I once carried on an exchange with the interesting thinker who went by the name of Abu Nopal at this now-defunct but still available blog (I particularly recommend the second entry on the page titled “Yes, but can he hit?”).
Our conversation was about his proposition that a forum designed like a jury trial, complete with competent council representing both sides, an esteemed judge or judges and impartial jury members, would be one possible way of determining who was right and who was wrong on various issues related to the Middle East conflict (war, terrorism, occupation, etc.). In his mind, such a fair (albeit not official) “trial,” complete with fair and intelligent trial participants, would have enough authority to convince at least those who had not taken sides in the conflict as to who was guilty or innocent of what.
I was skeptical. Not skeptical that a faux jury trial consisting of sensible and fair-minded people could not be trusted to come to reasonable conclusions. Rather, I pointed out that if we created a framework in which such a mock trial was allowed to arbitrate political decisions that it was just a matter of time before Israel’s opponents organized ten, twenty or a hundred of their own such “trials,” packed only with partisans, whose consistent and loud verdicts of “Israel is Guilty!” would drown out whatever a truly impartial faux court would pronounce.
After all, the forces supporting the BDS “movement” (i.e., the oil-rich and powerful Arab states and their allies) have managed to corrupt real legal and political institutions (such as the UN, the world court and many human rights NGOs) effectively (and regardless of the cost to matters such as international law and genuine human rights). So what would stop them from doing the same thing to a “court” they got to manufacture for themselves?
But in my wildest imaginings I couldn’t have come up with a trail so absurdly lopsided and so staffed with obvious legal incompetents as the Russell Tribunal on Palestine which just took place in South Africa. This tribunal, named after Bertrand Russell and modeled after similar Russell Tribunals held in the 1960s and 70s (with the US in the dock over the Vietnam War and other matters), was resurrected in 2009 at a similarly staged (and hopefully similarly forgotten) event where the participants decided it would be much more efficient to simply judge Israel guilty before they got together so that they could move onto the more enjoyable activity of choosing punishment (which – Quelle Surprise! – included the whole world participating in BDS campaigns).
This time around, the august scholars sitting in judgment of the Jewish state include political hack and has-been Cynthia McKinney; academic hack and has-been Norman Finklestein; and assorted “unbiased” parties like fresh-off-the-flotilla boat Alice Walker.
Now if this gaggle of single-minded partisans put this gig together to get someone else to pay for free trips to Barcelona, London and Cape Town, then more power to them. But if they expect anyone to take their activities the least bit seriously, here are a couple of courtroom sketches I obtained from the event which will let you decide how much The Russell Tribunal needs to be seen as anything but the latest stunt of a BDS movement desperate (and desperately failing) to get anyone to pay attention.