Wednesday, October 17, 2007

St. Thomas Recants Invites Bishop Tutu

Left: Protesters on behalf of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the exercise of the freedom of speech: We cannot express how relieved and elated we were when University of St. Thomas President, Father Dennis Dease, suddenly appeared in front of our banner today to tell us he had changed his mind and would be inviting Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak.

The president of the St. Thomas university changed his mind, but it's unclear whether the Nobel laureate will appear on campus.

Pressure on the University of St. Thomas began building the moment word got out that the school didn't want Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu speaking on its St. Paul campus.

The school was panned locally, nationally and internationally. There were local protests and a nationally known poet canceled an appearance at the university in support of Bishop Tutu.

Left: Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas University at St. Paul, Minneapolis.

The firestorm was enough to make St. Thomas' president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, change his mind. Rev. Dease wrote a letter to the St. Thomas community that was both an abrupt about-face and an invitation to the South African cleric and activist to speak at St. Thomas.
"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," Dease wrote. "Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do."
For the past four years, St. Thomas has served as the host for PeaceJam, a weekend event featuring a Nobel laureate. When Youthrive, the local affiliate for PeaceJam, approached St. Thomas with the news that it had invited the South African Anglican archbishop to speak, the Roman Catholic university decided not to host the event. St. Thomas officials said local Jewish leaders they consulted felt that Tutu had made offensive remarks in a 2002 speech about Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

Left: Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League.

However, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote a letter to Dease that said, "while Archbishop Tutu is not a friend of Israel, we do not believe he is an anti- Semite." Foxman added that Tutu should have been permitted to speak at St. Thomas.

When St. Thomas backed out as the PeaceJam host, Youthrive moved its April 11-13 event to Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Donna Gillen, executive director of Youthrive, said Tutu's schedule is full for that weekend, but she wouldn't rule out a St. Thomas appearance by Tutu.

Tutu's personal assistant in South Africa said the archbishop had not received an invitation and could not comment.

Left: Nobel peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Spokesperson, Doug Hennes, of St. Thomas U. said, Dease, looked at this thing very carefully over the past week, ever since the first story came out, and decided he made the wrong decision.

St. Thomas continued to feel the impact of the original Tutu decision when Lucille Clifton, a National Book Award-winning poet, canceled a visit to the university. Clifton, of Columbia, Md., had been invited to appear as part of a CommUNITY Week Celebration at St. Thomas.

Left: Lucille Clifton speaks at the 2004 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

In a letter to Lawrence Potter, head of the university's Office of Institutional Diversity, Clifton wrote:
"It is with deep regret that I must cancel my visit. ... I have spent my life trying to be a human of integrity and hope and peace; and I find it difficult to speak and model these things in light of the situation concerning Bishop Tutu."
When told of the university's change of heart, Clifton indicated that she might come in the spring if she was invited.

Marv Davidov, a peace activist who teaches at St. Thomas, said Dease had no choice. "He's a good guy; he made a terrible blunder, a mistake in judgment," Davidov said. In the early days of the cancellation of the occasion for Bishop Tutu to speak, Davidow, who is himself a Jew, said that the charge of anti-Semitism was being wielded falsely. He pointed out that he has suffered and knows what real anti-semitic behavior really is. He explicated that is was shameful that the university hued, Bishop Tutu, a man of peace, justice and reconciliation as a racist.

Davidov also wants Cris Toffolo reinstated as director of the university's justice and peace program. Toffolo, a tenured professor, pushed for the Tutu visit, remains on the faculty. She was removed from the chair of the department because of her support for Bishop Tutu.

Left: In the end analysis, the Apartheid system, the occupation, the incursions rests on military hardware produced in Israel and provided by western powers. The Wall/separation barrier merely makes concrete such "facts on the ground" more accurately. Jewish-only colonies control of land and natural resources is an obvious result. In building the wall, billions of US tax money is used to destroy hundreds of thousands of lives (human and other). 300,000 olive and other trees were uprooted to build parts of the wall.

"The decision on her remains the same," Hennes, the university spokesperson said. "She was removed for how she handled the Tutu situation. She was not removed because of any private or public disagreement." Ms. Toffolo wrote a letter to Bishop Tutu informing him of the decision to ban him from speaking and warned him about a possible smear campaign on his impeccable reputation as a chanpion of peace, justice and reconciliation.

Left: Women held for hours at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers.

Fr. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., was pressured into his original decision -- by local Jewish staff and community -- when he decided to ban Nobel Peace Prize winner and untiring warrior of nonviolence, Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from speaking on campus. But it is deeply gratifying that he found the wherewithal to change his mind after hearing from students, faculty, countless Jews and others throughout the country and around the world that he had made a tragic mistake.

In doing so, he rectified an unjust, embarrassing and shameful decision that would have been complicit in impugning the reputation and life’s work of a man who has given tirelessly to peacemaking, nonviolence and reconciliation. Bishop Tutu spearheaded the campaign to forgive the White minority Apartheid authorities in the name of reconciliation and a peaceful future.

Left: Israeli soldier searches a Palestinian child in the center of Hebron.

Criticism of the state of Israel is a crucially necessary but lacking matter that needs our focus so that we can galvanize effort around the world to bring peace and justice to the middle east region. Jews were the targets of one of the most horrendous acts of hatred in modern history we must urge them not to repeat similar crimes and to see beyond the limits of fear and dark memories.

Archbishop Tutu of South Africa is not an anti-Semite. He is not a purveyor of hate speech. He takes care to make the distinction that most moderate and thinking Jews ask non-Jews to make: between criticism of the Jewish people or their religion and criticism of the state and its repressive policies. Zionism is not the culmination of the Jewish people and all Zionists are not necessarily, Jews.

Left: Young school girls detained by an Israeli soldier.

Archbishop Tutu speaks about fear in the United States of criticizing Israel because of the power of the “Jewish lobby.” Granted, that term can be code for hatred of Jews and for loony conspiracy theories. But one would expect that even Jews might want to get beyond the coded language in favor of a certain reality. To pretend that a Jewish lobby does not exist and is not influential and well-organized is absurd. Just as it would be absurd to argue that there is no lobby for trial lawyers, gun owners and physicians. Nevertheless, if the Jewish community at large allows certain elements within it to smear figures like Bishop Tutu without corrective comment from more prudent quarters, then the community risks its credibility on larger, more important issues. The boy who cried wolf syndrome may take hold if good peaceful notables are vindictively, tainted as anti-semitic simply as a mechanism to hide the crimes of Israel.

Left: This situation is a classic one demanding a moral stance that
involves Boycotts and Divestment.

Israel is a major player in international politics. It receives inordinate amounts of U.S. military aid and financial support. It possesses an impressive army as well as nuclear weapons. However, our close ties to the Israeli regime has compromised our foreign policy in the middle east. Israel is involved in a brutal occupation of Palestinian territories. Its subjugation of another people behind a wall is no small contributing factor to the seemingly endless spiral of anger and frustration that marks life in this tiny corner of the Middle East. The US is often blamed for protecting Israel and supporting it materially and otherwise. Only pressure from without a la the boycott against South Africa can dislodge Israel from its detrimental path to both its citizens and the Palestinian people. As long as the US continues to shield and shelter Israel unconditionally, she will remain spoiled and refuse to see reason.

Left: Israeli soldier questions a mother and her children on their way from school at Qalandiya checkpoint.

There is not a single view among U.S., Israeli Jews or other Jews in the Diaspora about what should be done to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Some of the sharpest critics of the occupation and ethnic cleasing can be found among Israel’s Jewish citizenry and prominent Jews in the Diaspora. It is very important for the sake of peace that those views be aired, not silenced. And there is no better place than a campus of a university to foster thoughtful conversation around topics, while important to our citizenry and foreign affairs, that are kept hidden and which are made taboo.


Blogger bARABie said...

"Foxman added that Tutu should have been permitted to speak at St."

That is the ONLY thing that changed the father's mind.

October 18, 2007 at 12:19 AM  

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