Saturday, October 13

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Israel and Anti-Semitism


Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, has incurred the wroth of many uninformed members of the Jewish Community in Minnesota. The attacks on this great humanitarian and patron of the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town is unjustified. He was one of the great leaders in the war against apartheid and racism of all forms in South Africa. He was active in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – whose purpose was to bring all the races of South Africa together by admitting their crimes towards each other and asking for forgiveness. He described the people of South Africa as the “Rainbow Nation” because of their diversity. He had played an incredible role for uniting this diversity of peoples into a united South African patriotism.

He won the Noble Peace Prize for his activities in 1984 and justly so. What is it that causes many Zionists in the US to oppose Archbishop Tutu’s visit to the Minnesota University of St Thomas to give a lecture? Tutu had been slated to visit the University of St. Thomas next spring as part of a program that brings Nobel laureates to teach youth about peace and justice. But university administrators, after consulting with Minnesota Jewish leaders, concluded that Tutu has made hurtful comments about Israel and the Jewish people that rendered him inappropriate as a speaker. "Desmond Tutu is an anti-Semite who hates Jews and is obsessed with demeaning and smearing the Jewish state," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The time has come for many Zionists to realize that Israel is no “paragon of virtue” and is not beyond criticism for human rights violations of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Apart from that, Morton Klein has made a statement about Desmond Tutu that is a total lie and proves that he (Morton Klein) belongs to a group of paranoiac Zionists who views criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. How pathetic! Has Morton Klein ever lived in Israel? Those who live in Israel and experience Israel’s policies not only towards the Palestinians, but also to its own citizens, are in a better position to judge Israel’s behaviour than a Diaspora Zionist whose na├»ve sentiments are a fool’s paradise and totally devoid of reality.

This ridiculous storm in a tea cup arose when Julie Swiler, the public affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, discovered a speech he delivered in Boston in 2002 in which he compared the power of the "Jewish lobby" to Hitler, and Israeli policies to those of the South African apartheid regime. This is inaccurate. She was quoting an article that appeared in The Guardian on Monday, April 29th 2002 called “Apartheid in the Holy Land”, where Tutu said, People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.”

Only in the wildest stretch of the paranoiac imagination, could one view this statement as being anti-Semitic. If one were to read this article in its entirety rather than quoting out of context then the conclusion that this article is anti-Semitic would be seen to be untrue. How could Archbishop Desmond Tutu be viewed as an anti-Semite when he is the patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre? It is not even a paradox! The idea of this humanitarian being anti-Semitic is ridiculous just because he criticized Israel’s occupation policies.

In the same article he stated the following: “In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders.

What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about”.

Are these words the words of an anti-Semite? Of course the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is different to that in apartheid South Africa; there are some parallels because of the security situation. This has resulted in the suffering of many innocent Palestinians. It may be argued that Desmond Tutu may not be aware of the extent of the suicide bombings and Palestinian violence directed against Israelis which has resulted in Israel taking such drastic measures to protect its citizens. Every country has the right to protect its citizens from terrorist organizations, including Israel. It is an unfortunate fact that the innocent suffer with the guilty.

One must remember that Israel’s greatest mistake after the Six Day War of June 1967 was colonizing the occupied territories. Do I sense raised eyebrows at this statement? Israel had encouraged Jewish settlement beyond the 1967 borders after the Six Day War. This very act in itself is indicative of colonization despite Israel’s claim to the contrary. Israel was not prepared to keep the territories on hold as a bargaining chip for an agreement with the Palestinians to end hostilities and sign a peace agreement. Perhaps the famous Khartoum Resolution of 1st September 1967 gave Israel “the green light” in its own eyes to proceed with colonization of the occupied territories and all that it entailed. This was because there was no desire for the Arab states to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. It was not Israel’s intention to remove settlements from the occupied territories once established. No country settles people if it intends to uproot them again in an agreement. This would be self-defeating. Settlements are established permanently. What has been achieved today in peace negotiations with the Palestinians? Delaying tactics and beating about the bush is Israel’s method of negotiating. It is unlikely that there would be a unilateral disengagement of the West Bank as was the case in Gaza. This tactic will result in failure of the Peace Conference due to be held in Annapolis in November 2007.

When Israel colonized the occupied territories, many Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The land for Jewish settlement comes from Palestinian lands. These settlers are very often religious zealots who have come to colonize with the Torah as their guide. Their desire for “ethnic cleansing” of the land they occupied by displacing the Palestinians cannot be denied. The weak has to pay the price for the strong. These religious zealots are not angels.

This is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu meant in his article. For this he was accused of being an anti-Semite!

Fortunately, reason won the day for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On Tuesday, 9th October 2007, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, sent the university's president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, a letter urging the school to reissue its invitation to Tutu. The next day, Dease announced he was reversing himself after he decided to cancel the invitation because of pressure from Zionist Jewish groups who felt that Tutu made anti-Semitic statements.

"I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop," Dease said in a statement. "Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do."

News of the university's initial decision to drop Tutu prompted uproar and revived claims that some Jewish groups seek to quash public criticism of Israel.

University officials did not say whether Foxman's letter affected Dease's decision, but they said he had received a steady stream of phone calls and e-mails when the story broke last week.

In an interview with JTA on Tuesday 9th October 2007, Foxman explained his thinking.

"Tutu has certainly been an outspoken, sometimes very harsh critic of Israel and Israeli policies, and has sometimes also used examples which may cross the line," the ADL leader said. But, he added, Tutu "certainly is not an anti-Semite and should not be so characterized and therefore refused a platform."

Coming just weeks after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia University, the controversy over Tutu, an icon of the peaceful struggle against apartheid, has become the latest point of contention in what is shaping up to be a fierce season of Middle East controversy on campus.

Tutu has condemned suicide terrorism against Israel and recognized the Jewish state's right to secure boundaries. He has spoken admiringly about the Jewish role in fighting apartheid, though he has also noted Israel's alliance with the apartheid South African government. He was even honored in 2003 by Yeshiva University's law school with an award for promoting world peace.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League deserves praise for his balanced approach and returned reason to this ridiculous accusation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as an anti-Semite.

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