Archbishop Desmond Tutu has taken offense over what he termed an accusation of “moral inconsistency” by a Jewish newspaper.
The editor of the South African Jewish Report, Geoff Sifrin, wrote an open letter to Tutu late last month after the Nobel laureate lashed out at Israeli policies in newspaper interviews and called for divestment from Israel to oppose its settlement policies.
In the letter, Sifrin wrote that if Tutu was going to liken the Palestinian struggle against Israel to the black nationalist struggle against apartheid-era South Africa, “then surely you have to say loudly to the Palestinians what you said to South African blacks.”
In years past, Tutu had castigated “the barbarity of necklacing” killing people by placing a burning tire around their necks — telling the perpetrators that no matter how just the struggle against the apartheid, if they lost their humanity in the process, they would be unworthy of their own freedom — and the world would question whether people who behaved like that deserved liberation.
“You were my hero,” Sifrin wrote, “because even in the midst of the white regime’s oppression of blacks, you insisted that blacks must never lose their own morality.”
Sifrin asked why Tutu’s “strong, assertive voice has not been heard above the cacophony of anti-Israel hysteria, directly castigating the Palestinians for the suicide bombers,” whom Sifrin called “terrorists by any moral standard.”
Tutu’s voice had not been heard loudly and in public in this regard, Sifrin wrote, “certainly not by most Jews in this country, who are frantic about what the suicide bombers are doing both to Israel and to any remaining chances of peace in the region.
“Amnesty International finally called the suicide bombings a ‘crime against humanity.’ Will you not do the same?”
Replying to Sifrin in last Friday’s edition of the Jewish Report, Tutu said: “You have not called me anti-Semitic. No, you have in my view done worse. You have really accused me of moral inconsistency. I take very strong exception to that.
“I have no political, economic or military power. The only influence and authority I may have is moral.
“If you impugn my moral standing, I have nothing left.”
He said he had criticized Palestinian suicide bombers, along with what he called “Israeli excesses” in dealing with the Palestinian population at large, in a widely reported speech in Boston earlier this year.
“In my Boston speech, I was quite categorical in my condemnation, first, of what I described as the Arab stupidity in having refused to recognize Israel and committing the Arab nations to her destruction, and secondly, the awfulness of suicide bombers and thirdly, the poisoning of children’s minds if it was true that Palestinian children were being taught to hate Jews.”
Tutu also pointed out that he was a patron of the Jewish Holocaust Center in Cape Town and a member of the board of directors of the Shimon Peres Peace Center in Tel Aviv.
“I am passionately with all my being opposed to injustice and oppression, and I will always speak out against them whoever the perpetrators might be because I stand for justice, for peace.
“I am deeply concerned for the Jews and the Palestinians. I want to see them live harmoniously together. That is why I have pointed them to what happened here — if peace could happen in South Africa then it is possible, too, in the Middle East.
“Peace cannot come from the barrel of a gun,” he added.
A delegation from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies met with Tutu last month.
According to board chairman Russell Gaddin, the Jewish officials “came away from this meeting reassured of his continued high regard for the Jewish people, Judaism and Israel.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.