ST. PAUL, Minn.
A private Roman Catholic college in Minnesota has shelved plans to invite Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu to speak, fearing that his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will offend the Jewish community, a school official said.
University of St. Thomas officials had initially considered having the South African bishop address students in April, but comments in which he compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the plight of Blacks under South Africa’s apartheid regime were deemed too insulting by the local Jewish community, said Dough Hennes, vice president for university and government relations.
Tutu “has been critical of Israel and Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians, so we talked with people in the Jewish community and they said they believed it would be hurtful to the Jewish community, because of things he’s said,” Hennes said.
Hennes told local newspapers for stories Thursday that the university does not believe Tutu is anti-Semitic. But he cited a 2002 speech in which he said Tutu criticized “the Jewish lobby.” Hennes also said Jewish groups feel Tutu has compared the Israeli policy toward Palestinians to how Adolf Hitler treated Jews.
Julie Swiler, public affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said she told St. Thomas officials that Tutu’s remarks were hurtful to Jews.
Others criticized the decision to not have Tutu speak.
“I am Jewish, and stifling debate and dissent (and) criticism of Israel is a disservice to all Jews, the state of Israel and the American people,” said Marv Davidov, a peace activist and teacher at St. Thomas.
“This is a tragedy for the entire community of Minneapolis-St. Paul and indeed for the entire state of Minnesota,” said Ivan Suvanjieff, president and co-founder of Colorado-based PeaceJam, a nonprofit group which encourages young people to work for social change. “Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a towering moral arbiter of our day. He has worked tirelessly on a global basis in the name of human rights and all that is decent.”
Tutu will instead visit Metropolitan State University in St. Paul that month. said Donna Gillen, executive director of Youthdrive in Minnesota, PeaceJam’s Upper Midwest affiliate.
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