“The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns,” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told Haaretz Thursday.
No, Mr. Archbishop, that is not the lesson of the Holocaust. Indeed, that is a lesson that could be drawn only by someone who either knows nothing about the Holocaust, or someone who is perfectly willing to contort it into a political cudgel at the expense of the actual lived experience of the Jews who were victimized by it. The Jews who perished in the Holocaust did not do so in spite of their many fences, walls, and guns. They were slaughtered, at least in part, because they lacked these things. There are other historical events which demonstrate that guns alone do not guarantee security. But the lesson of the Holocaust, for Jews at least, is that depending on the goodwill and magnanimity of the Gentile world alone will never give Jews security either.
Human rights are essential to security, I agree, and there will never be security in the Middle East as long as the human rights of any party is threatened. But human rights need to be defended -- so security is likewise essential to human rights. Jews simply aren't and never have been in a position where they can afford to stake their security on abstract appeals to human rights. To be perfectly blunt, the lesson of the Holocaust is that this discussion will only be viable when Jews have some big fucking tanks backing them up.
His next statement is also Holocaust related, lamenting that the Palestinians are the ones now paying the price for a European sin. Not only is the implied equivalency ("Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians.") appalling, but it also ignores the fact that the entire world, including Palestinians, were complicit in this massive crime against humanity -- and many non-Europeans, including Palestinians, actively helped enable it. I bow to nobody in demanding that Europe face up to its anti-Semitic legacy. But I absolutely refuse to let revisionists try and minimize the scope and gravity of the Holocaust by pretending like it was a provincial European affair. It is a sin that stained us all.
After that, Tutu makes the cliched complaint about how the big bad Jews are silencing him, then pivots to the classic "I'm a better Jew than the Jews are" claim:
He also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses.
“That is unfortunate, because my own positions are actually derived from the Torah. You know God created you in God’s image. And we have a God who is always biased in favor of the oppressed.”
Now, regardless of how we should react to it (e.g., irrespective of whether we should press to cancel Tutu's speeches), I think it is beyond clear that Archbishop Tutu does not hold egalitarian views towards Jews. That isn't to say that he consciously harbors hate in his heart for them. It does mean that he is completely blind to the notion of gentile privilege, is completely disinterested in viewing things from a Jewish perspective or taking our voice and experience seriously as something as valuable, and views it as an affront if anyone calls him on it or attempts to inform him that his views are not unimpeachable on the subject. This, of course, is an extremely common conceit and perhaps the heart of gentile privilege as it is now expressed -- an insistence that I am fair to the Jews, coupled with an absolute refusal to listen when Jews say that might not be true and a shrill insistence that any Jew who has the temerity to make the claim is the real bad guy in the equation. In other words, talking about anti-Semitism in the same sentence as Archbishop Tutu is perfectly justified. And what Tutu is depending on to deflect that accusation -- the knowledge that the "anti-Semitism card card" is a perfect trump in a world that fundamentally views Jewish claims with disdain -- is itself a manifestation of the disease.
Moving forward, Tutu expresses sympathy with the BDS campaign. I've already explained why this is likely to make the situation worse. I'll only note here that Tutu's expressive justification for sanctions ("[I]t gave hope to our people that the world cared. You know. That this was a form of identification.") puts at a strong risk of devolving into moral hatred -- something we're beginning to see already.
And finally, Tutu is asked about the Petah Tikva controversy, where several private Orthodox academies have refused to enroll Ethiopian children. Tutu merely said "I hope that your society will evolve." Justified words, if there was any indication that this was reflective of Israeli society writ large. But the contrary: while the behavior of these schools is flagrantly and unambiguously racist, the response of the Israeli government has been equally unambiguous condemnation: stripping the schools of all their funding and (per Prime Minister Netanyahu) decrying their behavior as "an attack on our morals, contradicting our ethos as a country, as a society, as Jews and as Israelis."