The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has just concluded its two-day proceedings in Cape Town, but its impact is by no means behind us. Already, a number of highly emotive articles reporting on what was discussed have appeared in the mainstream press, and we can expect more of the same over the next few days.
Our expectations that the RToP would make a mockery of fair, reasoned debate were more than confirmed. Time and again, Israel was accused of egregious human rights abuses as if its actions had no reasonable cause or context. I think only of the case of a Palestinian woman who received weeks of specialised medical treatment in an Israeli hospital after being severely burned, yet on one such visit returned with a suicide bomb belt which she attempted, unsuccessfully, to detonate. These are the kind of incidents that the RToP, supposedly a gathering of concerned human rights activists, completely neglected to deal with. It was a body that lied by omission, not occasionally but continually throughout its proceedings.
In preparing a counter strategy, the Board worked closely with the SA Zionist Federation and in consultation with a range of local and international experts within the overall structure of Fairplay SA. Our decision was not simply to be reactive but to go onto the offensive at an early stage. It resulted in unprecedented cooperation between communal organisations and the different regions, and the fruits of this quickly became apparent in the favorable media coverage obtained and the impact made through the social media.
We established a national media response team activated on sms message, and assembled a team of experts ready to respond. Many Op eds and letters appeared in the mainstream papers, and reports on the proceedings invariably quoted our side. There was a positive response to our media packs delivered to journalists beforehand. In the electronic media, several of our spokespeople were interviewed on radio, our most noteworthy success being NGO Watch director Prof Gerald Steinberg’s debating John Dugard on SAFM and acquitting himself excellently. Amongst other initiatives, we also started a facebook page called Russell the Kangaroo, and set up a twitter account. Some of us demonstrated against the proceedings in specially-made kangaroo outfits (the Kangaroo Court theme indeed proved to be very effective in holding the RToP up to public ridicule).
Compared to how well-funded the RToP was, we had to operate on the proverbial shoe-string, yet we were able to go toe-to-toe with its promoters and forthrightly challenge their right to assume the moral high ground. Notwithstanding these achievements, which in many ways put the latter on the back foot, we certainly cannot rest on our laurels. Our strategy now is to keep up the pressure and do all we can to expose the RToP and its specious findings for what they are – a cynical, carefully stage-managed propaganda circus that is in turn part of an ongoing, multi-front political war against Israel.
This Above Board column first appeared in the South African Jewish Report on 11 November 2011