The airbrushed feet of clay

Desmond Tutu did some great things. But he had a monstrous side too
Melanie PhillipsDec 28

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2017

The revelations that have surfaced in a small number of outlets about the profound antisemitism of Archbishop Desmond Tutu have come as an unpleasant shock for a number of people who have read them. For many have had absolutely no knowledge of this whatsoever.

Since his death two days ago, Tutu has been almost universally eulogised as one of the greatest men of the age. And indeed, there is no denying the vital part he played with Nelson Mandela in helping rid South Africa of the obscenity of apartheid and liberate black South Africans to take control of their own destiny in their own land. 

There was, however, another side to Tutu — a shocking side. And just as one should respect the dead and pay tribute to their achievements, it is also incumbent upon us to tell the truth about that person if that truth is important enough, however distasteful this may be. And it undoubtedly is that important. 

It’s not merely that Tutu demonised Israel with libellous falsehoods. Worse still, he explicitly and repeatedly demonised the Jewish people. His occasional claims that he identified with the Jews and his acknowledgement that they had been allies in the great fight against South African apartheid generally morphed into his grotesque and incomprehensible accusation that the Jews of Israel had done to the Palestinian Arabs what the apartheid regime had done to the black population of South Africa. 

On the Gatestone site, Alan Dershowitz has reprised the condemnation of Tutu that he wrote back in January 2011. He writes:

He minimised the suffering of those murdered in the Holocaust, asserting that “the gas chambers” made for “a neater death” than did Apartheid. In other words, the Palestinians, who in his incorrect view are the victims of “Israeli Apartheid,” have suffered more than the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. He complained of “the Jewish Monopoly of the Holocaust,” and demanded that its victims must “forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust,” while refusing to forgive the “Jewish people” for “persecute[ing] others”.  

Tutu asserted that Zionism has “very many parallels with racism,” thus echoing the notorious and discredited “Zionism equals racism” resolution passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations and subsequently rescinded. He accused the Jews of Israel of doing “things that even Apartheid South Africa had not done”. He said that “the Jews thought they had a monopoly of God: Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings”. He said that Jews have been “fighting against” and being “opposed to” his God. He has “compared the features of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the features of the apartheid system in South Africa”. He complained that “the Jewish people with their traditions, religion and long history of persecution sometimes appear to have caused a refugee problem among others”. He implied that Israel might someday consider as an option “to perpetrate genocide and exterminate all Palestinians”.   

He complained that Americans “are scared…to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful—very powerful”. He accused Jews — not Israelis — of exhibiting “an arrogance — the arrogance of power because Jews are a powerful lobby in this land and all kinds of people woo their support”.  While attacking Israel for its “collective punishment”of Palestinians — which he claims is worse than what Apartheid South Africa did — he himself called for the collective punishment of Jewish academics and businesses in Israel by demanding boycotts of all Jewish (but not Muslim or Christian) Israelis. (This call for an anti-Jewish boycott finds its roots in the Nazi “Kauft Nicht beim Juden” campaign of the 1930s.) 

When confronted with his double standard against Jews, he justified it on phoney theological grounds: “Whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people”. There is a name for non-Jews who hold Jews to a double standard: It is called antisemitism.

Tutu acknowledged having been frequently accused of being antisemitic, to which he has offered two responses: “Tough luck;” and “my dentist’s name is Dr. Cohen”.

I have quoted this at length for a reason. First, there is the extraordinary extent and depth of Tutu’s hatred, lies and demonisation directed at Israel and the Jewish people. How does this square with the good that he did in fighting South African apartheid? 

Part of the reason for his animus is the doctrine of “intersectionality”, which holds that all “powerless” peoples or groups are linked by victimisation and are therefore by definition incapable of doing bad things, while all “powerful” people are linked by their abuses of power and are therefore by definition incapable of doing good things.

Thus the “apartheid” libel against Israel, a commonplace today in so-called “progressive” circles. It is, of course, mind-blowing that Tutu, of all people, could hold that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and where all its citizens patently enjoy equal civic and religious rights, practised apartheid.

But the idea that his belief was the result of intersectionality has surely got that the wrong way round. For he helped put rocket fuel behind the “apartheid” lie. As Jay Nordlinger, author of a history of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in 2014 about the prize’s winners: 

The most harmful of them is Desmond Tutu: because he is a South African hero who, for decades, has peddled the lie that Israel is an “apartheid state”. Coming from him, it is more harmful than from (the countless) others.

The more likely explanation for Tutu’s antisemitism is theological. He was close to the “supersessionists” of the Sabeel centre in Jerusalem, which has virtually single-handedly poisoned much of the Anglican church against Israel and the Jews. 

For Sabeel and its founder, Canon Naim Ateek — who has long been warmly embraced by the Church of England establishment — have taken an ancient  antisemitic calumny and weaponised it against Israel.

As I wrote here a few days ago this calumny, called “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” and which dates back to the early church fathers, held that because the Jews denied the divinity of Jesus, the Christians inherited all the promises made by God to the Jewish people who became instead the party of the devil. 

Ateek fused this doctrine, which was responsible for the persecution and murder of countless numbers of Jews in medieval times, with Palestinianism. As a result, he claimed that the divine promise of the land of Israel had been inherited by the Palestinians. 

Thus at a stroke the Jews were monstrously transformed from the indigenous people of the land of Israel — for whom alone it was ever their national kingdom, hundreds of years before either Jesus or Mohammed — into its oppressive colonisers. The Palestinian Arabs became explicitly identified with Jesus (the Jew from Judea who was suddenly and ludicrously transformed into a Palestinian) and were described in terms as being “crucified” by the Jews — who had thus merely substituted another set of victims for the original.

This shocking and implicitly murderous set of lies was embraced by Anglicans and other liberal Christian churches because they had become heavily influenced by the “liberation theology” adopted by the World Council of Churches from the 1970s onwards and which fed Sabeel’s politicised theological revisionism. 

“Liberation theology”, which sought to turn the church into a radical movement by representing the “oppressed” of the world, was Marxist dogma. And so although most Anglican clerics may think of themselves as soggy liberals — and in the case of Tutu, actually inveighed against communism — the doctrine they have adopted is straight out of the Karl Marx anti-capitalism and antisemitism playbook.

So this is almost certainly why Tutu turned truth and lies about Israel and the Jews inside out. He has been regarded as a saintly figure because he led the process of “truth and reconciliation” that eschewed retribution against the perpetrators of the apartheid regime. And it was indeed a noble achievement to emerge from enslavement without engaging in violent revenge. 

But reconciliation without retribution is also a negation of justice.  And where justice is denied as being irrelevant or even harmful, injustice invariably follows.

So it proved with Archbishop Tutu. For while he demonised and delegitimised Israel with falsehoods and distortions, he was muted in his criticism of atrocities in the developing world. After 9/11, he soft-pedalled criticism of Islamic extremism while unleashing ferocious attacks instead against George W Bush and Tony Blair for attempting to defend the west against it in Iraq and Syria. 

In 2012, he even refused to to sit down with Blair at a conference because of the war in Iraq. So no forgiveness and reconciliation for some people, then. As Wayne K Spear observed in Canada’s National Post after that histrionic gesture, Tutu didn’t blame Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or President Assad’s “Alawite thugs” for the current state of Syria and Iran: this too was instead the fault of Bush and Blair. Wrote Spear about Tutu’s denunciation:   

“You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran,” he oozes to an absent Blair. But what on earth is this to mean if military action against the world’s theocratic fascists and dictators earns one condemnation while at the same time the crimes of these same theocrats and dictators are cleansed from the public record?

All this is terrible and depressing. More terrible still, though, is the silence with which Tutu’s bigotry against the Jewish people has been received.

Despite its scale, it has simply been ignored by all who have continued to lionise Tutu as a moral beacon for the world. Dershowitz first assembled his forensic charge sheet against Tutu almost eleven years ago.

And yet, after his death CNN called him “the voice of justice;” the Associated Press said he was a “moral conscience;” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “a towering global figure for peace and inspiration to generations across the world;” the Economist said he was “the best kind of troublemaker;” and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called him “a healer and apostle of peace”.

Not one of these or any of the innumerable others whose similar tributes have poured forth in an unstoppable geyser of hero-worship uttered a single word about his antisemitism.

Maybe they just didn’t know? Maybe they did know but allowed his South African legacy to erase it from their minds as just too complicated and contradictory to process? Or maybe they think that Israel deserves what Tutu said about it and that the Jews really aren’t worth bothering about? That antisemitism is so marginal it just doesn’t matter — and the Jews should simply shut up about it?

Whatever the reason, this near-universal airbrushing of Tutu’s bigotry as he is all but canonised as a modern saint throws into the sharpest relief the devastating moral confusion of our era.  


William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, observed that,

‘Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.’

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