Tutu Tells Methodists What To Do
For Archbishop Desmond Tutu, everything must be seen through the lens of apartheid. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he takes to the pages of the Tampa Bay Times today to try to influence the United Methodist General Conference to see Israel that way as well:
A quarter-century ago I barnstormed around the United States encouraging Americans, particularly students, to press for divestment from South Africa. Today, regrettably, the time has come for similar action to force an end to Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens who suffer from some 35 discriminatory laws.
I’ve heard this before, but I got to wondering: what exactly are the “35 discriminatory laws” that prevent the Arab citizens of Israel from being full citizens? Here’s a big surprise—I couldn’t find them. I found a variety of lists of such laws, and a variety of numbers (kind of like Joe McCarthy’s inability to decide just how many Communists there were in the State Department). One of the things I discovered, however, is that among the laws considered discriminatory is the Law of Return, which guarantees any Jew the right to move to Israel and receive citizenship. It was passed five years after the end of World War II, and was meant in the wake of the Holocaust to provide a safe haven for any Jew. I should add that it was passed at a time when Arab nations were expelling hundreds of thousands of Jews from their ancestral homes, places they had lived in for centuries, and was a way to offer welcome to a people who had been made homeless. As far as I know, Tutu has never said a word about those expulsions, or the refugees they created. But the Law of Return is “discriminatory.”
I have reached this conclusion slowly and painfully. I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government. And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades. But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course.
I’m not sure why Tutu acts as though this is some great revelation that has burst upon him in recent days. For years he’s been telling anyone who would listen that he considers Israel an “apartheid state.” His concern for the “heartache” in the Jewish community is touching, but ridiculous.
He then refers to the recent appeal by 1200 rabbis to United Methodists and Presbyterians (PCUSA) not to divest from companies doing business in Israel, and goes on:
While they are no doubt well-meaning, I believe that the rabbis and other opponents of divestment are sadly misguided. My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest. But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws.
Actually, except for perfunctory stuff like this, I can’t recall ever hearing a full-throated, no-holds-barred denunciation of anti-Semitism by Tutu. As for “colonization,” that’s typical of the loaded language anti-Israel activists like to use, but if his point is that that Israeli settlement policy must be reversed, I agree.
I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his “Christian and Jewish brothers” that he has been “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. ...”
King’s words describe almost precisely the shortcomings of the 1,200 rabbis who are not joining the brave Palestinians, Jews and internationals in isolated West Bank communities to protest nonviolently against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements and the separation wall. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand as relentless settlement activity forecloses on the possibility of the two-state solution.
I appreciate that he still advocates two states, a solution that many of his colleagues in the BDS movement have rejected. His reference to the “separation wall,” however, demonstrates his lack of concern for Israeli security. The “wall” (which is actually not a wall at all for most of its length) was designed to stop Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating into Israel to kill civilians. It has been over 90% successful. For Tutu, however, Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens from suicide bombers is less important than ensuring Palestinian farmers access to their olive trees. (And for the record, I would rather that the security fence follow the Green Line.)
If we do not achieve two states in the near future, then the day will certainly arrive when Palestinians move away from seeking a separate state of their own and insist on the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, the Israeli government, in a single, democratic state. Israel finds this option unacceptable and yet is seemingly doing everything in its power to see that it happens.
Here is his naivete showing. Polling among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank indicate that this battle has already been lost, though I believe it has never been otherwise:
Over 60 percent reject “two states for two peoples.”
A one-state Palestinian solution is favored by a majority.
Two-thirds believe the real goal should be to move to a single Palestinian state.
Seventy-two percent think it is right to deny a Jewish presence going back thousands of years in Jerusalem.
Ninety-two percent think Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine; only 3 percent favor a joint capital.
This is a portrait of rejectionism, which has characterized Palestinian actions if not attitudes almost non-stop for decades. Tutu can deny this, but that’s the reality that Israel has to deal with, even if he doesn’t.
Black South Africans and others around the world have seen the 2010 Human Rights Watch report which “describes the two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas in the West Bank under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.” This, in my book, is apartheid.
As Inigo Montoya so famously said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” On another occasion, I wrote this about Tutu’s insistence upon using that word to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
In South Africa, blacks objected to being banished to “independent” Bantustans; the Palestinians are supposedly desperate for a state of their own (if anything, it’s Hamas and their desire for a single, Judenrein Palestinian state that most resemble the Afrikaaners). In South Africa, it was the state that beat up on its own people; in the Holy Land, the Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel, but would-be invaders from outside. In South Africa, blacks had no rights to speak of; in Israel, Palestinian Arabs who are citizens—about one-sixth of the population—have all the rights of Jewish citizens, including the right to vote, to be elected to the Knesset, to sit in the government, even to speak out in support of their non-Israeli brethren. In South Africa, the courts facilitated the brutal treatment of blacks; in Israel, the courts protect the rights of Palestinians, even to the point of ordering the government to change many of its policies over the years (it is the Israeli Supreme Court, for instance, not the powerless International Court of Justice, that got the government to make changes in the route the security fence takes, ordering it to avoid as much as possible infringing on Palestinian-owned lands, orchards, and farms).
None of that is to say that Israel is beyond criticism for its policies or their execution, both of which are flawed, sometimes in ways that are morally wrong, whatever their political or legal provenance. It is to say that the effort to label Israeli policies “apartheid” are, like the efforts of others to label Israel a modern Nazi Germany, are both factually incorrect and typical of a mindset that is determined to demonize Israel as somehow uniquely evil, which in turn is indicative of an anti-Semitism that is at least subconscious, if not overt.
These are among the hardest words I have ever written. But they are vitally important. Not only is Israel harming Palestinians, but it is harming itself. The 1,200 rabbis may not like what I have to say, but it is long past time for them to remove the blinders from their eyes and grapple with the reality that Israel becoming an apartheid state or like South Africa in its denial of equal rights is not a future danger, as three former Israeli prime ministers — Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and David Ben Gurion — have warned, but a present-day reality. This harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organizations of conscience to divest from those companies — in this instance, from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard — profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.
This is what he’s worked up to, and the amazing thing is that after painting this picture of extraordinary Israeli evil that needs to be confronted, his solution is one that will have no effect whatsoever on the realities of the Holy Land. Even United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), in their talking points document, affirms this:
6. This is not a call for divestment from Israel. It is a request to be sure we are not investing in companies from any country that keep the occupation going.
7. This action will not harm the economy of Israel. Taking specific international companies out of our portfolios will not harm the economy of Israel, but it will send a strong message in support of justice and peace in the region.
8. This action will not harm investors.
What this effort is really about is 1) making a political statement; and 2) giving activists the opportunity to proclaim their righteousness. I’ve long thought that South Africa was persuaded to abandon apartheid because of the pressure of economic sanctions and international (i.e., nation-state) isolation, rather than private citizens and even institutional investors divesting from private companies. Activists such as UMKR admit that the companies in question have not listened to them, or taken their concerns seriously, and I suspect that the act of selling their investments to others will make no more difference to HP or Motorola than denominational resolutions or meaningless meetings with political activists. Yet this is what Tutu brings out what he considers the rhetorical big guns to support. OK.
Speaking of those big guns, one other thing. He says, “These are among the hardest words I have ever written.” Once again, he suggests that he’s never gone this far before, but the circumstances require him to go farther than before That’s patent nonsense. As I document here, here, and here (he’s very explicit here), Tutu has been talking this way for years. Hopefully no United Methodist General Conference delegates will be taken in by either the faux-sorrow or the inflammatory language the Archbishop employs.
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