Commentary Magazine


Topic: Desmond Tutu

South Africa’s Rulers Line Up Behind BDS

To the cheers of assembled delegates, the Third International Solidarity Conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which met in Pretoria earlier this week, endorsed the call for a campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the Israel. A lone German representative who stood up and challenged the prevailing wisdom that Israel is the reincarnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime was roundly dismissed by the chairman of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, who said that she herself had visited “Palestine,” where she’d discovered that the situation is “far worse than apartheid South Africa.”

This is not the first time that a senior member of South Africa’s leftist political establishment has made that exact point. In a particularly noxious speech delivered last May, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserted that the Palestinians were “being oppressed more than the apartheid ide­o­logues could ever dream about in South Africa.” Tutu’s co-thinker, the Reverend Allan Boesak ­– best known for his conviction for defrauding charitable donations from the singer Paul Simon and others — has also declared that Israel “is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it.” And in an interview earlier this year, John Dugard, a South African law professor and former UN Rapporteur, approvingly referred to “black South Africans like Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu and others who have repeatedly stated that, in their opinion, the situation in the Palestinian territory is in many respects worse than it was under apartheid.”

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To the cheers of assembled delegates, the Third International Solidarity Conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which met in Pretoria earlier this week, endorsed the call for a campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the Israel. A lone German representative who stood up and challenged the prevailing wisdom that Israel is the reincarnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime was roundly dismissed by the chairman of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, who said that she herself had visited “Palestine,” where she’d discovered that the situation is “far worse than apartheid South Africa.”

This is not the first time that a senior member of South Africa’s leftist political establishment has made that exact point. In a particularly noxious speech delivered last May, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserted that the Palestinians were “being oppressed more than the apartheid ide­o­logues could ever dream about in South Africa.” Tutu’s co-thinker, the Reverend Allan Boesak ­– best known for his conviction for defrauding charitable donations from the singer Paul Simon and others — has also declared that Israel “is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it.” And in an interview earlier this year, John Dugard, a South African law professor and former UN Rapporteur, approvingly referred to “black South Africans like Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu and others who have repeatedly stated that, in their opinion, the situation in the Palestinian territory is in many respects worse than it was under apartheid.”

At times, these thunderous denunciations from ANC figures have descended into open anti-Semitism. In 2009, Bongani Masuku, a mid-level ANC operative, was found guilty by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission of deploying “hate speech” after he announced that any South African Jew who did not support the Palestinian cause “must not just be encouraged but forced to leave.” In his defense, Masuku might have pointed out that he was merely echoing similar sentiments to those expressed by Fatima Hajaig, the former deputy minister of foreign affairs, who claimed that “the control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money, and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”

In common with other countries where anti-Zionists angrily deny that their views are founded upon classical anti-Semitism, South Africa’s powerful anti-Israel lobby has a number of tame Jews at its disposal to serve as alibis. Foremost among them is Ronnie Kasrils, a former ANC minister who now devotes his time to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, elegantly described by my fellow Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari as “a self-appointed people’s court that has met periodically since 2009 to sit in judgment of Israel.” In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Kasrils laid out the South African anti-Zionist’s credo:

“…what is taking place in Palestine reminds us, South African freedom fighters, of what we suffered from. We are the beneficiaries of international solidarity and need to make a similar payback to others still struggling for liberation. Palestine is an example of a people who were dispossessed of land and birthright just like the indigenous people of South Africa.

As a Jew, I abhor the fact that the Zionist rulers of Israel/Palestine claim they are acting in the name of Jews everywhere. I am one of many Jews internationally, and in Israel itself, who declare ‘Not in my name.’”

Note the veneer of altruism in these comments, along with the insinuation that, as the first victims of an apartheid form of government, South Africans enjoy special privileges when it comes to franchising the term. But what Kasrils pointedly does not mention is that the ANC’s receptiveness to the apartheid analogy was established long before Nelson Mandela presided over the country’s transition to majority rule.

It was, in fact, the Soviet Union that established the analogy, by linking the Palestinian and black South African struggles in its propaganda. Those readers who can bear to revisit UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism, should note the awkwardly-worded observation that,

“…the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.”

The ANC, which always oriented itself to the Soviet bloc and still maintains a close relationship with the unapologetically Stalinist South African Communist Party, has not discarded this Soviet ideological baggage. That commitment, far more than any distinctive insights generated by the experience of living with apartheid in its South African homeland, explains why the country’s leaders are so willing to downplay the historic sufferings of their own people in order to batter Israel with the language of racism.

And it perhaps also explains why the BDS movement has failed in its bid to become a mass campaign with real impact. Instead, it has resigned itself to being a forum for assorted extreme leftists to pile moral opprobrium on Zionism and Israel. That is, when they are not paying tribute to Fidel Castro as a “revolutionary icon in the fight for freedom and equality.”

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Does Archbishop Tutu Endorse Holocaust Conspiracies?

Desmond Tutu, the outspoken South African Nobel laureate, has long lent his voice to the most virulent criticism of Israel and its policies. Many of the fiercest critics of Israel, however, bend over backwards to deny any animosity toward Jews. Indeed, they could claim they’ve even supped with Noam Chomsky before.

Tutu, however, seems to have let his animosity toward Israel sully him and tarnish the Nobel Prize he wields as a symbol of supposed moral authority. He is a long-time endorser of the Free Gaza movement, the organization which brought us the Gaza “flotilla” and any number of other protests and marches. Greta Berlin, the American co-founder of Free Gaza, recently tweeted, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Free Gaza has also, according to the Jerusalem Post, claimed that the Jews supported Hitler.

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Desmond Tutu, the outspoken South African Nobel laureate, has long lent his voice to the most virulent criticism of Israel and its policies. Many of the fiercest critics of Israel, however, bend over backwards to deny any animosity toward Jews. Indeed, they could claim they’ve even supped with Noam Chomsky before.

Tutu, however, seems to have let his animosity toward Israel sully him and tarnish the Nobel Prize he wields as a symbol of supposed moral authority. He is a long-time endorser of the Free Gaza movement, the organization which brought us the Gaza “flotilla” and any number of other protests and marches. Greta Berlin, the American co-founder of Free Gaza, recently tweeted, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Free Gaza has also, according to the Jerusalem Post, claimed that the Jews supported Hitler.

Over at The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead links to the Free Gaza movement’s list of endorsers, among them Noam Chomsky, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the city of Tromsø, Norway. Tutu’s endorsement is notable, however, given his Nobel Peace Prize. Tutu should not lend his name to hate and vile anti-Semitic conspiracies. That he continues to do so, and does not disassociate himself from the Free Gaza organization, suggests that he joins the multitude of Nobel Peace Prize embarrassments and exposes himself to be not a man of peace, but rather a man consumed with hate.

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First They Came For the Baha’is….

There is a common misconception that Iran’s restrictions on the right to worship freely apply only to members of the Baha’i religion. But while the Islamic republic has reserved the most vicious forms of persecution for the adherents of this gentle faith — whose numbers, according to some estimates, have dwindled from around 500,000 at the time of the 1979 revolution to just 150,000 now — the situation of Iranian Christians is little better.

Through its treatment of its Christian and Jewish minorities, Iran’s policies underscore that mythology behind the oft-heard claim that the followers of the “Abrahamic” faiths are accorded dignity and respect. Just last week, Iran’s millenarian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told an Islamic conference in Tehran that Islam is the only true religion, denying at the same time the divine provenance of both Judaism and Christianity. “My dear ones!” Ahmadinejad declared munificently, “Islam is a world religion and God has only one religion, that of Islam, he did not send Judaism or Christianity; Abraham was a harbinger of Islam, as were Moses and Jesus!”

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There is a common misconception that Iran’s restrictions on the right to worship freely apply only to members of the Baha’i religion. But while the Islamic republic has reserved the most vicious forms of persecution for the adherents of this gentle faith — whose numbers, according to some estimates, have dwindled from around 500,000 at the time of the 1979 revolution to just 150,000 now — the situation of Iranian Christians is little better.

Through its treatment of its Christian and Jewish minorities, Iran’s policies underscore that mythology behind the oft-heard claim that the followers of the “Abrahamic” faiths are accorded dignity and respect. Just last week, Iran’s millenarian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told an Islamic conference in Tehran that Islam is the only true religion, denying at the same time the divine provenance of both Judaism and Christianity. “My dear ones!” Ahmadinejad declared munificently, “Islam is a world religion and God has only one religion, that of Islam, he did not send Judaism or Christianity; Abraham was a harbinger of Islam, as were Moses and Jesus!”

The majority of Iran’s 300,000 Christians belong to established churches like the Armenian and the Assyrian; for the time being, their fate is to walk on eggshells around the regime, which means they can’t say or do anything that the mullahs might interpret as proselytizing. By contrast, it is open season on the followers of the smaller, evangelical denominations, all of whom risk being charged with the crime of moharebeh, or apostasy.

Arguably the best known victim of this charge is the 35 year-old Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who marked his 1,000th day of incarceration In Iran’s Lakan prison earlier this month. Nadarkhani, a leader of the evangelical Church of Iran who embraced Christianity as a child, has been given a choice: recant and return to Islam, or face the death sentence. So far, Nadarkhani has held firm.

Nadarkhani’s plight reflects a long-established pattern of harassment. In 1990, Pastor Hussein Soodman, like Nadarkhani a convert from Islam to Christianity, was executed after he repeatedly defied the regime’s insistence that he recant. Soodman’s execution set the tone for Iran’s future dealings with converts to Christianity; in the last year, as well as Nadarkhani, several other pastors have been locked behind by bars, charged with offenses ranging from “crimes against national security” to the life-threatening accusation of moharebeh.

What applies to these church leaders applies increasingly to their flocks. According to a report from ANS, a news service that highlights Christian persecution, Iranian Revolutionary Guards have closed down the Central Assembly of God Church in Tehran, along with a campsite that holds Bible study schools and conferences. In tandem, the regime has imposed the sorts of restrictions that will be familiar to those who remember the persecution of Jews in the old Soviet Union: prohibiting the distribution of the Bible and associated Christian literature; allowing only small numbers of worshippers to attend services; checking IDs before worshippers enter services, which is a surefire way of depleting attendance through fear; and preventing the conduct of services in the Farsi language.

A recent report on the treatment of Christian converts in Iran related the remark of an Iranian intelligence agent to the mother of two converts who were hauled away from their Tehran apartment for questioning: “Tell Jesus to come and rescue them.” One will probably not find a better statement of the regime’s true intent.

The reaction of western church leaders to the brazen demonization of Christianity in Iran has been typically nervous. Nadarkhani has been the subject of several press releases asking for clemency, but there is a clear reluctance to identify Iran’s strategy for what it is: the first stage of a campaign to eradicate Christianity from the country.

The “message of solidarity” issued by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu last month illustrates this problem well enough. Tutu, who is best known in recent years for franchising the word “apartheid” to adversaries of the State of Israel, was at pains to point out that the torture and imprisonment which Iranian Christians face does “not reflect the Muslim faith.” Given that the vast bulk of the 100 million Christians around the world facing persecution reside in Muslim countries, it would seem that the archbishop is denying himself a much-needed reality check. Should the Iranian regime carry out its commitment to execute Pastor Nadarkhani, Iranian Christians will need much more than Tutuesque platitudes to soothe their wretched existence.

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