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Tutu Speaks of Israeli Repression, but His Rhetoric is Taken in Stride

December 26, 1989
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Archbishop Desmond Tutu declined Monday to meet with a delegation of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, who wanted to acquaint their fellow black African with the story of their aliyah.

It was the most awkward moment yet of the South African Nobel laureate’s trip here, which began last Friday. Authorities feared the anti-apartheid activist’s visit would exacerbate the unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But Tutu’s denunciations of Israel’s ties with the Pretoria government and his likening of its treatment of Palestinians to apartheid have largely been taken in stride.

Tutu, who is the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, made clear where his sympathies lie, in interviews published before his arrival, including one last Thursday in the Hebrew daily Haaretz.

“What is happening in the West Bank and Gaza could, by just changing the names, describe what is happening in South Africa,” the newspaper quoted Tutu as saying.

He made almost the identical statement early Monday morning, celebrating a Christmas mass in Beit Sahur, a Christian Arab village near Bethlehem.

Tutu, who is being hosted by the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem, Samir Kafity, has spent virtually all of his time in Arab East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Beit Sahur.

He has not asked for meetings with Israeli leaders, except for an appointment he has to call on the minister for religious affairs, Zevulun Hammer, before he leaves the country.

His message to the throngs of Palestinian Christians who came to hear him on Christmas Eve is that oppression is gradually being rolled back in his country, and “if it can happen in South Africa, it will happen here.”

Tutu mentioned on that and other occasions his support for Israel’s independence and security, alongside an independent Palestinian state.

“We support the struggle of Palestinian people for nationhood, but we say also to your brothers and sisters, the Jews have a right to their independent state as well,” he told his audience in Beit Sahur.

In his Ha’aretz interview, Tutu claimed there are nuclear ties between Israel and South Africa and that Israel has supplied Pretoria with “techniques for putting down mass unrest.”

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