In a remarkable turnaround brought about by a campaign of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Muzzlewatch blog and with a small assist from Tikun Olam, the University of St. Thomas has backed away from its previous rejection and reinvited Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on campus. Muzzlewatch originally reported that the university had disinvited him because the Minneapolis Jewish Community Relations Council had told school administrators that he was “anti-Israel” and had made remarks likening Israel to Hitler. Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune carries an opinion column by JVP staffers Mitchell Plitnick and Cecilie Surasky criticizing St. Thomas’ position prior to its reversal.
We should applaud St. Thomas for finally seeing reason on this issue. Their boneheaded, tone-deaf orginal decision simply put them in an untenable predicament making an academic body appear to stifle the free exchange of ideas on controversial subjects like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Unfortunately, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency is giving the lion’s share of the credit to Abe Foxman (“ADL: Let Tutu speak at university”), who wrote a letter to the University’s president asking him to reconsider his rejection of Tutu. It is slightly maddening to have the single Jewish leader most guilty of stifling free speech over the Israel-Palestine issue get credit for gaining a platform for Archbishop Tutu. But one thing I have to say about Foxman is his PR instinct is impeccable. He’s taking huge amounts of flack for pressuring various venues to deny speaking opportunities to Tony Judt and Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer among others. Here, in a single moment he looks like he’s on the side of the angels by embracing a Nobel laureate and endorsing his right of free speech. But we can see through this self-serving motivation.
When I read the original Muzzlewatch report my BS meter went off the charts when I read this reputed Tutu quote: “Israel is like Hitler and apartheid.” Turns out the alleged quote was fabricated by the ZOA’s Mort Klein. After doing some research I wrote this blog post and pointed out the mistake to JTA and they did a piss poor job of “correcting” the mistake, only acknowledging that they hadn’t been able to verify the ‘quote’ (which it isn’t), but not that it was fake (which it is).
Now, Ben Harris has written a bit more explicitly about the incident and allowed Klein to claim that the quotation attributed to Tutu should’ve been attributed to him and that it was a simple mistake. In addition, one portion of Harris’ article is a virtual recapitulation of what I’ve written here about the incident. On October 5th, I wrote:
..>Where did this fraud emanate from? The ZOA first manufactured the quotation for an April, 2002 press release. David Horowitz (of course) repeated it in Frontpagemagazine in February, 2003. Charles Jacob of the David Project repeated it here in August, 2007. The popular rightist Powerline blog also repeated it here in November, 2006. The National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel repeated it here. This smear is like a deadly virus. Not deadly in the sense that it destroys one’s body or property. But deadly nevertheless in that it attempts to destroy a reputation and credibility of a political opponent. Mort Klein manufactured the virus in his hate lab. But all those who spread the virus deserve a share of blame and their credibility must also be questioned.
Harris writes on October 9th:
An Internet search reveals that the “Israel is Hitler” quote found its way into other publications, including Front Page Magazine, which published an article in January 2003 by John Perazzo citing the quote.
Charles Jacobs, president of the Boston-based David Project, cited it in a column in August warning about Tutu’s visit to Boston later this month. And David Horowitz, Front Page’s editor, used it in an article slamming the divestment movement. Numerous bloggers also have cited the quote.
I sent links to my posts on this subject to Ami Eden so he and Harris had to be aware of what I was writing. Yet Harris makes no mention of this blog nor did he speak to me about this article. When I attempted to make note of some of this in the JTA’s comment thread for the article my comment was rejected. I’ve written to Ami Eden, the managing editor about the incident. We’ll see what he has to say.
UPDATE: I just discovered that Cecilie Surasky has been negotiating with JTA all week about how they would cover the story. I didn’t know about this when I first wrote to Ami.
A few errors continue to propagate both in the University’s and JCRC’s comments about the incident. Here St. Thomas’ president says:
I spoke with Jews for whom I have great respect. What stung these individuals was not that Archbishop Tutu criticized Israel but how he did so, and the moral equivalencies that they felt he drew between Israel’s policies and those of Nazi Germany, and between Zionism and racism.”
Once again, the alleged “moral equivalency” that the JCRC felt Tutu drew between Israeli policy and Nazi Germany simply does not exist.
JTA also allows the JCRC rep to repeat another inaccuracy about Tutu’s views on Israel:
Swiler told JTA that after the university approached the JCRC for an opinion about Tutu, she discovered a speech he delivered in Boston in 2002 in which he compared the power of the “Jewish lobby” to Hitler,
Again here is the full text of this portion of the speech and as anyone can see if anything Tutu was comparing the apartheid regime to Hitler:
“People are scared in this country 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.”
But truly what Tutu was doing was speaking in general about a whole host of unjust regimes, one of which happened to be Nazi Germany, which gave way to more just and democratic forms of government. He was saying that the Israeli Occupation will also give way to a system that respects both Israeli and Palestinian rights to national self-determination.
Julie Swiler further distorts Tutu’s record with this statement:
Swiler said, “I think most people in the Jewish community would find comparing the quote-unquote Jewish lobby to Hitler offensive,” she said.
This of course does Mort Klein one better. Instead of Klein’s fabrication claiming Tutu compares ISRAEL to Hitler, Swiler fabricates a Tutu claim that the JEWISH LOBBY is like Hitler. Wow, how far can we go even after supposedly clearing Tutu of guilt for anti-Semitism and endorsing his right to speak, in not only reviving the smear, but making it worse.