An open letter to Desmond Tutu

In a letter to the Cape Times of June 20, journalist Moira Levy wrote that because of what she saw as Israel’s recent “violent racial repression,” she had cut ties with her past, legacy and family roots and, painful as it is, turned her back on being a Jew. She referred to Israel’s actions against African refugees, whom she said were being “rounded up and held in detention camps in the Negev desert, although they posed no threat to Israel.”

In response, Archbishop Desmond Tutu published a letter in which he appealed to Ms. Levy not to blame her faith for the policies of the people who have political power in the State of Israel. He added, “When members of our family behave wrongly, we do not turn our backs on them, but try to convince them to steer a fairer course.”

Below is my open letter response to the archbishop. 

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Dear Archbishop Tutu,

I was moved by the sincerity of your letter in the Cape Times to Ms. Levy, who has turned her back on her Jewish heritage because of her views of the treatment of African refugees in Israel.

In particular I refer to your statement, which I heartily endorse, that we are all members of the same human family, made for goodness and love. In this connection, sir, I respectfully ask you to please read a letter from a member of this human family who happens to be an Israeli soldier serving on the Israel-Egyptian border.

This soldier is typical of the sons and daughters and brothers and sisters of the great majority of Israelis, who carry out the unwelcome job of protecting our endangered state, and who I believe are deserving of the convincing you refer to, rather than the brutal uninformed attacks which are so common. In order to persuade, it is essential to be knowledgeable about the circumstances. To a great extent, however, I believe this knowledge is lacking due to misinformation in the media. Mark Twain’s quip “If you don’t read the papers you are uninformed; if you do read them you are misinformed” is unfortunately true.

With respect, please allow me to suggest that your statement that you do not turn your back on members of the family with whom you disagree, but rather try to steer them to a fairer course, is infrequently applied to Israel. Instead, Israel is singled out for uninformed and often malicious attacks and threats due to the intense obsession with Israel that has blinded and continues to blind the world to the facts about this little beleaguered state. For example Ms. Levy’s concept of the situation of African refugees in Israel completely lacks context. Her quoting a statement by a member of the Knesset as official government policy is as invalid as an undiplomatic statement by Julius Malema would be if it was regarded as official South African policy.

Ms. Levy fails to quote PM Netanyahu’s statement that the deportation program, dubbed “Going Home,” would be carried out with dignity. “We have a Jewish tradition of treating strangers humanely,” he said.

She appears to be unperturbed by the ill treatment these asylum seekers receive in Egypt that causes them to flee to Israel, as well as by the brutal trafficking industry in the Egyptian Sinai, where Bedouin gangs extort high prices for kidnapped migrants, as reported by Eritrean refugee Mogos Redae to the Guardian. Mogos  was tortured for nine months until his family sold their homes to raise enough money to secure his release – $14,000.

Ms. Levy ignores that fact that the problem of absorbing a flood of asylum seekers is not unique to Israel. It is a serious problem for which humane solutions are being sought.

It would be interesting to learn what measures Ms. Levy would recommend if thousands of asylum seekers were to suddenly settle in her neighborhood.

While asylum seekers from Eritrea are not being repatriated because of the dangers they still face there, as a result of the Sudanese peace agreement, four South Sudanese officials flew to Israel to help process the repatriation of their countrymen. They accompanied 123 who left voluntarily on a chartered flight last Sunday. Each adult received €1,000 in cash, with an additional €500 for each minor. Each passenger was allowed to carry 30 kilograms of luggage. They were also given vaccines against diseases common to Sub-Saharan Africa.

While many aspects of Israel’s handling of the situation are subject to justifiable criticism and are being severely criticized in Israel, the situation compares very favorably with the report “South Africa: Xenophobic Rage Leaves Trail of Havoc in Gauteng” (Business Day, May 2008) as well as with Europe. The Jesuit Refugee Service recently published a report on detention centers for refugees in 23 EU member states, revealing many severe complaints. A detainee in Malta complained of 42 detainees in one room. For many the climate feels prison-like. Many complain of unsanitary toilet and shower facilities, unhygienic kitchens, and rules that keep them isolated in their cells. Incidents of physical abuse were recorded in three quarters of the EU member states

In Britain, former PM Gordon Brown called for “British Jobs for British Workers,” David Blunkett complained that Britain was being “swamped” with asylum seekers, and Ed Milliband told the Guardian last week he would review all immigrants’ access to benefits.

If the world were not so obsessed with attacking Israel, the media would have seen and forewarned politicians about the Arab Spring that had been brewing long before it exploded. Gaddafi’s supplying of arms to the IRA and visits to him by Nick Griffin were hardly noticed. Nor was the acceptance of Gaddafi’s largesse by British academics. Nor was the  £1.5m that had been stolen from the Libyan people and paid to the LSE.

Instead, the media turned a blind eye to obvious warning signs, and despite the many red faces in their ranks, they continue in the same vein, ignoring, for example, the PLO and Hamas charters, which show why Israel is compelled to undertake the defensive actions for which she is so widely criticized.

It is painfully obvious that the parallels the ANC draws with the Palestinian struggle are far from congruent. They deserve to be re-examined to gain a perspective on the lessons Israel can draw from the South African experience.

Whereas the ANC Charter states that “South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war,” article 9 of the PLO Charter bluntly declares the opposite. Namely that the PLO’s armed struggle is not merely tactical; it is in fact the overall strategy. The Hamas charter makes it even clearer that there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation. Article 13 unambiguously states:

“Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.

It is difficult to understand the ANC’s support for the irrationality of the Hamas concept, so different from the sober tone of the ANC Charter, as illustrated by obsessive phobia about freemasons, rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations, promising that these organizations will be obliterated the day Islam is in control.

Nor would the ANC tolerate the incitement to indiscriminate violence against uninvolved civilians (women, children and invalids alike), which continues to be fomented in mosques and PA-controlled media, and taught in schools from the earliest age.

In fact, the ANC charter has much in common with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which promises complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, along with freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

Under the circumstances, sir, I ask only that you include Israel in your laudable concept of the human family that deserves equal understanding and consideration.

This letter is being publicized as will the considered reply I hope to receive from you.


Maurice Ostroff

About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at