Turning Tutu Away

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What issue could possibly cause a university to disinvite Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the ever-grinning South African human rights crusader, from giving a talk on peace and nonviolence? As Scott Jaschik at InsideHigherEd reports, an Israeli/Palestinian issue did. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota rescinded an April speaking invitation to the Nobel Peace Prize winner because criticisms he made of Israeli policies were judged to be “hurtful” to some Jewish people. Tutu’s main crime was uttering the name Hitler during a 2002 speech in Boston about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. But while the Zionist Organization of America criticized Tutu for his “vicious libel that Israel is comparable to Hitler,” Jaschik points out that interpretation is a stretch.

Tutu references Hitler in a part of the speech, delivered to the Palestinian ecumenical group Sabeel, where he encourages the audience to challenge the U.S. “Jewish lobby” and reminds them that radical change is possible:

“People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? … The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust.”

Tutu’s use of the phrase “Jewish lobby” is regrettable, mainly because the pro-Israel lobby he is referring to is not made up exclusively of Jews (remember Texas preacher John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel?). But one minor slip five years ago is hardly grounds for blacklisting him. It’s also worth noting these dialogue-squashing disinvitations aren’t the province of one particular group or ideology. Witness the University of California’s recent stay away order to former Harvard president Larry Summers.

—Justin Elliott

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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