregard of and disrespect to the principles and procedure of jurisprudence. The apparent dilettantism in handling a question of mine was not due to a spontaneous situation management. Their immediate thuggish treatment to my issue reflected  a pavlovian response  – any question that did not fit in with their agenda of merely demonising Israel  was assumed to be from the mouth of a “Zionist” or “Zionist activist”. I was prevented from fully posing the question and three security personnel were sent in to violently remove me from the hall.

RTOP Pre Press conferenc eLeila Khaled
Palestinian activist and airplane hijacker Leila Khaled (on the left) at a press-conference in Cape Town, Nov. 2011(Photo: Janis Just)

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 the question about the jury´s stance towards the islamist Hamas was prohibited and ensued my expulsion.

A case for Palestinians?
If the Tribunal was 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, 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?
While I laid a charge against the organisers 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.
The Open Letter in The Cape Times following the incident:

(…) On Monday November 7, I attended the post Tribunal press conference. Organisers of the Russell Tribunal recognised me from a different press conference last week (the week before the tribunal hosted Leila Khaled at their opening press-conference. A similar question of mine received almost the same results; remark from Nov. 2013) where I asked a question about Hamas’ violations of human rights. When attempting to ask a question this time, the organisers called me a “serious heckler” and a “Zionist activist”.

(…) Their labelling of me as a “Zionist activist” was their attempt to delegitimise my argument and me as a person. This is not only against any democratic convention, it is contrary to the stated intention of the Russell Tribunal itself – which is hear all evidence and seek the truth.

Simply for asking an uncomfortable question, which apparently did not fit with the agenda of the Tribunal, I was forcibly removed from the Russell Tribunal’s official press conference. 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.

It would seem that my mere presence there constituted a threat so serious that 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 agenda.

I have laid a charge of assault against the Tribunal organisers. However, what concerns me more than the physical abuse to which I was subjected, is that a gathering of such eminent persons for a process that has the stated aim of attempting to examine testimony and uncover the truth, in the spirit of judicial enquiry, not only were not capable of hearing differing opinions, but that such opinions were forcibly silenced. That is far more reminiscent of the apartheid regime than any of the allegations levelled against the State of Israel at the Tribunal itself.

The question I wanted to ask and still needs to be answered is the following: 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 towards the Islamist regime of Hamas ruling the people of Gaza?

To the jurists of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine: I demand an answer to my question and an apology from the organisers of the Tribunal for physically attacking me.



First published in Cape Times (10.11.2011), now available online under:

While failing to answer or apologise,  the organisers of South Africa‘s high-profile  Russell Tribunal, were exposed for their transparently one-sided  agenda, and vicious implementation thereof, to demonise and delegitimise the State of Israel, irrespective of the truth.

About the Author
Janis Just has a MA (MSSc) in International Relations from the universities of Freiburg and Cape Town. He is German freelancer, currently based in Berlin.