I feel compelled to respond as you linked directly to my article at The Palestine Chronicle, yet your critique seems lacking in any substantive points that relate specifically to my piece.
Your rebuttal to criticism of the RToP coming from within the activist umbrella opposed to the Israeli occupation seems to address several direct critiques: the lack of Palestinian voices at the Tribunal, the lack of discussion on BDS and the problems of linking international law with activism.
As for the lack of Palestinian representation at the Tribunal, I wrote in my piece:
Galand revealed that Leila Shahid, the EU Ambassador from Palestine, had been denied visa entry by the U.S. Embassy in Brussels. I later confirmed that Raji Sourani, founder of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, was also denied a visa by the US authorities in Cairo, adding to the marginalization of Palestinian voices at the Tribunal. Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, cancelled due to illness.
It is true, I was disappointed about the lack of Palestinian perspectives at this particular session of the Russell Tribunal. I was not present in London, Barcelona or Cape Town, so I did not feel compelled to discuss those sessions in detail. It’s encouraging and praise-worthy that you brought together such a coalition of Palestinian voices to discuss life under apartheid in Palestine at your Cape Town session. That shouldn’t, however, be used as a rebuttal for the lack of representation at the NY session, unless you intend to imply that making a token gesture at one session absolves the Tribunal of any responsibility to remain inclusive at other sessions. But that’s beside the point, as I didn’t hold the Russell Tribunal personally responsible at this session; I pointed out the cancellations were due to visa rejections and illness. One can speak about the troubling lack of Palestinian participation, certainly, without that being an indictment of the Tribunal’s efforts, no? I think it was quite clear that I was criticizing the US State Dept.’s efforts to hinder Palestinian expression at this session. So, I’ll assume your commentary on this aspect was not directed at my article, but rather the much harsher critiques offered by Abraham Greenhouse at Electronic Intifada and Elisha Baskin at +972mag.
As to your second point about BDS, my piece in no way suggested that the Tribunal overlooked BDS as a tool. I mentioned speakers David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis, both of whom broached the topic of BDS, and I wrote at length about what Ilan Pappé shared with me regarding his views of BDS. I did write:
Referring to successes of the BDS “tactic” in forcing a conversation within Israel, Pappé offered a sense of optimism painfully lacking throughout the Tribunal when he remarked, “I think that in conjunction with a Palestinian agency of solving the problems of representation, in conjunction with the solidarity movement activity on other issues and in conjunction with our role as Israeli Jews inside Israel to reeducate our compatriots, [BDS is] an important link in this matrix opportunity.”
The emphasis on international law, and the widespread recognition among the speakers that international law has not been enforced, is a sobering and disenfranchising sentiment. I merely noted that Pappé brought a sense of optimism that was otherwise lacking at the Tribunal. I don’t think any reasonable interpretation of my article could conclude that I was unfairly criticizing the Tribunal for its failure to focus on BDS.
To the contrary, actually, the single criticism I levied at the Tribunal was that it was overly conflicted by dueling sentiments, the desire to project a structural foundation of international law and its inescapable activist mentality that motivated the very formation of the Tribunal. I stand by this critique, yet I don’t think you addressed it in your rebuttal. You suggest that international law and activism go hand in hand. I’d agree, to an extent, with this, in that activism on behalf of Palestine is informed and influenced by the belief that international law has been flagrantly violated. It’s also motivated by morality, compassion and humanity, which, I believe is where the majority of criticism of the strict legal focus of the NY session is derived.
What I wrote about this was:
The sobering inference from this testimony is that the existing international legal framework is insufficient in addressing the Israeli occupation, as the establishment dominated by American and European elite is clearly disinclined to act upon its own mandate. Mired in cynicism, the entire mission of the Tribunal appeared futile with its strict emphasis on discussing a power structure that most speakers acknowledged provides little recourse for Palestinians.
This was in reference to my reflections of the first day, before any discussion of BDS, or sociocide, or activism were every really mentioned by any of the speakers.
I went on to write:
Ultimately, the Tribunal appeared conflicted by stark contrasts between the desire to project a sense of procedural legality and the inescapable underpinnings of activism that drove the very desire to organize. This conflict, it could be argued, sullied the effectiveness of either initiative.
Again, I stand by this. If the Tribunal was about international law, as you suggest, then it would behoove you to make sure your speakers and jurists actually understand international law. I’m not convinced that Alice Walker, or Angela Davis, or Russell Means, or Dennis Banks, or Roger Waters, or any of the other “experts” in international law serve that purpose. They are activists, not legal scholars, and yet you are asking them to reach legal conclusions. That seems to invite dismissal by outside observers and commentators, no?
You wrote that the mission of the Tribunal would be jeopardized if its approach were more “radical.” I didn’t write this in my article, but I’d suspect that the selection of speakers and jurists that you so glowingly refer to actually are viewed as “radical” among most segments of the American public. This is problematic if your intention is to address the mainstream American public. More so, when you factor in that the Tribunal specifically did not invite speakers such as Alison Wier, who has a gift for speaking to the American public about this issue. In fact, in our discussion at the Tribunal, you told me that one of the reasons she was not invited was because she does not have a background in international law. That strikes me as an odd justification given the bleak international law credentials of the overwhelming number of jury members and several speakers. But, again, that is beside the point, because I did not discuss that in my article.
My piece was not a fluff-piece. I was not struck by a desire to make a mockery of myself by exalting every minor aspect of the Tribunal and glorifying the passion, bravery and humanity of all its organizers. If that is what you are accustomed to hearing from your “fellow activists,” I suppose I can understand why you are so defensive about my article.
My article was meant to glean some perspective on the atmosphere at Cooper Union, the structure, the purpose, the message, the testimony. And in doing so, I reflected on some aspects that struck me. It was a fair assessment, neither overly critical, nor dripping with adoration. It was simply honest.
I cannot speak to the motivations of Greenhouse or Baskin. But, I sense that you are mostly on the defensive about their articles, and yet you lumped my piece in with theirs ostensibly because I offered something more thoughtful than a ringing endorsement. You make salient points regarding not inviting Palestinians simply to invite them, regarding accusations of an overly European panel, etc. You make many salient points, but none of them seem pertinent to my article.
You say criticism is not only important, but crucial. Your reaction to my very temperate piece suggests you may need to reevaluate your reception to such criticism.