The Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, recently barred Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking on campus because of remarks about Israel that many Jews found offensive.
If the cancellation of Tutu had been an anomaly, the story would likely have quietly faded away. Instead, it is earning widespread news coverage and international condemnation because it fits into a broader pattern in which people critical of Israeli human-rights violations are either censored or self-censor because they fear being attacked for their views.
Dease seems to have been motivated by a genuine desire to avoid hurting Minnesota’s Jewish community. However, he ended up not only making a wrong and unethical decision, but also hurting Jews everywhere and harming hopes for a more-enlightened American attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For those of us who have seen the occupation up close, it is a searing experience filled with the humiliating treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, home demolitions with little warning, the arbitrary destruction of family farms and much worse. Tutu, who toured the occupied Palestinian territories, has not held back in his condemnation of these abuses, and his remarks have sometimes been harsh.
But Tutu’s credentials as a staunch defender of human rights are unimpeachable. He is one of our age’s great heroes, and most Jews, whether they agree with everything he says or not, believe he has every right to be heard. (MORE)