The PCUSA’s Israel Palestine Mission Network has linked to a Friends of Sabeel-North America page that in turn connects to a petition that seeks to defend Archbishop Desmond Tutu from the truth. A little background:

Apparently there have been calls in South Africa for Tutu to resign or be forced out as a patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. According to David Hersch, vice-chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Tutu is a “bigot” and an “anti-Semite,” harsh terms indeed for a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He has also been referred to that way by Alan Dershowitz, well-known American liberal and Harvard law professor. In response, some members of the hate-Israel crowd in South Africa has gotten together a petition defending Tutu, and calling for signatures. The petition, which I would assume IPMN endorses, states:

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has publicly criticised Israeli policy towards Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. He has also criticised Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. These criticisms are well-known.

This makes it sound as though Tutu has been even-handed in his criticism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, he has:

Exaggerated the truth regarding conditions in the Palestinian territories in order to justify “resistance”;

Claimed that Israeli military actions in Gaza constituted “war crimes,” without ever addressing except in the most perfunctory terms the daily bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas;

Repeatedly compared Israel to South Africa as an “apartheid state,” despite the utter lack of similarities between the two;

Advocated divestment from Israel, but not from any other dictatorship, oppressive regime, or nation threatening a neighbor (he was against sanctions levied against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s, and opposed military action to release Kuwait from the conqueror’s grip in 1991);

Referred to Israel as based on “racial exclusivity,” despite the presence of over a million Palestinians as full citizens of the state, even as he calls for a Judenrein West Bank.

Recently, his criticisms of Israeli policy have elicited bitter personal attacks. Amidst calls for him to be removed as Patron of the Cape Town and Johannesburg Holocaust Centres of the South African Holocaust Foundation, Tutu has been attacked and labelled an anti-Semite and a bigot

Disagreements should be debated openly, but these personal attacks are totally unacceptable.

One can argue whether Tutu is a bigot and an anti-Semite. On the other hand, Tutu’s numerous anti-Israel statements–which hold Israel to a moral standard he is unwilling to hold any other nation to, single Israel out for special treatment in the face of far greater human rights abuses elsewhere, and that distort the facts of the conflict for the sake of scoring political points–constitute an undeniable record of anti-Israel rhetoric that is so unbalanced as to fall under the heading of anti-Semitic. Pointing that out is a “personal attack” only to the extent that it speaks the truth in the face of Tutu’s public remarks.

During the Second World War, which killed 60 million people, Nazi Germany killed socialists, gay men and lesbians, Roma people, and resistance fighters, but its most systematic destruction was of the Jewish people. Six million Jews were transferred to ghettos and concentration camps before being murdered.

This grotesque crime against humanity must never be forgotten. Its legacy and lessons belong to and must be guarded by all of humanity. Racism including anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and inhumanity must be resisted wherever they occur. As stated in the Mission Statement of the South African Holocaust Foundation, we must build “a more caring and just society in which human rights and diversity are respected and valued.”

This is precisely the cause to which Tutu has dedicated his life. He represents the finest tradition of resistance to all forms of oppression. He has taught us that understanding the Holocaust begins with appreciating that the only way for each of us to be safe is for all of us to be safe. He embodies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document born of the horrors of the Second World War, the rights contained in which pertain equally to Israelis and Palestinians.

Tutu embodies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the same way that the UN Human Rights Council does. That is to say, there the UDHR is a universal statement that applies equally to just one nation, Israel. The sentiment expressed in the first two paragraphs is noble and right, but it has little to do with what Tutu has said over the years.

To use the Holocaust in an attempt to delegitimise Tutu is to undermine its legacy and insult the memory of its victims. To call him an anti-Semite, because he has attacked the policies of the Israeli government, is outrageous, renders the term meaningless, and enfeebles the necessary efforts to defeat real anti-Semites and racists.

No one is “using the Holocaust” to delegitimize Tutu. He’s done a fine job over the years of doing that himself.

 

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