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