Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Archbishop Tutu Sad To Say That Most Jews are Deranged

Anti-Apartheid hero and Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu took to the Tampa Bay Times to argue for a divestment campaign against Israel and, in particular, to chide the Jewish community for its widespread and fervent opposition to such programs. He declares that he has come to this decision "painfully." Well allow me to stipulate that my reply is "painful" as well: my continued belief that Archbishop Tutu "does not hold egalitarian views towards Jews." As that link will demonstrate, I do not see Archbishop Tutu as a first-time offender on this score. And his column here only reaffirms my initial judgment on the matter.

To put aside the obvious -- this is not because Archbishop Tutu is "critical of Israel". I am critical of Israel, almost everyone is critical of Israel in one way or another. Nor is it even his endorsement of BDS, though that position is inherently suspect in my eyes. No, it is the way he talks about and treats his "Jewish brothers and sisters" that is so troublesome. It is more than a denial of Jewish experiences, though it is that. It is a denial that Jewish voices matter. It is a presumption that Jews could not possibly have anything worth listening to, any concerns worth addressing, any interests needing defense. This was characteristic of the speech I critiqued in my other post, and it emerges here. It's simply too prevalent and too common in Christian outlooks towards Jews for me to overlook it.

The Archbishop describes his call for BDS as "painful". Why? One would hope it would be painful because he is aware of the depth of Jewish feeling on this issue, their sincere belief that BDS is antithetical to their liberation as a people and their free and equal standing in the global community. It would stem from knowledge of the long history of boycott campaigns targeted against Jewish institutions as a crucial component of anti-Semitic domination. It would come tied to a cognizance of the credibility deficit largely Christian institutions bring to the table when they seek to lecture Jews about matters of justice and equality. In short, it would take the widespread Jewish opposition to such plans seriously as legitimate questions of moral and political justice that deserve serious thought and consideration.

Instead, we get this:
I have reached this conclusion slowly and painfully. I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government. And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades.

In sum, it is painful for Archbishop Tutu to call for BDS because he knows it will hurt the feelings a group of people who are willfully deluding themselves about reality. At no point -- nowhere -- does Archbishop Tutu even gesture in a direction approaching an acknowledgment that Jews have anything worth saying at all on these questions. The sum total of the mainstream Jewish contribution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a sort of mass communal psychosis blinding them to the oppression of the Palestinian people.

When Archbishop Tutu sees that 1,200 Rabbis have signed onto letters urging opposition to various divestment proposals being forwarded in Christian churches, his thoughts are not "wow -- a community whose opinions I respect and who have long faced ingrained prejudice and hate believe a proposal I support reinscribes this history of prejudicial domination. I need to think carefully about that." Rather, his conclusion immediately jumps to "wow -- 1,200 Rabbis just outed themselves as delusional." They possess "blinders", they are "not yet ready to reckon" with reality -- a reality Archbishop Tutu is confident he can perceive without mainstream Jewish assistance or contribution.

These Rabbis, in Archbishop Tutu's perspective, are like the White liberals Martin Luther King critiqued from Birmingham Jail, who repeat the mantra that "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action." He misses an essential difference -- as Jews, we cannot say with confidence that we do agree with the goal being sought. We have no way of knowing what that goal really is. Is it one that treats Jews with respect? Is it one that respects their right to national self-determination and autonomy, not to mention safety and security? Is it one that acknowledges Jews have the right to act, advocate, and influence independent of what others think we should say? Is it one that fundamentally views Jews as equal? Christians have not earned the right to come to the table and simply demand that Jews accept their good faith on these questions. They certainly don't have the right to demand that Jews accept their absolute prerogative to determine, for Jews, what counts as a valid answer.

The White liberals did not (and did not claim to) have any credible fears regarding the desire or capacity of the civil rights movement to impinge on any serious rights- or justice-claims Whites might have in the reconstructed America. This is not the case when the question is Jews and the gentile world, including in the particular forum of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Plenty of people with plenty of power have explicit ideological commitments that would see Jews tossed into the sea. Plenty of others may well find such an outcome perfectly acceptable, and plenty more would be appalled but would not find themselves willing to stand up for Jews and stop it. Both the history of anti-Semitic oppression and the contemporary status of Jews in global society give us ample grounds to raise our own questions of justice and to demand more from our interlocutors than arrogant assertions of good intentions. The Palestinians are not the only people whose liberation remains "on the table".

It is because Archbishop Tutu is so committed to reducing Jewish voices to so much discordant noise that he gives short-shrift to how mainstream Jewish institutions approach this conflict in ways that are a far cry from "doing nothing and for standing aside." TULIP is obvious example. The OneVoice movement -- bitterly opposed by the BDS campaigners -- is another. The Abraham Fund would be a third. I could go on. More to the point, Jewish campaigners who are not enthusiastically playing the role of Herman Cain could have gone on. But one only sees those alternatives when one (a) recognizes that when the Jewish community speaks, their words are worth listening to and (b) that the Jewish community has valid, substantive, non-hypothetical concerns about justice, equality, and respect with respect to both the final resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the role of Christian players in it. Archbishop Tutu demonstrates no awareness of either, and so his stunted view of Jewish humanity leads him to a stunted view of the options before us beyond BDS.

Archbishop Tutu is a great hero in the anti-Apartheid movement. There is no questioning that, and I do not question that. He does not get to use that status to simply assume a sense of egalitarian respect towards Jews (any more than civil rights icons cannot be deeply sexist, or feminist reformers deeply racist). Archbishop Tutu offers nothing to demonstrate even a modicum of respect to Jewish perspectives other than a haughty assertion that he does, in fact, respect them. I have no obligation to accept his word, and I have compelling reasons not to. His credibility is zero with me. And until he demonstrates that Jewish protestations will be treated as anything more than an annoying buzzing in his ears, I'm not sure why I should accord his columns speaking about me any more respect than he gives to me.


PG said...

Is Jewish Voice for Peace not considered a "mainstream Jewish institution"?

David Schraub said...

Nope. See the "Herman Cain impersonators" post. I think they'd agree that they are generally rendered outside of the mainstream Jewish movement, though of course they are shocked and appalled by that fact.