Prior to the Sabeel conference in Boston this weekend, at which he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, Archbishop Desmond Tutu again demonstrated that the last casualty of apartheid is his own ability to distinguish any geo-political situation or moral issue from the one with which he is most familiar. He does so by writing in the Boston Globe:
My hope for peace is not amorphous. It has a shape. It is not the shape of a particular political solution, although there are some political solutions that I believe to be more just than others.
Neither does my hope take the shape of a particular people, although I have pleaded tirelessly for international attention to be paid to the misery of Palestinians, and I have roundly condemned the injustices of certain Israeli policies that compound that misery. Thus I am often accused of siding with Palestinians against Israeli Jews, naively exonerating the one and unfairly demonizing the other.
Right. So here’s an opportunity to dispel that perception. Instead, after a lengthy discussion of what heaven on earth would look like in the Holy Land, he returns to the old narrative:
What do I see and hear in the Holy Land? Some people cannot move freely from one place to another. A wall separates them from their families and from their incomes. They cannot tend to their gardens at home or to their lessons at school. They are arbitrarily demeaned at checkpoints and unnecessarily beleaguered by capricious applications of bureaucratic red tape. I grieve for the damage being done daily to people’s souls and bodies. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the yoke of oppression that was once our burden in South Africa.
I see and hear that ancient olive trees are uprooted. Flocks are cut off from their pastures and shepherds. The homes of some people are bulldozed even as new homes for others are illegally constructed on other people’s land. I grieve for the land that suffers such violence, the marring of its beauty, the loss of its comforts, the despoiling of its yield. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the bitter days of uprooting and despoiling in my own country.
I see and hear that young people believe that it is heroic and pious to kill others by killing themselves. They strap bombs to their torsos to achieve liberation. They do not know that liberation achieved by brutality will defraud in the end. I grieve the waste of their lives and of the lives they take, the loss of personal and communal security they cause, and the lust for revenge that follows their crimes, crowding out all reason and restraint. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the explosive anger that inflamed South Africa, too.
A lot of what he says about Israeli behavior is either a distortion of reality or a simple misrepresentation of it, and simply refuses to recognize the security fence for the passive (and incredibly successful) defensive measure that it is. When he turns to the Palestinians, he mentions suicide bombing, period. No mention of daily rockets flying into civilian areas of Israel; no mention of the disgusting daily demonization of Israel and Jews by the Palestinian media; no mention of the poisoning of children’s minds (and the future contained therein) by an educational system that is seemingly mostly about the inculcation of anti-Semitism; no mention of the refusal of the Palestinians to say “yes” when they’ve had the opportunity; no mention of the continuing determination of a large part of Palestinian society, starting with Hamas, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of the Holy Land. Instead, he mentions suicide bombing and then turns around and blames Israel for most of the negative impact, since we all know that the “loss of communal security,” and the “lust for revenge” that “crowds out reason and restraint” are Israeli failings in the face of provocations that they are apparently just supposed to shrug off.
And once again, all of this “reminds” Tutu of South Africa, though there are so many aspects of the two situations that are so utterly different that the one, in fact, has no bearing on the other, save in the mind of the archbishop, for whom everything is a reminder, whether helpfully or not, of South Africa. One last paragraph from this article makes that crystal clear:
Some people are enraged by comparisons between the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what happened in South Africa. There are differences between the two situations, but a comparison need not be exact in every feature to yield clarity about what is going on. Moreover, for those of us who lived through the dehumanizing horrors of the apartheid era, the comparison seems not only apt, it is also necessary. It is necessary if we are to persevere in our hope that things can change.
“Not exact in every respect.” You’ve gotta love that. In fact, there is virtually no comparison between the two situations. In South Africa, blacks objected to being banished to “independent” Bantustans; the Palestinians are desperate for a state of their own (if anything, it’s Hamas and their desire for a single, Judenrein Palestinian state that most resemble the Afrikaaners). In South Africa, it was the state that beat up on its own people; in the Holy Land, the Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel, but would-be invaders from outside. In South Africa, blacks had no rights to speak of; in Israel, Palestinian Arabs who are citizens–about one-sixth of the population–have all the rights of Jewish citizens, including the right to vote, to be elected to the Knesset, to sit in the government, even to speak out in support of their non-Israeli brethren. In South Africa, the courts facilitated the brutal treatment of blacks; in Israel, the courts protect the rights of Palestinians, even to the point of ordering the government to change many of its policies over the years (it is the Israeli Supreme Court, for instance, not the powerless International Court of Justice, that got the government to make changes in the route the security fence takes, ordering it to avoid as much as possible infringing on Palestinian-owned lands, orchards, and farms). I could go on, but the point is that the only place where the South Africa-Israel comparison makes sense is in the minds of people like Desmond Tutu, for whom the need to apply the stark moral distinctions of past battles is a never-ending fixation, and one that only serves to inflame a situation that needs no help in that regard.
UPDATE: The text of Tutu’s speech to the Sabeel conference yesterday is here. He says it is a “cry of the heart” to his “spiritual relatives,” to whom he says:
Don’t be found fighting against the God, your God, our God, who hears the cry of the oppressed, who sees their anguish and who will always come down to deliver them. Be not opposed to the God whose Spirit when it anoints you makes you concerned for the poor. This is your calling. If you disobey that calling, if you do not heed it, then as sure as anything one day you will come a cropper.
For what it’s worth.