[Marxism] Tutu banned from speaking at midwest college due to Israeli supporters' pressure

Ralph Johansen mdriscoll at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 5 23:50:25 MDT 2007

U. of St Thomas hosts Ann Coulter, but....

     Put off by his controversial words on Israel, the University of
     St. Thomas snubs a Nobel Laureate

A St. Paul, MN University snubs a Nobel Laureate
Banning Desmond Tutu
By Matt Snyders
City Pages, October 3, 2007


Is [South African Bishop Desmond Tutu] the face of anti-Semitism? The 
University of St. Thomas seems to think so. Back in April, when 
University of St. Thomas staffer Mike Klein informed his colleagues in 
the Justice and Peace Studies program that he'd succeeded in booking 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu for a campus appearance, the faculty buzzed in 
anticipation. For a program dedicated to fostering social change and 
nonviolence, there were few figures who embodied that vision more aptly 
than the world-renowned civil rights activist and Nobel Laureate.

Tutu's appearance slated for the spring of '08  was made possible by the 
university's partnership with PeaceJam International, a youth-centered 
project that taps Nobel Laureates to teach young adults about peace and 
justice. For four straight years, the Catholic university's St. Paul 
campus had played host to PeaceJam festivities featuring Nobel Peace 
Prize winners such as Rigoberta Mench Tum and Shirin Ebadi.

But in a move that still has faculty members shaking their heads in 
disbelief, St. Thomas administrators concerned that Tutu's appearance 
might offend local Jews told organizers that a visit from the archbishop 
was out of the question.

"We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be 
anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy," says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas's 
vice president for university and government relations. "We're not 
saying he's anti-Semitic. But he's compared the state of Israel to 
Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are 
hurtful to some members of the Jewish community."

St. Thomas officials made this inference after Hennes talked to Julie 
Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of 
Minnesota and the Dakotas.

"I told him that I'd run across some statements that were of concern to 
me," says Swiler. "In a 2002 speech in Boston, he made some comments 
that were especially hurtful."

During that speech, titled "Occupation Is Oppression," Tutu lambasted 
the Israeli government for its treatment of Palestinians in occupied 
territories. While a transcription clearly suggests his criticism was 
aimed at the Israeli government ("We don't criticize the Jewish people," 
he said during the speech. "We criticize, we will criticize when they 
need to be criticized, the government of Israel"), pro-Israeli 
organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America went on the 
offensive and protested campus appearances by Tutu, accusing him of 

Hennes says the input officials received from "the Jewish community" in 
this case was confined to Swiler and a few rabbis teaching within St. 
Thomas's Center for Jewish-Christian Learning. "I think there's a 
consensus in the Jewish community that his words were offensive," Swiler 

That was news to Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor within the Justice 
and Peace Studies program.

"As a Jew who experienced real anti-Semitism as a child, I'm deeply 
disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and 
silenced like this," he says. "I deeply resent the Israeli lobby trying 
to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice 
toIsrael and to all Jews."

The controversy didn't end there. Incensed at the administration's 
decision, Professor Cris Toffolochair of the Justice and Peace Studies 
program at the timesent Tutu a letter on May 24 informing him of the 
administration's decision. She also indicated her disagreement with the 
move and warned Tutu that he might be in for a smear campaign.

University brass caught wind of the letter, and on August 1, Tom Rochon, 
executive vice president of academic affairs, sent a letter of his own 
to Toffolo informing her that St. Thomas administrators had decided to 
revoke her position as chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program.

Asked about the reasoning behind the demotion, Rochon and Hennes decline 
to comment. Toffolo herself is hesitant to offer any statements about it 
due to the sensitivity of her situation, though she did confirm that her 
letter to Tutu was the catalyst for her demotion.

"This is pure bullshit," says Davidov. "As far as fighting for civil 
rights, I consider Tutu to be my brother. And I consider Cris Toffolo to 
be my sister. They're messing with my family here. If Columbia permits a 
Holocaust denier [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] to speak at 
their university, why are St. Thomas officials refusing to let Tutu, an 
apostle of nonviolence, speak at ours?"

Davidov and other professors maintain that the situation at St. Thomas 
is emblematic of a larger issue.

"What happened at the University of St. Thomas is not an isolated 
event," says Toffolo. "Until we have an honest debate about U.S.policy 
related to Israel, and about Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, 
the spiral of violence will continue."

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