The Importance of Being Desmond Tutu


Being an ex-Apartheid activist must surely exist one of the best jobs in the world.  What could be better than being invited to prestigious university campuses to deliver highly paid lectures on the evils of Western imperialism and then be fêted as a hero?;  Or being able to make the most hateful pronouncements about white Anglo- Saxons and watch while everyone smiles in quiet acknowledgment?  Or then again having carte blanche to unleash your vitriol against other unsuspecting nations whom you deem to have inflicted apartheid regimes on their own minorities, and have no one challenge you?

Yes Desmond Tutu, one of his country’s  most famous anti-Apartheid activist, has made it.   The former South African Archbishop, who built a reputation manning the barricades in the South Africa’s long struggle against apartheid, collecting a  Nobel Peace Prize along the way,  is universally hailed as a fair minded advocate of peace, love and freedom.

Everywhere, that is, except Israel.   In Tutu’s mind, Israel is the equivalent of the  South African Apartheid regime, for its discrimination against Palestinian Arabs.   Since 2002, he has called strenuously and aggressively for universities around the world to conduct campaigns of divestment from companies doing business with Israel, an obvious replication of the same boycott that contributed to the collapse of  his homeland’s former Apartheid regime.

Tutu’s identification of Israel as an outlaw state is not of recent vintage.   In 1988, the American Jewish Committee noted that Tutu was strongly critical of Israel’s military and other connections with apartheid-era South Africa, and quoted him as 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.”   He has  since proceeded to join hands with anti-semites and conspiracy theorists in identifying Israel and the “Jewish lobby” who support it as malevolent forces.

In 2002 he argued in the Guardian:

“People are scared in that 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 implicit coupling of Israel, a liberal democracy, with the aforementioned totalitarian regimes, was just the beginning of his jeremiad.  He continued a few months later with  another piece in The Nation:

“If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”

He bolstered his campaign with a recent letter to the Student Council at the University of California at Berkeley:

” 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. Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we went through.”

He concludes that last letter by applauding the movement of the Student Union towards the support of divestment:

” The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43- year- long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.”

But any such comparison is spurious and Tutu knows it.   In Israel proper Arab, Druze, Bedouin and other minorities are guaranteed equal rights under the Basic Law and Israel’s  Supreme Court has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect them.  All citizens of Israel vote in elections on an equal basis. There are no legal restrictions on movement, employment or sexual and marital relations. The universities are integrated. Opponents of Zionism have freedom of  speech and assembly and may form political organizations.

Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa was an official policy of discrimination against blacks enforced through police violence, based on minority control over a majority population who could not vote.  In contrast, Israel is a majority-rule democracy with equal rights for all citizens including Arab citizens who vote freely.   We should also not forget that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not governed by Israel at all, but by the Palestinian Authority.  If inequality and injustice reigns anywhere it is in this kleptocracy, where millions are creamed off the aid monies that pour into the territory and secreted in Swiss bank accounts; where militias rule through extortion and intimidation and where death penalties are meted out to those suspected of selling land to Israelis.

The complete falsehood of an Israeli apartheid  analogy has been debunked even by black  South Africans.   In 2003, South Africa’s minister for home affairs Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi said that “The Israeli regime is not apartheid.  It is a unique case of democracy”   According to Fred Taub, the President of Boycott Watch, “[t]he assertion … that Israel is practicing apartheid is not only false, but may be considered libelous. … The fact is that it is the Arabs who are discriminating against non-Muslims, especially Jews.”  That is certainly the case in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait where Jews are by law prevented from acquiring citizenship.

It is also contemptuous to suggest that Zionism is a form of imposed racism.  The view that an attempt to create an ethnic-national state is motivated by racism, is nothing  more than  selective targeting, that translates, in this instance, into warmed up anti- Semitism.    Zionism is a form of nationalism which, like any other national movement, is necessarily based on the privilege of inclusion and the right of exclusion.   Most European countries define themselves as nation-states embracing a common  language, culture and descent, which sustains their  self -identification and is ethnic in character.   The Turkish constitution defines a citizen as a Turk, despite the  fact that 30% of the population is Kurdish; Egypt’s official title is the “Arab Republic of Egypt,” despite the fact that it contains large Coptic, Nubian and Berber minorities who are not Arab at all.

One has to wonder if any of this has any impact on Desmond Tutu’s views?   Much like Jimmy Carter ( who, we must remember wrote a recent book which, in its very title, compared Israel directly to an apartheid state), Tutu is in thrall to third world leftist politics, which are hermetically sealed against inconvenient truths.  For Tutu and others like him, bringing Israel to its knees will serve to bring it to its senses, no matter what this means for Israeli security or its ability to defend and protect its citizens.

It might all be in keeping with the Tutu ethos, enshrined in the mission statement of his own organization, the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre:

Imagine… a world committed to peace. A world in which everyone lives together as family, where everyone is loved, heard, cared for and unique. A world in which everyone matters and the essential good in everyone is manifested. That world is the vision of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre. ……….The  activities and the ethos of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre will be guided by the legacy of its namesake, whose contribution to a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa and willingness to challenge expediency and hypocrisy are indelibly marked on history.

One has to wonder how expedient it would be to challenge Tutu’s own hypocrisy in his support of  boycotts and divestment for a liberal democracy that operates according to the rule of law;  one that has created a climate of equality before that law and whose efforts to achieve peace have been met consistently with the murder of its citizens and an  obdurate rejectionism.

It all goes to show that bigotry and racism is not the province of Westerners alone, but has found a nurturing environment in the very heart of a third world movement once pledged to its elimination.

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