Rabbi says petition to remove Tutu as patron is disrespectful

2011-01-14 11:33

It was wrong to call for the resignation of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a patron of the Holocaust Centre, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said today.

“In deference to Archbishop Tutu’s widely recognised leadership role in the struggle against apartheid and to his revered position in South Africa, it would be an act of disrespect to remove him as a patron,” Goldstein said.

“The Holocaust Centre, of which I am also a patron, is a vitally important institution in our country. The centre honours the memory of the 6 million Jewish martyrs, and educates thousands of South Africans in the vital lessons of the Holocaust – lessons of the horrific consequences of hatred and racism.”

The online petition to remove the Nobel laureate as patron of the centre was initiated by the vice-chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, David Hersch, who decried Tutu’s criticism of Israeli policy.

According to the petition, Tutu’s calls for the Cape Town Opera Company not to perform in Israel, and for academic institutions to cut ties with those in Israel, were “only the most recent examples of Archbishop Tutu’s anti-Israeli behaviour”.

It went on to describe his support for sanctions against Israel as “morally repugnant”.

A counterpetition in support of Tutu, launched by Open Shuhada Street, an activist organisation campaigning for rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories, was launched soon after.

The petition, which counts 1 600 signatures, including former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson, human rights lawyer Joel Joffe and singer Annie Lennox, states that calls for Tutu to be removed as patron of the Holocaust entres in Cape Town and Johannesburg are “totally unacceptable”.

It said Tutu was “a most appropriate patron” of the Holocaust centres.

The petition also defended Tutu’s call to the opera company as “based on his firm belief in human rights and equality”.

It recalled that on a visit to the Cape Town Holocaust Centre last December, Tutu said: “Visiting the Holocaust Centre was very painful, but it was an important reminder of past injustice. Whether it is the struggle against Nazi genocide or against apartheid, it is important for us to remember the history of oppression.”

Goldstein said the Holocaust Centre preached and teached sensitivity and commitment to human rights, tolerance and the dignity of all people, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

“For this holy and vital work to be disrupted by the divisive politics of the Middle East would be a real tragedy,” he said.

The correct approach “to the Archbishop’s unfair criticisms of Israel” would not be through protest action or petitions, but rather to engage with him “in a dignified and respectful manner” on the substance of the real issues “from a rational, intellectual and historical point of view”.

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