Don't wear Tutu with blinkers

This famously crusading Bishop seems to have a blind spot about his 'Jewish brothers and sisters'


Earlier this month, on the occasion of his 79th birthday, Desmond Tutu, Anglican cleric and Nobel prize-winner, announced his retirement from public life. From all over the world, fitting encomia were showered down upon this turbulent priest, who made a name for himself in the 1980s as a fierce critic of the apartheid regime in which he had grown up, and later made another name for himself as the prime mover in the so-called truth-and-reconciliation movement that, some claim, has played a pivotal role in the transformation of South Africa into a peaceful, multicultural society.

As if to mark his retirement from public life, in the days preceding the announcement, Tutu saw fit to add his voice to the call then being made by some 200 South African academics and intellectuals, demanding that the University of Johannesburg terminate a partnership agreement with Israel's Ben-Gurion University (the same BGU, incidentally, from which Nelson Mandela was apparently quite happy to accept an honorary doctorate in 1997).

In a statement published in the South African Sunday Times of September 26, Tutu explained:

"I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? … While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation."

Post apartheid South Africa has become an anti-white, racist society

It is not my purpose here to refute these specious arguments, though I ought to say en passant that the assertion that Palestinians "are not able to access universities and schools" is a lie. Nor is it my purpose to exploit here a further breathtaking paragraph in Tutu's statement, in which he pleaded that "time and time again" he had said "that we do not want to hurt the Jewish people gratuitously."

I could spend this entire column analysing what precisely, in his call (the latest of many) for a boycott of an Israeli institution the Archbishop Emeritus meant by the word "gratuitously."

Clearly it is the unashamed, unconcealed ambition of this Christian to hurt the Jewish people, but not (you'll be relieved to hear) "gratuitously." My purpose is to focus your attention on the prominent part that has for some time been played in the BDS (Blackmail, Delegitimisation and Slander) movement against the Jewish state by citizens of the post-apartheid Republic of South Africa.

Tutu himself is a long-time advocate of BDS. So is Ronnie Kasrils, whom the online Guardian permitted to run a gung-ho column on September 29 warmly endorsing Tutu's latest boycott call and gloating over "the erosion of Israel's legitimacy" in which the endorsements of BDS had apparently resulted.

Then there's John Dugard, the South African law professor who, in reports written for the UN in 2006 and 2007, accused the Jews of creating "Bantustans" and declared that Israel's policies "certainly resemble those of apartheid". The list could go on.

Why are South Africans so prominent in the BDS movement? Spokespersons for the movement claim that there is no one better than a veteran of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to recognise apartheid in other countries. That is indeed why endorsements from prominent South Africans are so valuable to the BDS lobbies. But I believe that a much more sinister, guilt-related dynamic is at work, and that we cannot fully understand South-African involvement in BDS unless we recognise this dynamic.

Post-apartheid South Africa is a social and economic mess, run by a succession of governments distinguished by rampant corruption and gross incompetence. It is also a highly racialised society, its institutionalised racism - aimed at the whites (why else have the ethnic Chinese been reclassified as "black"?) - sustained through the mechanisms of the Employment Equity and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Acts.

These enable the government to favour black-owned companies and to lay down strict race-related quotas for many types of employments; all employers are subject to inspection to ensure that these quotas are being met. Apologists for this regime call it "affirmative action." I call it anti-white racism.

South Africa abandoned one form of apartheid only to embrace another. What better way to deflect international attention from this travesty than to focus on the Jews, age-old scapegoats for the crimes of others?

    Last updated: 12:48pm, November 1 2010