The Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1984, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away last week, with great mourning and emotional eulogies uttered in his memory. He was renowned for his principled and courageous stance against apartheid in his Native South Africa, and for good reason.
However, his memory is tainted for very many Jews for his anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish rhetoric which was both inflammatory and slanderous. He used the “halo effect” of his good reputation in the fight against the real apartheid regime of South Africa to slander the Jewish State, and eventually the Jews themselves.
But while it is regarded by most people as a mere footnote to his biography, it is Tutu’s attitude toward Israel that sticks in the memory of many Jews. To contemplate his life is to face a dilemma that makes for uncomfortable reading. The great good he did doesn’t erase the way he helped build support for an anti-Semitic BDS movement and engaged in rhetoric about Jews and the Jewish state that often crossed the line into damaging stereotypes and delegitimization.
… the clergyman’s use of his post-apartheid celebrity against Israel was not only deeply damaging but was largely based on misleading claims and outright falsehoods….
More importantly, it also illustrates how increasingly popular ideas about intersectionality — the notion that all struggles around the world can be neatly divided into oppressors and oppressed and that all of those categorized as being among the ranks of the latter group are both in the right and part of the same general effort to make the world a better place — have helped buttress the myth that the Palestinian war to eliminate the only Jewish state on the planet is morally equivalent to fighting apartheid or “Jim Crow” in the pre-civil rights era United States.
That Tutu viewed the world through the prism of his experiences in apartheid South Africa is understandable. But his embrace of the notion that the plight of the Palestinian Arabs was no different from that of non-whites in South Africa was not only misguided but it gave an undeserved moral imprimatur to the big lie that anti-Zionists have peddled about Israel being an “apartheid state.”
Worse than that, a look at Tutu’s statements about Jews over the years reveals a man that adopted attitudes that are inconsistent with his status as a leader of the human rights movement.
As Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz noted in a critique of Tutu a decade ago, his unfortunate comments about Jews included repeating traditional memes about them thinking “they had a monopoly on God” that merited justified criticism from Jesus. When discussing the Holocaust, he claimed that “the gas chambers” led to a “neater death” than those suffered by the victims of apartheid, even though, for all of its horrors, the Afrikaner government did not attempt to exterminate non-whites but to subjugate them. In a further example of his cluelessness about the subject, Tutu also demanded that Jews “forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust.” Yet, he never seemed capable of forgiving Jews for what he wrongly described as “oppressing” Palestinians.
Tutu refused to acknowledge that the Palestinian goal has always been the eradication of Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country and not just to evict Jews from the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Even when speaking about specific events, Tutu’s rhetoric about what life in Israel was like was completely detached from reality.
Yet Tutu not only stuck to his backing of racist boycotts of the Jewish state but refused to accept that the goals of Hamas were nothing like those of his ANC.
Tutu exemplified the way intersectionality promotes false narratives in the name of a dubious notion of the unity of the struggles of all people of color. He advocated denying self-determination to the Jews in their historic homeland despite the fact that the majority of Israelis are also “people of color” since they trace their origins to the Middle East and North Africa rather than to Europe.
Why did Tutu have such a blind spot when it came to Israel and Jews? He may not have seen himself as an anti-Semite. But as someone whose whole life was bound up in the idea of minorities fighting oppressors, it was easy for him to see, as intersectionality demands, all conflicts as alike. Israel isn’t perfect but it didn’t deserve Tutu’s opprobrium. There is no excuse for his confusing his own experiences with the cause of a Palestinian national movement whose identity is inextricably tied up with a war to eradicate Israel, and not a struggle for justice. In doing so, he sided with hate and intolerance.
We should remember Tutu’s heroism against apartheid. But that doesn’t excuse his efforts to justify hate against Israel and the Jews.
Blogger Jeff Dunetz tells us “What the media didn’t tell you about Bishop Desmond Tutu”:
Tutu has made some alarming statements about the Holocaust. He has publicly complained about what he calls “the Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust.” (Jerusalem Post, July 26, 1985) Sorry Bishop, but Jews do own the copyright. We paid for it with more than Six Million lives, one and a half million of those were little children.” Tut also asserted that “the gas chambers” made for “a neater death” than did apartheid.
During his 1989 visit to Israel, Tutu spoke at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Tutu urged Israelis to forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust, a statement which the Simon Wiesenthal Center called “a gratuitous insult to Jews and victims of Nazism everywhere.” (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 1989). Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel responded to Tutu’s call for forgiveness by saying the only ones who can forgive the Nazis are the people they killed and they can’t speak.
Before he retired Tutu spewed vile Antisemitism worthy of the famous fraudulent Jew-hating tome “The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion,” which purports to describe a Jewish plan for global domination.
He compared Judaism to Hitler, Stalin, and tyrants, along with bloviating the stereotype that the powerful Jewish lobby runs the U.S.
Speaking in a Connecticut church in 1984, Tutu said that “the Jews thought they had a monopoly on God; Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings.” In the same speech, he compared the features of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the features of the apartheid system in South Africa. (Hartford Courant, Oct. 29, 1984).
As an Archbishop Tutu knows the reasons for the destruction of the two temples to God as the “old Testament” ” is part of the Anglican canon. He would understand that neither Jewish Temple was destroyed because gentiles weren’t allowed inside. The first Temple, also known as Solomon’s Temple, was destroyed because the children of Israel rebelled against God by worshiping idols. The Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between the Israelites. Unless he skipped those classes at St Peter’s Theological College, Tutu made up the story of the Holy Temples atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
The anti-Jewish hatred from Bishop Tutu displayed above, left out his more extensive use of the Jewish State of Israel as his vehicle to promote his Antisemitism. If I were to add Tutu’s support of the Antisemitic BDS movement and his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their historic homeland, this post would be at least three times longer.
Jeremy Rosen in the Algemeiner (via Brian Goldfarb) ponders the problem that seemingly nice Christians like Desmond Tutu have with the Jews:
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the founders of modern India was regarded as a holy man. He, too, could not sympathize with Jewish aspirations. Gandhi’s great ideal was that of satyagraha: non-violent resistance to evil. A lovely idea in theory, and a very Christian idea of turning the other cheek observed more in the breach. Of Hitler’s evil, Gandhi said in 1938, “the calculated violence of Hitler may result in a general massacre of Jews, but if their minds could be prepared for voluntary suffering, the massacre could be turned to a day of thanksgiving and joy.”
Thank you, but no thank you. He admired the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who visited Hitler to ensure that if he invaded the Middle East, he would exterminate the Jews there too. He even suggested that “the Jews should follow the doctrine of satyagraha and offer themselves to the Arabs to be shot or thrown into the dead sea.” One wonders why he didn’t suggest satyagraha to Stalin.
Rosen mentions “Robert Birley and Trevor Huddleston — both men I had got to know late in their lives through my involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and close friends.” But they were the exceptions that prove the rule.
Why, still today — ad mainly in the progressive Protestant Churches — is Israel so hated? Some people blame Replacement or Supersession theology. The notion is that the ancient old covenant between God and Israel was broken by the Jews for disobeying God. The Old Testament was superseded by the New. Christians became the new Chosen People. As punishment, Jews were condemned to suffer in exile and only the Second Coming of the Christian messiah could purge their stain. If they returned to their land before that, then (just as some of our own crazies think), they were defying God. This is why even today you will hear it said quite publicly that Jews will not be able to enter the Gates of Heaven (not that that worries me very much).
The Catholic Church since Pope John 23rd has come a long way in re-thinking replacement theology. Yet there are still plenty, mainly left-leaning Protestant Christians who have not yet taken this development on board. Even in Britain today, Israel is being blamed for the tragic decline in Christian populations in the Middle East. Ironic, since Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown, and where new churches are being built.
The other excuse for Tutu’s hatred is the pseudo theory of “intersectionality,” that considers all sufferers equal victims regardless of degree or whether their pain is self-inflicted or not. One also notes how the United Nations finds more fault with Israel than with any other country on earth and spends millions upon millions on trying to incriminate Israel, in the hope that the longer it tries the more the chance that someone will be able to destroy the Jewish State.
Thank goodness that ethical human beings like Robert Birley, Trevor Huddleston, and many other worthy, saintly good Christians can recognize a false comparison when they see one — and can support the needy and the dispossessed without maligning a country that desperately seeks peace.
To round off this sorry tale, here is the incomparable Melanie Phillips in her zinger: The airbrushed feet of clay:
It’s not merely that Tutu demonised Israel with libellous falsehoods. Worse still, he explicitly and repeatedly demonised the Jewish people. His occasional claims that he identified with the Jews and his acknowledgement that they had been allies in the great fight against South African apartheid generally morphed into his grotesque and incomprehensible accusation that the Jews of Israel had done to the Palestinian Arabs what the apartheid regime had done to the black population of South Africa.
Part of the reason for his animus is the doctrine of “intersectionality”, which holds that all “powerless” peoples or groups are linked by victimisation and are therefore by definition incapable of doing bad things, while all “powerful” people are linked by their abuses of power and are therefore by definition incapable of doing good things.
Thus the “apartheid” libel against Israel, a commonplace today in so-called “progressive” circles. It is, of course, mind-blowing that Tutu, of all people, could hold that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and where all its citizens patently enjoy equal civic and religious rights, practised apartheid.
But the idea that his belief was the result of intersectionality has surely got that the wrong way round. For he helped put rocket fuel behind the “apartheid” lie. As Jay Nordlinger, author of a history of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in 2014 about the prize’s winners:
The most harmful of them is Desmond Tutu: because he is a South African hero who, for decades, has peddled the lie that Israel is an “apartheid state”. Coming from him, it is more harmful than from (the countless) others.
The more likely explanation for Tutu’s antisemitism is theological. He was close to the “supersessionists” of the Sabeel centre in Jerusalem, which has virtually single-handedly poisoned much of the Anglican church against Israel and the Jews.
For Sabeel and its founder, Canon Naim Ateek — who has long been warmly embraced by the Church of England establishment — have taken an ancient antisemitic calumny and weaponised it against Israel.
As I wrote here a few days ago this calumny, called “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” and which dates back to the early church fathers, held that because the Jews denied the divinity of Jesus, the Christians inherited all the promises made by God to the Jewish people who became instead the party of the devil.
Ateek fused this doctrine, which was responsible for the persecution and murder of countless numbers of Jews in medieval times, with Palestinianism. As a result, he claimed that the divine promise of the land of Israel had been inherited by the Palestinians.
Thus at a stroke the Jews were monstrously transformed from the indigenous people of the land of Israel — for whom alone it was ever their national kingdom, hundreds of years before either Jesus or Mohammed — into its oppressive colonisers. The Palestinian Arabs became explicitly identified with Jesus (the Jew from Judea who was suddenly and ludicrously transformed into a Palestinian) and were described in terms as being “crucified” by the Jews — who had thus merely substituted another set of victims for the original.
“Liberation theology”, which sought to turn the church into a radical movement by representing the “oppressed” of the world, was Marxist dogma. And so although most Anglican clerics may think of themselves as soggy liberals — and in the case of Tutu, actually inveighed against communism — the doctrine they have adopted is straight out of the Karl Marx anti-capitalism and antisemitism playbook.
So this is almost certainly why Tutu turned truth and lies about Israel and the Jews inside out.
So it proved with Archbishop Tutu. For while he demonised and delegitimised Israel with falsehoods and distortions, he was muted in his criticism of atrocities in the developing world. After 9/11, he soft-pedalled criticism of Islamic extremism while unleashing ferocious attacks instead against George W Bush and Tony Blair for attempting to defend the west against it in Iraq and Syria.
All this is terrible and depressing. More terrible still, though, is the silence with which Tutu’s bigotry against the Jewish people has been received.
It truly is depressing that a true moral hero on one plane can be so fatally flawed on another equally important plane. And the world sits back and says not a word.