Protests greet American university ban on Desmond Tutu

By staff writers
October 9, 2007

Students, academics, human rights campaigners and a Jewish peace group have protested loudly at the decision of the Catholic University of St Thomas, Minnesota, to cancel a campus visit by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, because he has criticized Israeli government policy.

St Thomas has received thousands of requests to reconsider its decision, say reports from the USA. The situation will now be discussed next week with Fr Dennis Dease, the university's president, explained a university spokesperson.

In a statement issued last week, Fr Dease defended his decision to oppose a plan by a local group to invite the South African cleric and activist in April 2008. University officials cited a speech Dr Tutu gave in 2002 comparing aspects of Israeli government treatment of Palestinians with apartheid in South Africa.

However Jewish Voice for Peace, a group based in Oakland, California, has helped organise a letter-writing campaign in support of Archbishop Tutu. Nearly 2,000 letters have been received by the principal so far.

The Jewish peace activists also want the reinstatement of lecturer Cris Toffolo as director of the school's peace and justice programme. Toffolo says her support for Tutu's visit was cited as a reason for her removal, but the university denies this.

Students have put up fliers on campus supporting Tutu. Dr Thomas Connery, a St Thomas communications professor and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, called the decision not to invite the Nobel Laureate "a mistake." Theology professor David Landry called it "very regrettable."

Mordecai Specktor, publisher and editor of the American Jewish World, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community in Minnesota, said: "The Jewish community can survive a speech by Archbishop Tutu."

Archbishop Tutu spoke in 2002 in Boston, USA, where he declared: “I have been very deeply distressed in all my visits to the Holy Land, how so much of what was taking place there reminded me so much of what used to happen to us blacks in apartheid South Africa.”

He cited the humiliation of Palestinians at road blocks, preventing them from getting medical treatment, the demolition of their homes and the censoring of media coverage.

“Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten the humiliation of wearing yellow arm bands with the Star of David? ... And have they turned their back on their profound noble and religious traditions?” he asked.

Dr Tutu stressed his deep respect for the Jewish people, but noted that critics of the government of Israel’s violence are immediately “dubbed anti-Semitic. As if the Palestinians were not Semitic too.”

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