Archbishop Desmond Tutu has died (this BBC “stellar” news report does not “report” whether it was today or yesterday). I had attended the Archbishop’s inauguration with my father, the late Rabbi Ben Isaacson, who had been friendly with Archbishop Tutu.
My father and I also took a gracious (and sumptuous) afternoon tea with the Archbishop decades back in his official residence in Cape Town. (These events are mentioned briefly in my 2011 book, Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa.)
However, the tracts being written about Tutu by American conservatives and neoconservative—and what a resurgence we are witnessing in this reflexive mindset!—are laughable. (Americans must refrain from writing about cultures that are not American; they are simply too insular and chauvinistic to shed anything but darkness on these matters.)
For example, the authors of Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream, reviewed years back by Jack Kerwick on FrontPage Magazine, had picked on Desmond Tutu as an example of black privilege in South Africa! Of all things. Again, this is as laughable as it is to bang on ignorantly and endlessly about Tutu’s criticism of Israel, as if that’s never valid or permissible.
It must be an authorial tic peculiar to neoconservatives, and applied to anyone with an anti-Israel position, for which Archbishop Tutu is famous. He also opposed the Bush travesty that was the war on Iraq. It is also typical of the neoconservative’s ahistoric approach, where a proposition or an idea (black privilege) is applied without context or nuance, to any and all annoying blacks (Tutu became that alright).
In truth, Tutu embodied the old-style, old-school African gentleman. The Archbishop grew up in wretched poverty, received—and gladly accepted—a decent education courtesy of the Church, and worked his ministry so hard as to reap the rewards. (In “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa,” I discuss the wonders done by the white-run churches in South Africa. What good equalizers were some schools in the old South Africa: Desmond Tutu, myself, and hundreds of thousands of other Africans, belong to the same alma mater: UNISA.)
Sure, Tutu was left-liberal and a critic of Israel and of neoconservative project (God bless him for that). But to me, as I said in “King Tut(u) Not So Terrific,” his impiety stems from never having piped up about the ethnic cleansing of rural whites, Afrikaners mostly, from the land in ways that beggar belief. Saint Mandela certainly remained mum about farm murders that are Shaka-Zulu worthy in grisliness.
And so, by the way, had our conservative and libertarian friends remained silent about farm murders until quite recently when talking about anti-white South Africa has become all the rage.
In any case, my meeting with the Archbishop Tutu was memorable. From that occasion I took away that Desmond Tutu was fond of my father and respectful of dad’s Jewish faith and scholarship. The two had a brief and lively exchange about a philosophical difference between Judaism and Christianity. My father was a redoubtable debater. Ditto Tutu. But both men were far better religious leaders than they were political activists, for which they, alas, became known.
UPDATE (12/28/021): In the tackiest manner, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, who is currently using his analytical prowess to justify forceful, aggressive vaccination, deployed a visit to a Fox News set on an unrelated matter, to libel the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As follows:
“The world is mourning Bishop Tutu, who just died the other day,” hissed Dershowitz. “Can I remind the world that although he did some good things, a lot of good things on apartheid, the man was a rampant antiSemite and bigot,” spewed Dershowitz.
“The man minimized the Holocaust. The man compared Israel to Nazi Germany. When we’re tearing down statues of Jefferson and Lincoln and Washington, let’s not build statues to a deeply, deeply flawed man, like Bishop Tutu. Let’s make sure that history remembers both the goods he did and the awful, awful bads that he did as well.”
Others on the Fox News panel looked on at the Dershowitz train wreck in horror. Aside his uncivilized and boorish timing, Dershowitz’ views are skewed. They are utterly Israel and Jewish-centric. Tutu was indeed pro-Palestinian, but this did not make him an anti-Semite. And he certainly was no “Holocaust minimizer,” what ever that means. As mentioned, I had visited with him with my rabbi father, who was friendly with the archbishop. Tutu was polite, warm and kind.
Far more illuminating and interesting than Dershowitz’ Israel compliance shtick is my account, in “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa,” of Israel’s friendship with Apartheid South Africa. Israel had refused to follow the West in isolating South Africa, and actively and productively—especially militarily—engaged with South Africa. Ronald Reagan tried the meeker form of “constructive engagement” before he was overridden by his Republican party, and told specifically that he was out of step in his wish to engage with South Africa, rather than punish her.
It’s not like Dershowitz ever met Tutu, but wait a sec, I had actually met the Archbishop, and even had the honor of attending his inauguration. Imagine! Mine is a real-life assessment that dares to fail the Israel First test. OMG!