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Desmond Tutu’s Willful Ignorance

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu believed that the Europeans, filled with guilt over the Holocaust, had created the modern state of Israel. He did not know that even after the Holocaust, there was no outpouring of support for the Jews in Mandatory Palestine. The British continued to interdict ships full of Jewish survivors of the camps, preventing them from entering Palestine. Almost the entire Western world, including the U.S. and the U.K., withheld arms from the nascent Jewish state, while Great Britain continued to supply weaponry to Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. Only Czechoslovakia sold the Palestinian Jews some planes – Avia S-199s – and other weapons. Those poorly-armed Jews were left on their own to face the armed might of five invading Arab armies. Some Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers with military experience arrived from abroad, like Colonel Mickey Marcus. But that was it.

Archbishop Tutu should have known – how could he have been so ignorant of a matter that he pontificated about so often, and at such great length? –that the State of Israel has not known a moment’s real peace since the day after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Israelis have had to fight for the survival of their state three times: in 1948, 1967, and 1973. In addition, they had to fight the Suez Campaign against Egypt in 1956, in order to put a stop to attacks by Egyptian fedayin who infiltrated into the Jewish state from the Sinai to kill Israeli civilians in the Negev. Israel has subsequently fought many campaigns against the terrorists of the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah, including four wars in Gaza against Hamas, and two wars in Lebanon, against the PLO and then against Hezbollah. Israel continues to fight the “war between the wars against the Arab terrorists who continue to attack Israelis whenever and wherever they can; scarcely a week goes by in Israel without an attempted attack by those terrorists. This is not something Archbishop Tutu appeared ever to have grasped. He listened, credulously, to Palestinian claims of terrible mistreatment, but did not bother to hear the Israeli answer, and simply repeated to the world what his Palestinian interlocutors had told him.

In 2014, Tutu – who had visited Israel exactly once, 25 years before, a visit where he spent almost all of his time, save for a visit to Yad Vashem, with Palestinians in the West Bank — declared that “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security force.” And then he made his usual point, maintaining that there was a similarity between the apartheid system in South Africa and Israel’s system of “humiliation” of the Palestinians: “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.” Do you know of a single case where Israeli security forces have ever “corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted” innocent Palestinians? Neither do I. I don’t believe Tutu viewed (“I have witnessed”) any such thing himself, but he was willing to accept the stories fed him by the Palestinians, who no doubt brought before him people – “ordinary Palestinians” — who had been coached in what to say to him. He lapped it all up. Once he had made up his mind that the Palestinians were victims of “apartheid,” he chose to believe whatever they claimed. He no doubt saw the checkpoints in the West Bank where Palestinian vehicles were stopped and searched, but did not understand why they were so necessary to prevent terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

What Archbishop Tutu witnessed was not “systemic humiliation” of Palestinians by members of the Israeli security forces. Israel has checkpoints in the West Bank to prevent terrorists smuggling weapons. Not only their cars, but Palestinian individuals can be required to pass through an X-ray scanner or, in some cases, to submit to pat downs. The Palestinians may call these searches “humiliating” but they are no more “humiliating” than the searches that airline passengers routinely undergo. Bishop Tutu simply repeated what the Palestinians had complained to him about in 1989, when he visited Israel, without investigating the nature of the claimed “humiliation” or hearing Israelis explain the reasons for these checkpoints and other security measures.

When Archbishop Tutu visited Israel in 1989, he made an appalling suggestion, saying that the Nazis ought to be forgiven by the Jews for their crimes against the Jewish people. He said “we pray for those who made it happen [the Nazis], forgive them [God] and help us [the Jews] to forgive them [the Nazis], and help us so that we in our turn, will not make others suffer.” “We” were the Jews of Israel, and those others whom they should not make suffer were the Palestinians. Here was Tutu, telling the world’s Jews they must “forgive” the Nazis and, by the way, they must stop acting like Nazis themselves in their mistreatment of the Palestinians, who have been trying to convince the world – and with the gullible Tutu obviously succeeded – that the Israelis are the “new Nazis” and that they are the “new Jews.”

His remark was answered by Elie Wiesel, who said “No one has the right to forgive except the dead themselves, and the dead were killed and silenced by their murderers. For anyone in Jerusalem, at Yad Vashem, to speak about forgiveness would be, in my view, a disturbing lack of sensitivity to the Jewish victims and their survivors.” Tutu never apologized for his remark.

Little wonder, then, that the Muslim Council of Britain expressed its deepest condolences on the death of Archbishop Tutu. A delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain visited the late Archbishop in 2009 to discuss the role he could play in bridge building between communities. The Archbishop also spoke strongly for the cause of the Palestinian people and challenged the occupation by Israel. Tutu never understood that the “cause of the Palestinian people” was the destruction of the Jewish state, and its replacement by a 23rd Arab state. He could not possibly have read, or if he did, could not possibly have understood, either the Hamas Charter, or the Palestine National Covenant of 1968.

The Hamas Charter in its Preamble calls unambiguously for the destruction of Israel:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

And it describes itself, “the Islamic Resistance Movement,” as “a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” (Article 6)

The Palestine National Charter of 1968 includes these telling articles:

Article 1: Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.

Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

Article 3: The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to their homeland and have the right to determine their destiny after achieving the liberation of their country in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will.

Article 4: The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic; it is transmitted from parents to children. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal of the Palestinian Arab people, through the disasters which befell them, do not make them lose their Palestinian identity and their membership in the Palestinian community, nor do they negate them.

Article 5: The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there. Anyone born, after that date, of a Palestinian father – whether inside Palestine or outside it – is also a Palestinian.

[…]

Article 9: Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it . They also assert their right to normal life in Palestine and to exercise their right to self-determination and sovereignty over it.

Article 10: Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution. It also requires the achieving of unity for the national (watani) struggle among the different groupings of the Palestinian people, and between the Palestinian people and the Arab masses, so as to secure the continuation of the revolution, its escalation, and victory.

In the many decades during which he made pronouncements on Israel and the Palestinians, Archbishop Tutu must never have read either the Hamas Charter or the Palestine National Covenant. He didn’t have to. He was the “moral compass of the world” and an “icon.” He knew that the Palestinians were the victims of apartheid — after all, they had told him so — just as the blacks had been in South Africa. When he returned from his trip to Israel he told The Guardian:

What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it [Israel] did to another people to guarantee its existence. I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.

What about that “apartheid” that Tutu believe Israel practices? Did Tutu not notice on his 1989 visit that there was complete legal equality of the Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel? Did he confuse the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank,, who are not citizens of Israel, with the Israeli Arabs, who are? Did he expect Israel to give all the rights of citizenship to those Palestinians? On what theory? Does South Africa treat Zimbabweans like citizens? No, it does not, and Tutu would certainly not have called that different treatment a form of “apartheid.”

In the 31 years since Tutu’s visit to Israel, did news never reach him about the Arabs who sat in the Knesset, served on the Supreme Court, and went abroad as ambassadors? Did he not learn of Arabs rising high in Israeli businesses, including the Arab who became chairman of Bank Leumi, Israel’s largest bank? Did he never bother to find out that Jews and Arabs in Israel study together in universities, work together in offices and factories, are treated in the same hospitals by Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses? Did he not learn that Jews and Arabs play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras? Did he hear nothing of the restaurants and other businesses owned by Jewish and Arab partners? There is no apartheid in Israel and there never was. The only difference in the treatment of Jews and Arabs is that Jews must, and Arabs may, serve in the IDF. Yet Tutu continued to insist for decades, right up to his death, that Israel was an “apartheid state.”

Archbishop Tutu was ignorant, which did not stop him from making pronouncements on matters he knew so little about, including the history of modern Israel, of when it began and who created it. He was arrogant, believing his own press notices that constantly described him as this “beacon of hope for a troubled world,” this “towering figure,” this “mentor,” this “moral compass,” this “icon.” He was, in addition, the World’s Greatest Authority. A handful of Jewish leaders, including Elie Wiesel, took him to task for his remarks about the need for Jews to forgive Nazis, but that was about it. For the rest of the world, he could do no wrong.

Nil nisi bonum – the Latin tag instructs us to say nothing but good of the dead. But for Archbishop Tutu, who had the most extravagant and ludicrous praise heaped upon him both in life, and now, too, in death, we’ll just have to make an exception.

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