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A Change of Mind on Tutu (by Allison Johnson)

posted by God's Politics

Two days after my blog post about the University of St. Thomas’ controversial decision to bar Archbishop Desmond Tutu from a speaking engagement on campus, a letter was sent to students, faculty, and staff on behalf of university president Father Dennis Dease. Not only did Dease reverse the decision, but he also personally and publicly apologized:

One of the strengths of a university is the opportunity that it provides to speak freely and to be open to other points of view on a wide variety of issues. And, I might add, to change our minds…. I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop. Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.

I believe Father Dease’s words come from the heart, and I commend him for doing the right thing. Words are powerful, whether we use them to express our beliefs or voice our dissent. For example, Jewish Voice for Peace organized nationwide to send 2,700 letters in protest of the university’s initial decision. Eighteen law school faculty members wrote a letter asking Tutu to be invited again, and St. Thomas’ Students for Justice and Peace coordinated students and staff to take action. Social justice organizing work can be isolating, tedious, and frustrating without measurable results. But in cases like this, where the action is clear and the message is unified, our efforts can lead to victory.

Allison Johnson is the policy and organizing assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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posted October 12, 2007 at 8:17 pm


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Mary Lou

posted October 12, 2007 at 8:46 pm

To me – this is the sign of true Christian leadership and humility – the ability to reconsider and change one’s mind. So often leaders stick to their decisions despite any kind of reasoning brought to bear. May this experience be a witness to all of grace and forbearance. I’m sure Tutu’s reception will be all the warmer for the effort. Shalom/Salaam to you all

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eileen fleming

posted October 12, 2007 at 11:20 pm

My email to Jewish Voice for Peace that was fowarded to the Catholic St. Thomas University
“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”-John 8:32
Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his courageous and fearless opposition against the South African apartheid system.
This year, Bishop Tutu nominated Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle blower of Israel’s WMD Program for the Nobel.
On April 30, 2007, in Jerusalem, Vanunu was convicted on 14 [out of 21] counts of violating a court order which denied his right to speak to foreign journalists in 2004 after his release from 18 years in jail for telling the world the truth that Israel was already nuclear in 1986. Vanunu was also convicted for traveling the few miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem when he hoped to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity, his first Christmas after being released from 18 years in jail [most of it in solitary] on April 21, 2004.
His appeal against a six month sentence in jail begins November 13, 2007.
Vanunu has spent the last three years under house arrest in Jerusalem forbidden to speak to the likes of me, but in 2006 he informed this civilian journalist, “This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the Media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity.
“The Dimona is 46 years old; reactors last 25 to 30 years. The Dimona has never been inspected and Israel has never signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty but all the Arab states have…Twenty years ago when I worked there they only produced when the air was blowing towards Jordan ten miles away. No one knows what is happening now.
“The Israelis have 200 atomic weapons and they accuse the Palestinians and Muslims of terrorism. The world needs to wake up and see the real terrorism is the occupation and the Palestinians have lived under that terror regime for 40 years.
“It’s very sad that Hilary Clinton went to the Jewish Wailing Wall and forgot the real crying wall is the Palestinian wall…the apartheid wall… the wall is not for defense, but to keep this conflict permanent.
“My human rights have been denied me because I am a Christian. When I was on trial I was treated just like a Palestinian; no human rights at all and cruel and unusual punishment, all because I told the truth. The only real way to worship is in loving one’s enemies. It was not easy to love my tormentors, it was only because I felt so much like Jesus crucified on the cross, and me crucified in prison, that I could do it. It was not ever easy. I have forgiven but not forgotten anything and I never will. In Israel, a life sentence is 25 years. Even murderers go free after 17. They imposed the same restrictions on me that Palestinians receive; no human rights at all.
“The only way to peace is peace; the only way is non-violence. The only answer to Israeli nuclear weapons, their aggression, occupation and oppression, the wall and refugee camps is to answer them with truth and a peace-full voice. When I became the spy for the world I did it all for the people of the world.
“If governments do not report the truth, if media does not report the truth, all we can do is follow our conscience. Daniel Ellsberg did, the woman from Enron did, and I did. The USA needs to wake up and see the truth that Israel is not a democracy unless you are a Jew.
“Israel is the only country in the Middle East where America can right now find WMD’s. America can also find where basic human rights have been denied Christians, right here in Israel.”
“When I decided to expose Israel’s nuclear weapons I acted out of conscience and to warn the world to prevent a nuclear holocaust. The Israeli media demonized me. They published many lies about me and Israel kept me totally isolated in prison for most of the 18 years. I am also regarded as a traitor because I was baptized a Christian. Israel is only a democracy if you are a Jew.”
In 2006, American Israeli, Jeff Halper, Founder and Coordinator of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and a Noble Peace Prize Nominee for 2006, informed me: “Israel is a not a democracy but is an Ethnocracy, meaning a country run and controlled by a national group with some democratic elements but set up with Jews in control and structured to keep them in control.”
Vanunu was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Marrakesh in 1954. When he was 9 years old the Zionists came and promised his family the stars and the moon; the land of milk and honey. Instead, the Vanunu’s were banished to the desert of Beersheba, a place with no Coke or Pepsi and the ice cream was just ice. Vanunu attended Yeshiva; the Jewish orthodox boarding school in the Old City where the mosque was empty for Palestinians had been banished from Beersheba.
He passed all his high school classes except for English and Hebrew studies. At eighteen years old, he had his mind and health checked by the Israeli army doctors and wanted to be a pilot. But he failed the hand-eye coordination test and was assigned to the Engineering Unit, where he learned about land mines, bridges, and explosives. Vanunu traveled freely as a soldier, and served in the occupied territories near Bethlehem.
In 2005 he informed me:”I felt how poor the people were under occupation and how they suffered without reason, except for the reason of injustice. In the 1970s, Israel built many fortresses and spent lots of money on equipment, but nothing on the people who were oppressed and under occupation. I got really mad and upset every time I thought about how much money they wasted, but I kept my mouth shut and kept it all to myself. After a year, I finished my training and was assigned to train more soldiers. For me it was all futility and waste; I saw these children become soldiers and thought, what a complete waste. When the Yom Kippur War broke out, soldiers with less than a month of training got called to go with me to the Jordan Valley. There weren’t enough trained troops, and we were lucky we didn’t see any fighting and got to return to base after three days. After a few months, we all went to Syria and the Golan Heights. When Kissinger coordinated the cease-fire, the Israeli army destroyed the area before leaving there. I was promoted to First Sergeant, and they wanted me to re-up. I said no.
“I began my studies at Tel Aviv University when I was twenty-one and this was the first time I met Palestinians as human beings. I began attending political demonstrations inside the university. I was all about equal human rights and respecting all others. By the time I was twenty-three, I began working at the Dimona. It was suppose to be a textile plant, but I was hired for the control room. At the time, I had no idea what it was in control of.”
After a year, Vanunu got bored with the routine job at the Dimona but stayed for the steady pay while he studied economics and became involved in university politics and helped establish a group of Palestinian and Jewish students for justice and peace. After six months, he got called in by security at the Dimona, questioned, warned and then threatened with fifteen years in prison if he didn’t stop his pro-Palestinian human rights university activities.
Vanunu didn’t stop. He graduated with a BA in philosophy and geography, and began to make plans to leave Israel. Because he was a good worker, he was cross trained in many departments and figured out what was really going on underground in the Negev Valley. Vanunu shot two rolls of film documenting the fact that Israel had gone nuclear, but did not develop them until many months later when he ended up in Sydney, Australia. One day, Vanunu, who for decades had now been a secular Jew and existentialist wandered into a social justice Anglican Church and felt at home. He shared his story of the Dimona with them, and met the church painter who claimed to be a freelance journalist and who wanted to make money on Vanunu’s story.
Vanunu insisted that all he wanted to do was prevent a nuclear holocaust.
It was only a few days prior to being abducted by the Mossad, that Vanunu was baptized a Christian. It was not until after his closed door trial and the start of 18 years in jail; that he began to read the New Testament. For a half hour, twice a day, he would recite the entire New Testament and begin all over again when he finished the Book of Revelation.
Vanunu told me, “I did this for myself, as well as for my captors–not so much the prison guards, but the ones who watched me on camera twenty-four hours a day. Once I covered up the camera that spied on me and was punished with one month in total solitary; no books no radio; there was never any contact with anyone anywhere. It was just them, watching me, constantly watching me. The Shen Beet, you know, like the FBI and the Mossad, like your CIA— they were watching me. They tortured me by keeping a light on in my cell constantly for two years. They told me it was because they were afraid I would commit suicide, and the oppressive camera was for my safety. They recruited the guards and other prisoners to irritate me and deprive me of sleep by making loud noises near my cell all night and all day.
“I chose to read them 1 Corinthians 13 [4-8] instead”:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with THE TRUTH! It always protects, it always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.
For the last three years, Mordecahi Vanunu’s speech and movement have been restricted under the British Mandate Emergency Regulations -a relic from the British Mandate period in Palestine-before the state of Israel was founded and replaced British rule. Nothing like it exists in any democracy in the world. When Vanunu was convicted, he joked, “Perhaps I should turn to the Queen or Tony Blair for justice.”
“On the day of the termination of the British Mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.” – May 14, 1948, The Declaration of the establishment of Israel
The Jewish prophet Micah said, “What does God require? He has told you o’man!
Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” -Micah 6:8
John Lennon sang, “Imagine All the People Sharing All the World.”
Imagine what a wonderful world it will be, when the Jewish State listens to its prophets.
Stopping a voice like Vanunu and Tutu’s from being heard is unjust and immoral.
Moreover, far from being a favor to the Jewish community, actions like this will only foment greater anti-Semitism. I strongly urge you to reverse this decision, let Tutu appear and reinstate Prof. Toffolo.
“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”-John 8:32 [end]

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Robert Alu

posted October 13, 2007 at 3:17 am

Well done Father Dease.
– Alu
Dar es Salaam

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Annie (UK)

posted October 13, 2007 at 6:58 pm

A sensible and mature decision.
I visited Auswitch in Poland earlier this year and more recently the Jewish ghetto in Venice. For a people who have suffered so much themselves it is hard to understand how the Israeli Government was such a strong military supporter of the evil apartheid regime in South Africa or continues to be so oppresive towards the Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians.

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posted October 14, 2007 at 7:44 am

Bishop Tutu has made many other disturbing statements. He has said that the basis of Apartheid comes from the Jewish temple.
He has blame America’s foreign policy on the power of the Jewish lobby.
It does not mean that Bishop Tutu should be banned. It does mean that he is an antisemtie. It is perfectly possible to an otherwise wonderful and perfect person and still be an antisemite. I don’t want to hear about his courageous stand agaisnt Aparthied. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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Annie (UK)

posted October 14, 2007 at 3:31 pm

I don’t think Bishop Tutu should be classified as anti-semitic because he is opposed to much of US foreign policy regarding their unquestioning support of Israel or because he is concerned about the treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians by the Israeli army and security forces. One can argue that theologically the OT does teach a type of apartheid or separateness for God’s chosen people and this was used by the Dutch Reformed Church to justify the cruel and oppresive treatment of black and coloured peoples in South Africa, a system in which Tutu grew up in and somehow came to faith. This evil apartheid policy was actively supported by the State of Israel selling arms to South Africa. However to their credit and at great personal risk many individual, mainly academic non-religious Jews, were in the forefront of the fight against apartheid and I’m sure Bishop Tutu would be the first to acknowledge their support.

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posted October 14, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Annie, I knew that someone was going to say exactly what you have just posted. Bishop Tutu is not an antisemite because he is opposed to American foreign policy or because he criticizes Israel. I never even said that. What makes him an antisemite is that he falls back on classic antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish power and influence. These are statements that could have come from David Duke.
You have completely misunderstood what you call the “Old” Testament. The Dutch Reformed Church has misused the “Old” Testament for its own purposes. You completely misunderstand the idea of the chosen people and what it means.
Your criticism is one-sided. Most Israelis support a Palestinian state beside Israel. They just need to beleive that their securtiy can be guaranteed if a Palestinian state is established.
Yes, I know that Israel wrongly supported South Africa. Yes, I have criticized that fact. You see I have never said that Israel cannot be criticized, but it should not be singled out and demonised either. Although, you ignored the fact that Israel had helped many African nations with its agricultureal and medical expertise.

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Rick Nowlin

posted October 14, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Most Israelis support a Palestinian state beside Israel. They just need to beleive that their securtiy can be guaranteed if a Palestinian state is established.
Most Christian Zionists couldn’t care less about the Palestinians, even though many of them are Christians.

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posted October 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm

The decision to invite Tutu to speak may have been the right one, but that doesn’t make it a victory, and I don’t believe that congratulations are in order.
I have great admiration for Tutu. But, even great men are capable of prejudice and bigotry. Invite him to speak, well and good. But hold him accountable for views that, IMO, give aid and comfort to anti-semitic extremists.

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Rick Nowlin

posted October 19, 2007 at 1:13 pm

But hold him accountable for views that, IMO, give aid and comfort to anti-semitic extremists.
Which are few indeed. The only substantial number of people who fall into that category are some of the Arabs — and that has everything to do with they way the feel that Israel has abused them.

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