Remarkable People

ID #5251

Desmond Tutu 9 Zionism and Israel.

Tutu acknowledged the role Jews played in the anti-Apartheid struggle voiced support for Israel's security concerns, and spoke out against tactics of suicide bombing and incitement to hatred. However he is a prominent in a campaign for divestment from Israel, likening Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of South African blacks under apartheid. Tutu drew this comparison on a visit to Jerusalem in 1989, when he said that he is a "black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." He made similar comments in 2002, speaking of "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about".

In 1988 the American Jewish Committee noted that Tutu was strongly critical of Israel's military and other connections with South Africa, and quoted him saying that Zionism has "very many parallels with racism", on the grounds that it "excludes people on ethnic or other grounds over which they have no control". While the AJC was critical of some of Tutu's views, it dismissed "insidious rumours" that he had made anti-Semitic statements. The wording of Tutu's statement has been reported differently in different sources. A subsequent Toronto Star article indicates that he described Zionism "as a policy that looks like it has many parallels with racism, the effect is the same”.

In 2002, when delivering a public lecture in support of divestment, Tutu said "My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?" He argued that Israel could never live in security by oppressing another people, and continued, "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." The latter statement was criticized by some Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League. When he edited and reprinted parts of his speech in 2005, Tutu replaced the words "Jewish lobby" with "pro-Israel lobby".

Tutu preached a message of forgiveness during a 1989 trip to Israel's Yad Vashem museum, saying "Our Lord would say that in the end the positive thing that can come is the spirit of forgiving, not forgetting, but the spirit of saying: God, this happened to us. We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we in our turn will not make others suffer." Some found this statement offensive. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center called it "a gratuitous insult to Jews and victims of Nazism everywhere."  Tutu was subjected to racial slurs during this visit to Israel, with vandals writing "Black Nazi pig" on the walls of the St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem, where he was staying.

In 2003 Tutu accepted the role as patron of Sabeel International, a liberation theology organization which supports the concerns of the Palestinian Christian community and has actively lobbied the international Christian community for divestment from Israel. In the same year, Tutu received an International Advocate for Peace Award from the Cardozo School of Law, an affiliate of Yeshiva University, sparking scattered student protests and condemnations from representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Anti-Defamation League. A 2006 opinion in the Jerusalem Post described him as "a friend, albeit a misguided one, of Israel and the Jewish people". The Zionist Organization of America has led a campaign to protest Tutu's appearances at North American campuses.

Tutu was appointed as the UN Lead of an investigation into Israeli bombings in the Beit Hanoun incident in November 2006.  Israel refused Tutu's delegation access so the investigation didn't occur until 2008. During that fact-finding mission, Tutu called the Gaza blockade an abomination and compared Israel's behavior to the military junta in Burma.

During the 2008–2009 Gaza War, Tutu called the Israeli offensive "war crimes" In 2007, the president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota cancelled a planned speech from Tutu on the grounds that his presence might offend members of the Jewish community. Many faculty members opposed this decision, with some describing Tutu as the victim of a smear campaign. The group Jewish Voice for Peace led an email campaign calling on St. Thomas to reconsider its decision. Tutu declined the re-invitation, speaking instead at the Minneapolis Convention Center at an event hosted by Metro State University. However, Tutu later addressed the issue two days later while making his final appearance at Metro State. “There were those who tried to say ‘Tutu shouldn’t come to [St.Thomas] to speak.’ I was 10,000 miles away and I thought to myself, ‘Ah, no,’ because there were many here who said ‘No, come and speak,’” Tutu said. “People came and stood and had demonstrations to say ‘Let Tutu speak.’ [Metropolitan State] said ‘Whatever, he can come and speak here.’ Professor Toffolo and others said ‘We stand for him.’ So let us stand for them."

US attorney Alan Dershowitz referred to Tutu as a "racist and a bigot" during the controversial Durban II conference in April 2009 because of his criticism of Israel.

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Last update: 2014-03-17 02:38
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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