Desmond Tutu’s moral failures

He hated Jews and Israel, and abandoned black slaves throughout Africa.

Desmond Tutu. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Desmond Tutu. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Charles Jacobs and Ben Poser

Bishop Desmond Tutu deserves the flow of glowing eulogies celebrating his role in ending apartheid in South Africa, and his momentous work reconciling his black and white countrymen in its aftermath. He fearlessly stood up against racism and tyranny. He merits much praise for helping to achieve a peaceful end to the horror which was apartheid.

But an honest account of Tutu’s life cannot ignore two glaring moral flaws in his behavior: his hateful rhetoric against Jews and Israel, and the shameful shirking of his responsibility to protest against black slavery in Africa. Tutu’s sins must not be forgotten in the midst of the plentiful homage.

Attorney and emeritus Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has published a collection of the late bishop’s statements—slanders against Israel and classic curses against the Jewish people. Over the years, Tutu has said that:

  • The world is in the grips of the “powerful” and “scary” “Jewish lobby.”
  • The gas chambers the Nazis used to murder Jews during the Holocaust made for “a neater” death than those meted out to the black victims of apartheid.
  • Jews cling to an unjust “Monopoly of the Holocaust.”
  • Israel’s counter-terrorism policies are identical to South African apartheid, characterizing them as “things that even apartheid South Africa had not done.”
  • The “Jews thought they had a monopoly of God: Jesus was angry that they could [in the manner of apartheid] shut out other human beings.”
  • Zionism possesses “very many parallels with racism,” and Israel may one day “perpetrate genocide and exterminate all Palestinians.”
  • The Jews have always been “fighting against” and “opposed” to Christ while they “persecute others.”

Another Tutu critic, Professor David Bernstein of George Mason University, points to this stunning Tutu statement: “[W]hether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.” Tutu always denied that he was anti-Semitic—maintaining his dentist was a certain “Dr. Cohen”—but judging Jews differently from others is the very definition of anti-Semitism.

Tutu’s statements about Jews would be deemed “racist” if applied to any other people. They echo the basest of lethal hatreds. As a Christian bishop, Tutu should have been shamed for these statements. His statements about Israel are not simply untrue. As we know from history, such libels incite hatred, and—as we are seeing across the West—physical attacks.

But the bishop had another moral failure, less recognized and more surprising. While he was liberating the blacks of South Africa, he was ignoring and abandoning the plight of the blacks in North Africa who were enslaved—men, women and children who had been captured, bought, sold, bred and tortured in the Muslim-dominated nations of Sudan and Mauritania, a practice stemming directly from Islam’s history of jihad. Apartheid, as everyone learned, is terrible; slavery, as everyone can judge, is far worse.

During much of the period Tutu worked against racial discrimination in South Africa, the Islamic fundamentalist government of Sudan embarked on a self-declared, genocidal jihad that slaughtered at least 2.5 million Africans and, according to the U.S. State Department, enslaved perhaps 200,000 more. (There are still blacks in bondage in Sudan, at last estimate, 35,000.) While Tutu was emancipating South African blacks from apartheid, more than half a million blacks in Mauritania were, and still are, chattel slaves. At last count, according to CNN , as much as 20 percent of the country’s population is still in bondage. Tutu never once mentioned them.

Simon Deng, an escaped slave and a member of the Shilluk tribe of what is today South Sudan, called out Tutu for his silence. In 2007, after joining a protest against Tutu outside Boston’s Old South Church where the bishop was speaking against Israel, Deng addressed him directly in an op-ed:

“Bishop, when you used to dance for Mandela’s freedom, we Africans—all over Africa—joined in. Our support was key in your freedom. But when children in Burundi and Kinshasa, all the way to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and in particular in Sudan, cried and called for rescue, you heard but chose to be silent.”

Deng was enslaved at the age of 9 during an Arab raid on his Christian village and lived as a slave for three years, during which he was constantly beaten and called abid, the Arabic equivalent of the “N”-word.

“Today,” Deng continued, “black children are enslaved in Sudan. I was part of the movement to stop slavery in Mauritania, which just now abolished the practice. But you were not with us, Bishop Tutu.

“So where is Desmond Tutu when my people call out for freedom? Slaughter and genocide and slavery are lashing Africans right now. Where are you for Sudan, Bishop Tutu? You are busy attacking the Jewish state. Why?”

The immense good which is part of Tutu’s legacy should not be forgotten, but the rest of his biography should not be forgotten either—his anti-Semitism, and perhaps even more, how this African Christian leader abandoned modern-day Christian African slaves with his conspicuous silence.

Even today, as the world mourns this brave black liberator, African men, women and children—many of whom are Christians—continue to be enslaved in at least five African countries where Muslims and Arabs dominate: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria and Sudan.

Could there be a link between Tutu’s damning of Israel and the Jews and his silence in the face of the Islamists’ racist murder and enslavement of his own black people? Tutu’s public statements reveal a profound animus towards Jews and their state. On this issue, he and the Islamists were blood brothers. Perhaps Tutu could not overcome the cognitive dissonance of condemning the Islamists who share his deepest emotions about Jews.

Tutu may have been a hero, but he also represents a link in the centuries-old chain of Jew-haters. And as a liberator of black people, Bishop Tutu’s abandonment of today’s African slaves may seem even the more shocking flaw.

Charles Jacobs and Ben Poser are president and research director of the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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