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Open Letter to Archbishop Tutu

Open Letter to Archbishop Tutu

The Arab/Israeli conflict is not a struggle against apartheid or occupation.


Dear Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

I write to you with a heavy heart.

You are a revered leader in South Africa, but recently have added your iconic voice to the campaign for sanctions against Israel.

Archbishop, I believe you are making a terrible mistake. Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace. The Talmud says: “The world stands on three things: justice, truth and peace.” These three values are inseparable. Archbishop, I am convinced that the sanctions campaign against Israel is morally repugnant because it is based on horrific and grotesquely false accusations against the Jewish people.

The truth, archbishop, is that Israel is simply not an apartheid state. In the State of Israel all citizens – Jew and Arab – are equal before the law. Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the myriad apartheid laws.

Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy with a free press and independent judiciary, and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its people, including its more than 1 million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections; there are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks. And, archbishop, that includes universities and opera houses.

Related Article: What Really Happened in the Middle East

The other untruth is the accusation of illegal occupation of Arab land. Like the apartheid libel, this is outrageously false. There is no nation that has a longer, deeper or more profound connection to its country than the Jewish people have to the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.

Archbishop, you and I as religious leaders always turn to the Bible as a source of truth. What does it mean that Israel is the “promised land”? It means, as we both know, that it was promised by God to the Jews – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise was first fulfilled by God more than 3,300 years ago, when Joshua led the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Since then there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the land, albeit small during the Roman exile.

Three thousand years ago, there was no London or Paris, no Washington or Moscow, but there was a Jerusalem, capital of a Jewish state.

All the books of the Old Testament – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. – describe the deep connection between the Jews and the land of Israel, including the West Bank, known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria – the area that contained the great cities of the two previous Jewish commonwealths, such as Jericho, Shiloh (where the Tabernacle stood for hundreds of years), Beit El (where Jacob had his vision of the ladder) and Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried with their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah).

Three thousand years ago, there was no London or Paris, no Washington or Moscow, no Pretoria or Cape Town, but there was a Jerusalem, capital of a Jewish state.

“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning... if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” Those words from Psalms are recited by Jews at every wedding. At every funeral, the statement of comfort given to the mourners refers to Zion and Jerusalem. Jews pray for Jerusalem three times a day, and also after every meal.

Archbishop, the Arab/Israeli conflict is not a struggle against apartheid or occupation. It is a century- long war against the very existence of Jews and a Jewish state in the Middle East. There have already been seven major Arab/Israeli wars since the birth of modern Israel.

Today the front includes an alliance between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, the latter now with 40,000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities. Iranian officers train Hizbullah forces, while Iran pursues nuclear weapons and openly declares its intention to wipe out Israel. Hamas, the terrorist Palestinian government in Gaza, sides with Iran and Hizbullah in rearming with the declared aim of destroying Israel.

Since 1967, one aspect of this century- long conflict has been the demand for a Palestinian state. In spite of the deep historical and religious roots of Jews in all of Israel, generations of Jewish leaders have been prepared, for the sake of peace, to give up ancestral and covenantal land to establish a Palestinian state.

So why has there not been peace? The ANC taught us you can’t make peace on your own. No matter how deeply the ANC was committed to a peaceful resolution of the South African conflict, until the National Party was prepared to accept that black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too, until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land, there will be no peace.

In 1948, the Jews accepted the UN resolution establishing a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, but the Arab world rejected it and five Arab countries invaded Israel to destroy it.

After that, the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967.

There was an opportunity then – every day for almost 20 years – to establish a Palestinian state. It never happened. And since then there have been numerous opportunities – each rejected by Arab leaders.

Why? Because this war has been more about the destruction of the Jewish state than about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even today, so-called moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

In 2000, the Palestinian leadership launched a massive wave of suicide bombers into Israel, leading to more than 1,300 civilian deaths and 10,000 injuries. Proportionately, such carnage in South Africa would mean more than 10,000 killed and over 80,000 injured! Israel erected a security fence with checkpoints to shield it from such attacks launched from the disputed territories.

Archbishop, you compare these checkpoints to apartheid South Africa. But they are not about pass laws, which don’t exist in Israel. The checkpoints are on the border between sovereign Israeli territory and the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza in order to keep civilians from being murdered, and have been very successful in doing so. These checkpoints – like those found in all airports – are there to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up innocent people.

Archbishop, do not bestow respectability on an immoral sanctions campaign that is an affront to truth and justice, which prevents peace and prolongs the terrible suffering of people on both sides of this painful conflict. Archbishop, let us pray for an end to all this agony, and for the fulfillment of the verse in Isaiah: “And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.

Published: November 6, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 68

(63) Anonymous, September 8, 2014 12:36 PM

Rabbi Goldstein wastes his decency on this devil,of a species unbeknown to humankind.

Why spoil my day, living in the same city as this monster/devil..just looking at his picture fills me with the hate I believe I am allowed to feel for this very evil animal

(62) Jeff in Toronto, June 27, 2013 2:58 PM

Tutu the Bigot

Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu is undoubtedly a bigot, however hard he tries (like so many others) to mask his antisemitism as anti-Israel politics.

He let his real feelings slip out, in a 2002 public speech in favour of divesting from Israel, when he said this about the American people: "People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful – very powerful." When he reprinted his speech, 3 years later, he slyly replaced his original reference to the "Jewish lobby" with the term "pro-Israel lobby."

That said, I do not believe he is an evil man; nor, as some writers have suggested here, the biggest bigot around. However, I think he is misguided. He makes the easy error of over-identifying with the Palestinians as fellow "oppressed underdogs", instead of recognizing that it is actually Israel which is the perpetually threatened and outnumbered nation in the region -- just as the Jewish People have ever been threatened and outnumbered in the Diaspora.

Rabbi Goldstein does well to remind Rev. Tutu to read his Bible, in order to recall the events and lessons of history. Sadly, Rev. Tutu is unlikely to respond.

(61) Dr. Dapo Sobomehin, June 23, 2013 4:59 PM

LOve Is The Answer!

Why in the world is so difficult for us to love? The simpliest thing on earth, we fail woefully. The world rather than taking care of the world with our resources, every nation, 195 nations. They all armed to the teeth with deady weapons to kill the people. Why is that? For God sake, we waste and waste our precious resources to decimate each other rather than making use of them to bring peace, to love and share. But, we kill and kill the people. God my country-Nigeria with resources, but kill the poor people. The beautiful state of Israel--armed with deadly weapons to kill. America, Russia, China, spent the resources belong to the people to develop weapons of mass destruction. Can we just stop it? Let us begin to love each other. It is as simple as breathing. Simple to love. Simple--simple and simple. Can we just stop killing each other? Stop it.

Josh Pactor, July 27, 2014 6:32 PM

To Dr. Sobomehin

The beautiful state of Israel is armed with deadly weapons to defend itself from the aggressions of the six hostile nations which threaten it (five of you take Egypt and Jordan who have signed peace treaties and add back Hamas-controlled areas of Palestinian territory) and have continued to threaten it since the partitioning agreement of 1948.

Peace will begin if, and ONLY if, all the people of the world, especially all Muslims and particularly all Palestinians recognize the literally God-given right for Israel--and Jews--to exist. Until that day, they will continue to wage a war of hate against Israel, and Israel will be forced to respond to the extent of preventing the attacks as much as possible.

Golda Meir once said that we do not hate the Palestinians, we hate that they force us to hurt their children. Nobody in Israel wants to see Palestinian children die. Nobody. In keeping with the tradition set by Joshua of Nun, the IDF takes great measures to prevent the accidental deaths of civilians. No sane person wants to see babies dead, especially knowing that they unleashed the attack which caused it. Israelis do not dance in the streets when Palestinian children die--can the same be said of Palestinians?

Archbishop Tutu is a great man who felt strongly about a terrible situation in South Africa. Nobody will argue that the former apartheid state there was monstrous. But Israel is not even a tiny bit like the old South Africa, for the reasons mentioned in the article above by Rabbi Goldstein. Please reread the article and understand Rabbi does not write with words of hate but of love and mutual respect.

You are right, Dr. Sobomehin, that love and respect ARE what will help bring peace. But the Palestinians will need to learn to love their own people more than they hate Israelis and Jews, or we will never see peace. Stop firing rockets so Israel can stop having to fight back!

(60) Beverly Margolis-Kurtin, August 20, 2012 2:48 AM

He claims to be a Christian?

Tutu has been a Jew hater for years. He has always hated Israel. Now all he does is act as a parrot using the Arab BIG LIES as his excuse for attempting to force Israel into what the people behind the BDS movement wants. Tutu is not a Christian if he can say the things he does. Archbishop? Where did he get that from, a Cracker Jacks box? As far as this Jewish woman is concerned, there is no difference between Tutu and Adolph Hitler and his bunch. The truth is that EVERY ARAB COUNTRY IS AS APARTHEID AS THEY CAN BE. NO OTHER RELIGION OTHER THAN ISLAM IS PERMITTED. JEWS AND CHRISTIANS ALONG WITH OTHER RELIGIONS ARE PROHIBITED. I'd LOVE to see Tutu try to open a church in any Arab country. THAT is apartheid.

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