[Marxism] Desmond Tutu, another victim of Zionist thought police

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Oct 4 07:07:01 MDT 2007

Desmond Tutu, Persona Non Grata

Last week’s visit by Iran’s president to Columbia University symbolized 
to many the openness of American higher education to hearing 
controversial ideas and individuals. An incident coming to light at the 
University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, illustrates that some speakers 
are denied campus platforms. In this case, the would-be speaker isn’t a 
Holocaust denier. Nor does he run a government that routinely denies 
basic civil rights to scholars, journalists or gay people.

The speaker barred at St. Thomas won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the prize for his nonviolent opposition 
to South Africa’s apartheid regime, was deemed unworthy of appearing at 
St. Thomas because of comments he made criticizing Israel — comments the 
university says were “hurtful” to some Jewish people. Further, the 
university demoted the director of the program that invited Tutu after 
she wrote a letter to him and others complaining about the revocation of 
the invitation. (She retains a tenured faculty job.)

While the incident happened several months ago, it has only just become 
public, when it was reported by City Pages, the alt-weekly in 
Minneapolis-St. Paul. The revoked invitation has some faculty members at 
the university seething.

“There isn’t any academic freedom here when this happens,” said Marv 
Davidov, an adjunct faculty member who has taught courses about 
nonviolence for 15 years at the university. “This is cowardice.”

Tutu was invited to the university through a program called PeaceJam 
International, which organizes conferences for high school students on 
issues related to peace. While the program is not officially a part of 
St. Thomas, many faculty members —- especially in the Justice and Peace 
Studies Program — are involved in it, and major speakers sometimes 
appear on the campus, reaching those at the university in addition to 
the high schoolers in the program. Tutu, invited through the Justice and 
Peace Studies Program, was to talk at St. Thomas about issues of peace 
and nonviolence and there was no expectation that his talk would focus 
on the Middle East.

Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at 
St. Thomas, said that when administrators were informed of the 
invitation, they did some research about Tutu, and found that some of 
his comments had been controversial. Then, the university consulted with 
some Jewish leaders, and concluded that Tutu had made remarks that had 
been “hurtful” to Jewish leaders.

“We had heard some criticism of him in the past that he had said things 
some people judged to be anti-Semitic. We talked to the Jewish Community 
Relations Council. We know a number of other people in the Jewish 
community, and they said that some of the things he said had been 
hurtful and there was a feeling — and this isn’t among all Jews — that 
he had said things that were hurtful to them,” Hennes said.

“We never made a judgment that he is anti-Semitic. We have not made that 
judgment. We have only been told by members of the Jewish community that 
his words have been hurtful,” Hennes said. He stressed that the 
university sought out the views of Jewish leaders, and that the 
revocation of the invitation was a university decision, and not one that 
was sought by anyone outside St. Thomas.

“We make decisions every day on a regular basis on whether to invite 
people to campus,” Hennes said. Asked if disqualifying people from 
speaking for being “hurtful” might block many speakers, he said, “That’s 
not the case at all. We have speakers on a wide variety of issues and 
interests, including sensitive issues within the Catholic church.” (St. 
Thomas is a Roman Catholic university.)

“I don’t think this squelches academic freedom,” he said. “We made one 
decision about an individual.”

The individual in question won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his 
work promoting equality in South Africa through nonviolent means. While 
St. Thomas doesn’t want him to speak, he has been honored by numerous 
American colleges with honorary degrees.

The comments by Tutu that appear to have set off scrutiny of the 
invitation came in a 2002 speech in Boston about Israel’s occupation of 
the West Bank. The Zionist Organization of America has criticized the 
speech and said that in it, Tutu campared Israel to Hitler. But a 
transcript of the speech raises questions about that interpretation. In 
the transcript, published by one of the groups that sponsored the 
lecture, Tutu is harshly critical of Israel’s government and of the 
pro-Israel lobby in the United States and expresses regret that some 
Jews in Israel and elsewhere do not identify with the oppression of 
Palestinians. But Tutu also explicitly talks about Israel’s right to 
exist within secure borders.

The transcript released by Sabeel, a Palestinian ecumenical group, does 
not show a direct comparison between Israel and Hitler. The mention of 
Hitler in the speech comes during a section in which Tutu urged the 
audience not to assume that the status quo lasts forever, and in which 
he urged those listening to challenge to “Jewish lobby” in the United 
States. “People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong 
because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This 
is God‘s world. For goodness sake, this is God‘s world. We live in a 
moral universe. 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.”

Davidov, the adjunct at St. Thomas, said he knew that some people were 
offended by such comments, but he rejected the idea that all Jews were 
offended. He noted that he is Jewish, and agrees with Tutu’s remarks and 
frequently criticizes Israel himself.

Cris Toffolo, an associate professor of political science and until 
recently director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program, questioned 
the idea that anyone who makes hurtful comments should be barred from 
speaking. “There are some things in the world that are just hard to talk 
about, but when you get past the hurt, you can get to the real issues, 
and explore those in a way that could move the world to a more just 
place,” she said.

Toffolo said she believed in the guidelines on controversial speakers 
distributed by the American Association of University Professors, an 
approach that says that controversy should never justify keeping away a 

She said that even if some find Tutu’s ideas offensive, that’s no reason 
to keep him from being heard. Exposing students to controversy, she 
said, doesn’t endorse any particular point of view. For example, her 
introductory political theory course, she assigns students to read an 
excerpt from Mein Kampf. Well aware that Hilter’s manifesto may be 
hurtful to Jews and others in the course, Toffolo said she has asked 
students how they feel about the assignment, and she’s been pleased that 
students find it valuable — and understand why the reading is included.

“They understand that this was part of the debate at that time and we 
need to know about it,” Toffolo said. “It’s only by confronting all of 
the realities that we can come to a deeper understanding of any period,” 
she said.

Toffolo said that she was informed that she was losing the directorship 
of the program she led, and received a negative evaluation, right after 
she spoke out against rescinding the Tutu invitation. She said that 
administrators were very clear with her about the relationship between 
their decision on her leadership of the program, and the invitation. 
(Hennes, the St. Thomas vice president, confirmed that Toffolo was 
removed as chair shortly after she defended the Tutu invitation, but he 
declined to say why she was removed, citing the confidentiality of 
personnel decisions.)

“It’s outrageous and it infringes on my academic freedom,” said Toffolo 
of the university’s decision to strip her of the program director’s 

While Toffolo’s work does not focus on the Middle East, she said that 
she saw what happened to her as part of a pattern in which professors 
who are critics of Israel face difficulty with their careers. “This case 
is interesting because there are so many faculty members running afoul 
because of their views on Israeli policy in the occupied territories or 
U.S. foreign policy in terms of Israel,” she said. “We need to be able 
to have serious discussions of these issues.”

— Scott Jaschik

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