Petitions fly over Desmond Tutu's Israel stance

By Moira Schneider, January 20, 2011

A counter-petition in defence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, organised by a South African human rights group, has garnered over 4,000 signatures since its launch last week.

The move came in response to a similar online initiative launched last month by three Jewish residents of Cape Town, calling for the resignation of the anti-apartheid cleric as patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

The earlier petition - which got over 500 signatures - appealed to the trustees of both centres to "have the courage to avoid the politically correct and cowardly route and stand up for what is right". It listed some of the Nobel laureate's "anti-Israel and antisemitic statements", rejecting his accusation that Israel is an apartheid state as "bigoted".

The counter-petition was launched by members of human rights group Open Shuhada Street, who say that Mr Tutu "has recently been the target of slanderous attacks by those who reject his principled and fair-minded stance on Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories".

Their petition reads: "To call him an antisemite because he has attacked the policies of the Israeli government is outrageous, renders the term meaningless, and enfeebles the necessary efforts to defeat real antisemites and racists."

Signatories include South Africa's former Constitutional Court head Arthur Chaskalson and Lord Joel Joffe, both of whom defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial.

The country's chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, said that it would be preferable to engage with the Archbishop "in a dignified and respectful manner" over his "unfair criticisms of Israel".

Meanwhile, two South African pro-Palestine groups, Media Review Network and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, are seeking an arrest warrant for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who was due to visit the country next week. The groups allege that Ms Livni is guilty of war crimes over her role in Operation Cast Lead.

On Wednesday, however, Ms Livni cancelled her visit due the ongoing strike by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Last updated: 2:12pm, January 20 2011