Muzzlewatch has a big scoop about the cancellation of a speaking invitation issued by a Minnesota Catholic university to Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Rumors have been circulating for some time that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was banned by the University of St Thomas in Minnesota because of statements he made that some consider anti-Semitic. Now it’s official: winning the Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t protect you from charges of anti-Semitism if you criticize Israeli human rights practices. Neither, apparently, does being one of the most compelling voices for social justice in the world today…
Members of the University’s Peace and Justice Program invited Tutu to speak and he accepted. Some administrators must’ve gotten a case of the heebie jeebies because Minneapolis’ City Pages reports they turned to the local Jewish communal leadership for their opinion:
…In a move that still has faculty members shaking their heads in disbelief, St. Thomas administrators—concerned that Tutu’s appearance might offend local Jews—told organizers that a visit from the archbishop was out of the question.
“We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy,” says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas’s vice president for university and government relations. “We’re not saying he’s anti-Semitic. But he’s compared the state of Israel to Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are hurtful to some members of the Jewish community.”
St. Thomas officials made this inference after Hennes talked to Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“I told him that I’d run across some statements that were of concern to me,” says Swiler. “In a 2002 speech in Boston, he made some comments that were especially hurtful. I think there’s a consensus in the Jewish community that his words were offensive.”
Consensus? Let’s see if we have a consensus. These are the “hurtful words” she refers to from a speech Tutu delivered to a 2002 Boston Sabeel conference. Keep in mind that this is one paragraph from an entire speech which clearly states, as Muzzlewatch correctly notes, Tutu’s profound sense of philo-semitism and respect for the prophetic values on which the State of Israel was originally founded:
People are scared in this country [the U.S.] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful – very powerful. Well, so what? This is God’s world. For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
Where in this speech does Tutu compare Israel to Hitler? You’d have to stretch this passage beyond the breaking point to get there. One can quarrel with Tutu’s use of the term “Jewish lobby.” But to say that this passage is even remotely anti-Semitic is beyond ridiculous and the University should be profoundly ashamed of its misguided decision. If it has an ounce of Jewish seychel it will reverse itself immediately and apologize profusely to the Archbishop.
Minneapolis is the home of an AIPAC leader who once likened Congressmember Betty McCollum to a “supporter of terrorism” because she refused to vote for an AIPAC-sponsored bill. This entire incident has the whiff of AIPAC about it. I always had the impression Minneapolis was a kinder, gentler kind of place. I guess that’s not true–at least in the local Jewish community. They seem to play hard ball even with Nobel laureates.
Send a message via Jewish Voice for Peace to the university’s president asking him to reconsider his unfortunate decision.