Desmond Tutu was one of the most prominent activists in the 80’s. He rallied against South Africa’s white minority government that systematically segregated and established an apartheid state making blacks second class citizens. Tutu, Mandela, and others fought apartheid often with their lives and liberties. Mandela spent 27 years in jail. Tutu has long been elevated to the stature of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Desmond Tutu was also Archbishop of the South African Anglican Church. But underneath the godlike humble appearance was an insidious anti-Semite and anti-Israel vein that throbbed and surfaced in writings, public speaking, and conversation.
As late as last month, Desmond Tutu urged Miss South Africa and its committee to boycott the Miss Universe pageant held in Israel, calling Israel an apartheid state. The young lady still attended and came in as a runner up. He often urged the Cape Town Opera not to perform in Israel, again citing apartheid and denying Israel’s democracy and referring to it as an “occupier”.
In a September 2015 article in CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in the Middle East Reporting and Analysis), Lenoff and Rozeman articulate the late Desmond Tutu’s anti-Israel legacy. Desmond Tutu publicly supported BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), and accused Israel of illegal occupation, oppression of Palestinians, and building a “separation wall” in the West Bank. Albeit misinformed (intentionally or not) and ignorant, Israel bashing by Desmond Tutu was never challenged or stopped. The world listened, nodded, and moved on.
In his righteous activism against Israel, Desmond Tutu failed to extrapolate on facts. Since 2000, Palestinians have repeatedly refused any offer or compromise for independence. They have been offered an independent West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in exchange for acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. (Israel has been out of Gaza since 2005). The outstretched hand has been ignored over and over again. The “oppression” of Palestinians seems to be self-afflicted as their governments refuse to come to any reasonable agreement but instead allow Hamas to continue their terror campaign against Israel unhindered. Desmond Tutu and others like him conveniently omit mentioning Israel’s enemies whose sole objective is the annihilation of Israel.
The alleged illegal “occupation” is a result of the 1967 six-day war and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Both initiated by Israel’s Arab neighbors, and both resulted in Israel’s right to defend itself. Actually, Israel’s right to the West Bank continues under the UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and beyond 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim accords and agreements.
Israel does have internal Jewish-Arab challenges and conflicts that should not be ignored, as recent incidents and attacks have demonstrated. But Israel is the only democratic secular society in the Middle East. Three religions worship freely, and Arabs living in Israel are Israeli citizens who often choose to serve in local law enforcement and in defense. They also choose to live in Israel. The newly elected coalition government is the most inclusive and includes Arab participation. Labeling Israel as an “apartheid state” is ludicrous. Blacks under apartheid were marginalized, segregated, and void of any voting rights and property. Reverend Kenneth Rasalabe Joseph Meshoe, former South Africa parliamentarian and leader of the African Christian Democratic Party took exception to Tutu’s allegations. In a 2015 interview he said, “Those who know what real apartheid is, as I know, know there is nothing in Israel that looks like apartheid”.
In an April 2002, article in The Guardian (Apartheid in the Holy Land), Desmond Tutu laments the plight of the Palestinians. The article was based on one warped concept that Israel treats Palestinians unjustly to justify its existence. In his own words “…what it did (Israel) to another people to guarantee its existence”. The article is a list of alleged Israeli injustices against Palestinians. What he failed to include was reality. He accused Israel of taking Arab land and establishing roadblocks and checkpoints that keep Palestinians out of Israel. Most of the disputed land had belonged to Jews in the first place until they were thrown out or killed, and roadblocks and checkpoints exist so less Israelis die.
Desmond Tutu was well versed and subtle in his narrative. He condemned suicide bombers and the teaching of hatred and in the same breath condemned security forces violence on “occupied land”. Without differentiating between who the suicide bomber and hatred proliferator is, Desmond Tutu continued to accuse Israel of inhumane practices that “won’t allow ambulances to reach the injured”. He obviously never visited Israeli hospitals on the border where Palestinians mostly children, are routinely treated. I have a friend who belonged to an Israeli volunteer organization that picks up and drops off Palestinians from border checkpoints, again mostly children, to Israeli hospitals in the region for treatment. The organization is called The Road to Recovery. Desmond Tutu’s article continued its attack on Israel by also accusing the US for allowing Jews to remain a “powerful” lobbying machine. Quote: “…the US keeps Israel on a pedestal and if anyone criticizes it they are immediately labeled as anti-Semites.” A page straight out of the infamous The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
At the 2007 Boston Sabeel forum, Desmond Tutu continued his familiar Israel bashing. Not surprising. Sabeel is a platform renowned for anti-Semite tropes and anti-Jewish hyperbole. The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center was founded by Naim Aleek, an Arab Anglican priest in Jerusalem, who Tutu fondly referred to as “brother”. According to NGO-Monitor, a global monitor of human rights, transparency, and accountability, Naim Aleek and his organization Sabeel is founded on a liberation theory that Palestinians represent a modern Jesus Christ. During Holy Week in 2001, Naim Aleek described “…the suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of the evil political and religious powers…” and “…is lived out again in Palestine…Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him”. (NGO-Monitor). His rabid narrative continued by stating that “The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily”. Obviously, Naim is historically deficient. Crucifixion was a Roman thing. Desmond Tutu surrounded himself with similar ‘frame of mind” individuals who championed human rights unless you’re Israeli. Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are conveniently ignored, not mentioned, and given a pass. These are the activist heroes and apologists for Israel’s enemies.
Desmond Tutu belonged to a group called The Elders. The group revamped itself from The Elders of Anti-Zion to The Elders. A fabricated anti-Jewish theory popular in Nazi Germany, that Jews are subversive and aim at world domination. The new improved Elder group is a combination of self-made pseudo intellectuals and Nobel Prize winners. Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Jimmy Carter, and Kofi Annan were members who portrayed themselves as sages. However, they were also morally deficient especially Mandela, who befriended dictators in Iran, Libya, Cuba and China. When questioned by a Jewish student at the University of Wittwatersrand on his strange friendships, he dismissed him by answering that “your enemies are not my enemies” and that “we” will continue to determine “attitude” toward any country depending on its attitude toward “our” struggle. Referring to the Palestinian “struggle” as justification for anti-Semitism that makes this group dangerous and inanely ignorant.
Harvard University Law School Professor, Emeritus Alan Dorshowitz described Desmond Tutu as “no mere anti-Zionist”. Desmond Tutu has tried to minimize the Holocaust by once suggesting that Jews should forgive the Nazis. This statement recorded at a 1989 visit to Jerusalem and Yad Vashem was condemned by Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel laurate and political activist. Tutu later sublimely hinted that forgiveness would inadvertently disallow bad treatment of others i.e if Jews in Israel forgave the Nazis they would not treat Palestinians badly..
Oddly enough, Desmond Tutu was not a pariah among some Jewish organizations or world governments. In 1989 he was honored by the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue of New York. In 2003, the Yeshiva University Cardozo Law School recognized him with an award for world peace. In 2009, US President Barack Obama awarded Desmond Tutu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ironically, at that same time, he was refused an appearance at the University of Minnesota for scathing remarks about Jews and Israel. Abraham Foxman, then National Director of the Anti-Defamation League stepped in and asked the university to reconsider. Abraham acknowledged the archbishop’s outspokenness and criticism of Israel “sometimes crossed the line”, but according to him, Desmond Tutu should not be considered anti-Semite and “refused a platform”. In 2015, on Israel’s Memorial Day, the Israeli organization Combatants for Peace and The Parent’s Circle, invited Desmond Tutu to address both Israeli and Palestinian parents who lost children in the various conflicts. One more time, Desmond Tutu compared Israel to South Africa by saying, “If change seems impossible consider our experience in South Africa. You can make it happen in Palestine and Israel.” (Hanau, S. December 26, 2021)
Arguing how the world will or should remember Desmond Tutu is a moot subject, because today’s world has selective memory and equally selective historical detail. Desmond Tutu will still be elevated to the status of a saint regardless of recorded blatant anti-Semite and anti-Jewish rhetoric. He attempted to “identify” with Jews and their suffering while harshly criticizing Israel for alleged Palestinian treatment. Desmond Tutu and his ilk seem comfortable going after Israel but seem to miss real marginalization and human rights violations in Iran, China, North Korea, and many countries in Africa. It’s this double standard of self-righteous judgment on Israel that reminds us that Desmond Tutu’s efforts for world peace and justice were selective and disingenuous. On the other hand, Martin Luther King, shortly before his assassination confronted a student critic of Israel by saying, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking antisemitism”. (Lenoff & Rozman)
No, Desmond Tutu was no Martin Luther King.
Lenoff. R & Rozeman, E. September 2, 2015. Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism Tarnish Desmond Tutu’s Nobel Peace Prize | CAMERA