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Nobel Prize Winner Praises Jewish People As ‘a Light Unto the Nations’ but is Also Sharply Critical

November 29, 1984
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Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa praised the Jewish people as “a light unto the nations,” while at the same time issuing a sharply worded critique of Israel in a speech here Monday.

“Whenever the Jews have wanted to be like other nations, they have, I think, lost direction and been untrue to their calling,” Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, declared in a speech to 300 students and guests at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.


The 53-year-old Anglican Bishop was also critical of the Arab nations in the Middle East for “being totally unrealistic in not recognizing” the Jewish State that he said should ‘be given every bit of security and she should have her territorial integrity guaranteed.”

“The Arabs should recognize Israel, but a lot must change also,” Tutu declared. “I am myself sad that Israel, with the kind of history and traditions her people have experienced, should make refugees of others. It is totally inconsistent with who she is as a people.”


Tutu, whose speech was the result of an invitation extended by a member of the JTS, accused Israel of having “connived” in the massacres of Palestinian women and children at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982.

But, he added, “I was thrilled to bits” when some 500,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv. This was in reference to a rally under the auspices of the Peace Now movement demanding that the government of then Premier Menachem Begin conduct an investigation into the massacres. The government hesitated but soon acceded to domestic pressure and formed the Kahan Commission.

Tutu also said he was “saddened” at the “remarkable sensitivity of Jewish people who are quick to shout anti-Semitism at the drop of a hat. I can understand why this is so with your horrible experience, but sometimes the things at which you take umbrage are strange.”

He described in his address to the JTS an earlier speech he had made to a group in Connecticut, preaching what he described as the “historical separation between the Jews and Gentiles as represented by the wall of seperation in the Jerusalem Temple as a kind of model which reflects the racial separation” in South Africa.

“I was immediately accused of being anti-Semitic,” Tutu told the JTS gathering. “I am sad because I think that it is a sensitivity in this instance that comes from an arrogance — the arrogance of power because Jews are a powerful lobby in this land and all kinds of people woo their support.”

Continuing, Tutu added: “I am sad because I could not possibly be anti-Semitic. I don’t have a single anti-Semitic bone in my body.”

Tutu, an outspoken critic of South Africa’s apartheid government, also said he was distressed by Israel’s “collaboration” with South Africa, which is “carrying out policies that are so reminiscent of Hitler’s Aryan madness.”

The Bishop, who has served since 1978 as secretary general of the South African Council of Churches, touched briefly on the strains in relations between the Black and Jewish communities in the United States. Without going into detail, he suggested that both communities should seek to “align your agendas more closely.”

In concluding, Tutu declared; “Thank God for you and know that we and He together can work to transfigure the evils of this world to become His Kingdom of Shalom, of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of being together, of joy, reconciliation.”

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