Israel and the apartheid state-et tu Tutu?

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It has become fashionable to label Israel as an apartheid state. Bishop Tutu has been in the vanguard of this libel, together with his calls for boycotting Israel.

I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid years and witnessed first- hand the oppression, impoverishment, discrimination, humiliation and destruction of ‘non-white’ family life through social engineering. I remember the fear of police cracking down on dissent and their brutality in enforcing apartheid legislation.

While apartheid is a term currently used by political activists almost exclusively for Israel, it was based on laws that changed the lives of most South Africans. The most significant apartheid laws were the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (55) of 1949,which prohibited marriages between whites and other races, the Immorality Act (21) of 1950 that prohibited sexual relations between white and black people, the Population Registration Act (30) of 1950 that recorded every  person’s race, the Group Areas Act(41) of 1950 which forced all races to be separated into specially designated residential areas and the Suppression of Communism Act (44) of 1950 that outlawed communism which was vaguely and broadly defined to include any call for change. These apartheid  laws  were not exhaustive but formed the framework of South African society. Blacks were also subjected to the Jobs Reservation Act, the Separate Amenities Act and many other restrictions. I witnessed police spontaneously checking Black people’s passbooks and arresting  those who could not produce one or if it was out of date. I remember one incident when a Black woman I was talking to, was arrested when she went across the road to buy cigarettes. Her passbook was in her handbag at work. Those few minutes of going outside without her passbook landed her in jail. The police just happened to be there at that time.

Recently I visited Israel and whilst sitting on a bench outside the Haifa railway station, a large group of Arab women from a village came and sat on other benches, singing and arguing good naturedly. The arguments were about  two candidates up for election and there were many opinions among the noisy  but cheerful group.

A few days later I spoke to an Arab woman who came to clean an apartment where I stayed, as she did each week. She was well dressed, friendly and told me that she has a car and each year takes a holiday in Europe. In the same block of flats, there was an Arab judge and other Arab and Jewish residents. Nearby were upmarket restaurants and expensive residences, mostly owned by Arab Israelis. There are also Arab military commanders, diplomats, professors Israel. Such ethno-racial integration was unheard of in apartheid South Africa.


Israel is not a perfect society. Neither are Norway, Germany , Saudi Arabia, the USA , Syria  or Switzerland.  Or the Rainbow Nation-South Africa- for that matter. Talking to ordinary people-both Arabs and Jews-I found it puzzling that people like Archbishop Tutu refer to Israel as an ‘apartheid state’.  Tutu would surely know that many of the apartheid laws were remarkably similar to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which targeted Jews . Tutu would also be aware that nothing resembling those laws exists in Israel which he has visited. In fact, if he spoke to Ms Or Meidan, a black non-Jewish  student from Uganda who came to study in Israel and enlisted in the army, she would tell him she wanted to thank Israel for making her feel  part of the country and giving her opportunities. She operates an Iron Dome missile defence system.  Apartheid?

Or, if Tutu spoke to Col. Ghassan Alian, he would be informed  that this Arabic-speaking Druze has been  promoted to  commander of the elite Golani Brigade. Apartheid?

Or, perhaps Tutu does not know or care that the current top prize- winning medical graduate at the prestigious Technion is a  devout Muslim woman, Mais Ali-Saleh.  Apartheid?

Or he could speak to Arab members of the Knesset who do not hide their allegiance to Arafat and Abbas. Apartheid? He would also hear that the Arab deputy speaker of the Knesset  became the first citizen of the country whilst the president and speaker were overseas.  Apartheid?

Apartheid  was the official policy of post-1948 South Africa which was sympathetic to Nazi Germany for various reasons. Apartheid behaviour may exist in the crude South African way of the time, or in the deadly way of Nazi Germany. It exists in Europe with Roma people being discriminated against and who are literally thrown out of their homes and expelled. It exists in Norway with the Sami people. It  also exists in Brazil, in all Arab countries and in Asian countries like Australia, India and Malaysia. In the USA –‘the land of the free’- it also exists. In  post-apartheid South Africa, application forms still require the applicant to state his/her race. Yet the term ‘apartheid’ is falsified and only applied to the Jewish state.

Apartheid  may occur in subtle ways when Jewish institutions such as synagogues and Judaica stores in Germany are prominently guarded by police, highlighting the status of the Jew as ‘the other’. These police only guard Jewish buildings and are reminiscent of the Nazi guards outside Jewish stores in the 1930’s, though for different reasons.  Yet both highlight the Jew as the ‘other’ among the larger community.

Indeed, the  UNRWA as separate from the UNHCR, is a glaring example of organised apartheid. For Palestinians to have their own elitist UN refugee agency with its own separate definition of a refugee, a separate budget and de facto job reservation for Palestinians, makes it a glaring example of real, not imagined apartheid. These forms of apartheid do not seem to bother Tutu, let alone serious atrocities that occur worldwide. As a Christian cleric, it is more than puzzling why declining Christian populations in the Muslim world do not raise his attention. The kidnapping of hundreds  of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Islamists does not even raise a yawn.

Tutu may be referring to the security barrier when he calls Israel an apartheid state. However even that is puzzling as it has reduced deaths through terror by about 94%, which is its purpose.  While the security barrier is very effective in saving lives, German police throughout Germany are stationed at Jewish sites, also to save lives from possible terror attacks. The tragic events at the Jewish school in Toulouse or the beating up of a rabbi in a Berlin street, prove how essential such measures are. Yet no-one refers to Germany as an ‘apartheid state’ because of police guards singling out Jewish buildings. The assertion of Tutu’s ‘apartheid’ becomes  even more ridiculous as it does not affect Arab Israelis who can travel anywhere and on any roads alongside their fellow Israelis. Tutu indulges in mischievous misinformation.

As a Christian, Tutu would surely welcome the preservation and sanctity of life, even if sometimes inconvenient. Many clergy take vows of poverty to serve a higher cause though here we talk about life and death. On the otherhand Tutu has never had any words of condemnation or comfort for people like the Fogel family who were stabbed to death by Arab terrorists in their beds, including their three month old daughter who was decapitated in her cot. Tutu and his ilk are so obsessed with boycotting the Jewish state that he has forgotten , neglected or indeed corrupted his true Christian mission. Why else would he not lead his fellow Elders, to raise his voice loudly about the horrific slaughter in Syria? Why is he indifferent to the plight of Christians in Egypt and Iraq where churches are burned down and Christians assaulted and murdered?

Tutu has regrettably   disregarded his Christian mission and embraced dubious causes. He has rejected Christian love and instead chosen to promote baseless hatred-for that is what it is.

The Bible’s Ten Commandments which Tutu presumably believes  in,  specifically says that ‘you should not kill/murder’. Yet those that commit murder and those that fail/refuse to condemn it, profane God’s name.

If Tutu does not understand that, he may consider other commandments such as ‘ you shall not steal’ which is more than just the taking of goods you do not own. It also consists of stealing the livelihood of people through  boycotts.

Tutu might also give some thought to the other commandment of ‘not bearing false witness.’ His obsession and zealous mission to mislead the world about ‘apartheid Israel’ makes for some serious soul searching. As a Christian Archbishop, Tutu’s true mission presumably is to spread Christ’s message of love. On the otherhand Tutu may not believe that the Jews, especially those living in Israel, are part of the deal.

It would seem that Tutu ‘s Christianity is based on traditional anti-Judaic texts and beliefs.  He would be keenly aware of the blood libel in Matthew ( 27:24-25) which’ justified’ church inspired  pogroms,  ghettos, alienation and impoverishment  and which ultimately led to the Holocaust. Then there is also the Gospel of John which compares the Jews to Satan and the enemies of Jesus (7:1-9).

The Holocaust or Shoah, is often referred to as a Jewish tragedy. Tutu and his colleagues would be wise to also view the Shoah as a failure of Christianity and all it purports to stand for. Indeed, these and other texts need to be the basis of discussion in genuine interfaith dialogue for, they have left a pernicious residue that persists to this day.

In some ways, Tutu’s confusion is understandable. He simply cannot reconcile belief, faith, history and reality. In advocating boycotts and sanctions against the Jewish state, he uses his anti –apartheid credentials and Nobel  Peace Prize to re-invent himself. Apartheid as official policy in South Africa, for which Tutu was famously involved with, has afterall gone. South Africa’s current imperfections are not on his radar.

True, there is a huge poverty and violent crime problem, and Johannesburg   is sometimes referred to as the rape capital of the world but for Tutu these are not as important as demonising the Jewish state in a similar way to which the Gospel of John describes Jews. South Africa is no longer a trendy cause, yet neither are persecuted Christians in Egypt.  Tutu with his famous chuckle likes to be trendy .And trendy causes are boycotting Israel, vilifying and delegitimising the Jewish state regardless of rational thought or fairness. Populism with a chuckle is infectious.


Ironically, Jews are indeed an ‘apart’ kind of people, but not the way Tutu imagines. The word ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Ivri’ as ancient Jews were called, means ‘ to be on the otherside’; in other words, to be different and apart.

This difference is what Thomas Cahill and other writers have alluded to when they recognise the essential  Jewish contribution to civilization. Jews are deeply committed to the concept of ‘Tikkun Olam’ which strives to make the world a better place as Isaiah and other prophets envisaged.

Why on earth would Tutu engage in boycotting the Jewish state that brings rapid relief to disaster zones such as Haiti, the Philippines and Serbia? Or provides medical care to wounded and traumatised Syrians?

Tutu has corrupted the meaning of the word ’apartheid’ which was coined by the Nationalist Party of South Africa when it came to power in 1948. By doing so, he distorts and minimises the suffering of black people in South Africa.

In distorting the other meaning of Jews/Hebrews viz., being a ‘people that are different’, Tutu reportedly has said that” Jews are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards  which are used for other people.”  Ignoring the fact that this was a similar theme used by Hitler, it is also puzzling, since one of those  ‘peculiar’ Jews was Jesus. Has Tutu forgotten that Jesus was a Jew?

Tutu’s confusion- or hypocrisy -seems to want to have it both ways. Indeed, he eulogised Nelson Mandela by describing him as ’Christlike’, quickly adding that he was not blaspheming. Tutu profanes when it suits him.

Tutu also oversaw the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book for Southern Africa  which inserted anti -Jewish verses for the Easter Reproaches that incite hatred in the guise of prayer. No doubt these verses reflect the bood libel lines of Matthew which even conservative German Pope Benedict questioned as to their historical authenticity. More darkly, Tutu engages in populist  propaganda  to promote his cassock-disguising hatred . If he were objective, fair and true to his calling, surely he would not be silent when –despite withdrawing from Gaza-a third of Israel huddled in bomb shelters as rockets rained onto its towns.

Tutu says he reads the Bible each day. The Bible has much to say on justice such as the famous passage in Deuteronomy (16:18-20)”Justice, justice shall you pursue…”And where is Tutu?

Yet this man, who chuckles his way across the globe picking up awards, doctorates and prizes-twenty years after the fall of apartheid South Africa- is determined to steal the livelihood of Jews, Arabs and even Africans.

Tutu knows that clean water and irrigation technologies are life-giving essentials for his rural have-not black countrymen. That Israel is a world leader in such technologies is just tough luck. Disease and hunger trump the obsession with total boycotts against the Jewish state. Nor does he stop there. He also has been reported as saying that ‘gas chambers made for a neater death ‘ than apartheid. Chuckles cannot hide this crass and insensitive vulgarity.

Despite all  this, Tutu in 1998 was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2007 the Marion Doenhoff Prize for International Reconciliation and Understanding. Reconciliation and understanding-really?!

Perhaps Tutu has never moved on from the theology of Augustine, possibly the most important theologian following Paul. Augustine coined the term ‘eternal witness’  to describe his theology of  condemning the Jews  to impoverishment, homelessness and never to be loved.

The state of Israel however is the Jewish homeland, is prosperous and against all odds, thrives. In the last decade, it has won more Nobel prizes than Germany or France. Tutu would have great difficulties trying to reconcile Augustine with this reality. Hence the anger, hatred and obsession with boycotts.

In doing so, Tutu also breaks yet another commandment, ‘you shall not covet your neighbour’s house’, the basis of envy-in this case the envy of seeing the ‘peculiar’ post-holocaust people make a difference to the betterment of the world and all over the world.

In the 1980’s Tutu bravely saved a man from being lynched. Could he now as an Elder, have the courage and honesty to do some soul searching, to return to God’s ways as a genuine clergyman, and to think about his contribution to a better world rather than a populist world?


  Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Berlin-based clinical psychologist, writer and educator.


Israel and the apartheid state-et tu Tutu?

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