Widgets Magazine


Desmond Tutu: Why I support the call for Stanford University to divest from the Israeli occupation

To the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU)

Nelson Mandela once said: “We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. Yet we would be less than human if we did so. It behooves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.”

This is exactly why I see it as my moral obligation to stand up for Palestinian rights and to support Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent efforts to gain freedom, justice and equality.

Struggles for freedom and justice are fraught with huge moral dilemmas. How can we commit ourselves to virtue – before its political triumph – when such commitment may lead to ostracism from our political allies and even our closest partners and friends? Are we willing to speak out for justice when the moral choice that we make for an oppressed community may invite phone calls from the powerful or when possible research funding will be withdrawn from us? When we say “Never again,” do we truly mean “never again” or do we mean “never again to us”?

It is always inspiring when young people inspire the rest of us and lead the way in promoting international law and human rights for all humans. I have supported several U.S. campus campaigns to divest University money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights.

Principled stands like this, supported by a fast-growing number of U.S. civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making. Based on the same principles, I support the call for Stanford University to divest from companies implicated in Israel’s brutal occupation and human rights violations.

No matter what detractors may allege, students pushing for divestment are doing the right thing. They are doing the moral thing. They are doing that which is incumbent on them as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity and support of their fellow human beings.

I have visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I have witnessed the racially-segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of nonviolent means – including boycotts and divestment – encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and as I write these words of encouragement for student divestment efforts, I am well aware that it was students, including Stanford students, who played a pioneering role in advocating for equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid.

The same issue of equality is what motivates today’s divestment movement, which tries to end Israel’s 45-year-long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, nonviolent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in South Africa in particular for its abuses.

To those who wrongly allege unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and the daily denial of basic rights and dignity.

It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government and call for divesting from its human rights violations but with hope – a hope that a better and more peaceful future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians.

True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute.

These students advocating today for divestment from Israel’s occupation are helping to pave that path to a just peace. I heartily endorse their divestment move, encourage them to stand firm on the side of what is right and urge others to follow their lead.

Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Emeritus and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner

  • Stanford Student

    To Desmond Tutu:

    I’m offended by how you characterize the Stanford students’ experience in relation to this bill as “the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own.” That’s belittling, and I think demonstrates how far removed you are from the discussion we are having on campus.

    That is not why I oppose this bill – because people disagree with me. I love that people disagree with me. Only though disagreement can people really start to critically think about how to best solve a problem and come up with actually positive solutions.

    What I oppose is when people pretend to be upset by a few investments that Stanford has made, and propose a bill to that effect, when in reality the target is not a few companies but the entire state of Israel. Your involvement in this issue, and your involvement in previous anti-Jewish and anti-Israel campaigns is evidence that this is not about Ahava, which manufactures soap and shampoo products using natural ingredients, but about Israel.

    I oppose this bill because it accuses me of racism, because as a policy decision it will not affect change, and because it places the blame for a long-running historical conflict on the state of Israel.

    Not once in your entire op-Ed did you acknowledge any terrorist attacks from Palestinians, or the numerous peace deals that were rejected by Palestinians. The historical anecdote that you have promoted here is entirely one-sided and THAT is why I’m offended.

    Your comparison of Israel with Apartheid South Africa, and your previous statements of “Israeli Apartheid,” mean that because I support Israel, I support Apartheid. That puts me in a box. That means that I am racist. That creates a binary where either you support racism, or you don’t support racism. And as a student, my University making that statement, and siding with your one-sided perspective is something that I greatly fear.

    (And frankly, the analogy has been condemned by everyone from the far right to the far left from South Africans, to Palestinians. http://spme.stanford.edu/scholarsspeakout.html )

    So no, this divestment bill and campaign is not unfair and offensive because it puts forth a different perspective. This campaign is unfair and offensive because it SILENCES my perspective. Because it accuses me of things that are blatantly false. And it makes a mockery of the undergraduate population by trying to mask an issue as being about companies when it is about a much more malicious campaign of delegitimization and boycott of the Jewish state.

    If your version of history, in which the entire Israeli/Palestinian conflict is due to Israel and the Jews, were to become signed into effect by the Stanford undergraduate senate, it would be a blow to all undergraduates who support democracy and dialogue.

  • Fill in the blank

    I’m pretty sure this is a form letter, sent by Tutu to any university or institution considering divestment. Considering that, does this really belong on the Daily’s Op-Ed page?

  • herbcaen

    Desmond Tutu has a Jewish problem-see below

    1) He has minimized the suffering of those murdered in the Holocaust by
    asserting that “the gas chambers” made for “a neater death” than did
    Apartheid. In other words, the Palestinians, who in his view are the
    victims of “Israeli Apartheid,” have suffered more than the
    victims of the Nazi Holocaust. He has complained of “the Jewish Monopoly
    of the Holocaust,” and has demanded that its victims must “forgive the
    Nazis for the Holocaust,” while refusing to forgive the “Jewish people”
    for “persecute[ing] others.”

    2) He has said that “the Jews thought they had a monopoly of God: Jesus
    was angry that they could shut out other human beings.” He has said that
    Jews have been “fighting against” and being “opposed to” his God. He
    has “compared the features of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem to
    the features of the apartheid system in South Africa.” He has complained
    that “the Jewish people with their traditions, religion and long
    history of persecution sometimes appear to have caused a refugee problem
    among others.”

    3) He has complained that Americans “are scared…to say wrong is wrong
    because the Jewish lobby is powerful—very powerful.” He has accused
    Jews—not Israelis—of exhibiting “an arrogance—the arrogance of power
    because Jews are a powerful lobby in this land and all kinds of people
    woo their support.”

    4) He has compared Israel to Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and
    Apartheid South Africa, saying that they too were once “very powerful”
    but they “bit the dust,” as will “unjust” Israel.

    5) Tutu has acknowledged having been frequently accused of being
    anti-Semitic,” to which he has offered two responses: “Tough luck;” and
    “my dentist’s name is Dr. Cohen.”

    6) he himself has called for the collective punishment of Jewish academics
    and businesses in Israel by demanding boycotts of all Jewish (but not
    Muslim or Christian) Israelis. (This call for an anti-Jewish boycott
    finds its roots in the Nazi “Kauft Nicht beim Juden” campaign of the

    7) When confronted with his double standard against Jews, he has justified
    it on phony theological grounds: “Whether Jews like it or not, they are a
    peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same
    standards which are used for other people.”

    Tutu hates both Jews and Zionists. He would be comfortable in the Nazi party if the Nazis could overcome their racial objection to Tutu

  • guest

    In the early 70s, Stanford finally bowed to student protests and divested itself from apartheid South Africa. It’s time to do the same with apartheid Israel.

  • DailyEIC

    I was initially a little skeptical as well, but this was written by Tutu specifically for Stanford students talking about the current divestment debate. He has written many letters to other universities about divestment and used similar language but to my knowledge this is not a form letter. Thanks for the question!

  • Nooper Jones

    wow, this is amazing! Inspiring words from an inspiring person.

  • StanfordAlum

    Sad that Mr. Tutu is using status and involvement in the anti-apartheid movement (which was a genuinely legitimate movement against a truly repressive government) to make a completely bogus and unfair comparison to the situation in Israel. Israelis want peace and have made numerous offers to Palestinians for peace, and for a state, side by side with Israel (read an excerpt from Bill Clinton’s autobiography about Arafats inexcusable and nonsensical denial of an Israeli offer for peace at Camp David in 2000: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/ClintonMyLife.html)
    Palestinians have responded with campaigns of terror. 100s of suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians, and 1000s of rocket attacks on Israeli towns. Israel has had no choice but to defend itself. The suffering of Palestinian civilians is sad, and hopefully will end soon. But this can only happen when PALESTINIAN leadership takes responsibility and is held accountable. How is Israel supposed to respond to Palestinian leadership (Hamas in Gaza) that doesn’t even recognize its right to exist and is blatantly and openly anti-semitic? (http://archive.adl.org/main_israel/hamas_own_words.htm) That launches rocket attacks on its people with abandon? That openly calls for war and declares its intentions are to take israel over “inch by inch”? (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2012/12/09/hamas-leader-calls-for-fight-against-israel.html)

    This is a blatantly one sided and biased piece that places all of the blame in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the lone, stable liberal democracy (and ally of the US) in the middle east. The BDS movement only encourages groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terror organizations by showing them that no matter what they do to deny peace, no matter what they do to attack israeli civilians, no matter what they do calling for “death to jews” or “death to america”, the world will turn a blind eye, and indeed, will blame Israel when it dares to impose any security measures to protect its civilians. Is Israel perfect? No, of course not. But boycotting Israel is absurd and is not the answer. Those who truly care about peace will hold Palestinians and their leadership accountable for their actions as well. They have had chance after chance for peace, and have answered with campaigns of terror. If Mr. Tutu cared about peace more than he hated Israel, he would Palestinian leadership accountable. I sincerely hope the ASSU doesn’t side with hatred. The BDS movement is about de-legitimizing Israel and rewarding terror. It isn’t about peace. Divestment from Israel will only embolden those that hate peace.

  • Ok then

    I think the “similar language” point was exactly what the poster above was getting at. The picture of a secretary simply filling in “Stanford” under “university name here” and getting Bishop Tutu to sign is a bit of a caricature, but clearly spot-on in this case.

    Here’s the question plainly. Let’s say the student senate has taken up a resolution about Roe v. Wade (wouldn’t be too surprising considering its current escapade into foreign affairs). Then let’s say another respected Nobel Peace Prize winner, like Mother Theresa when she was alive, were to submit to dozens of campuses a piece expounding the evils of abortion (like she proclaimed many times publicly), rearranging some text here and there and occasionally mentioning Stanford by name. Would the Daily publish it? If not, why not?

  • While I acknowledge that Tutu has written other letters to universities, I reiterate that I don’t think that is the case here. Before publishing the piece I did some basic searches to see if the language Tutu used in this letter was found on other sites or in other letters to universities, and as far as I can tell that was not the case. The tone is similar to much of Tutu’s writing on the subject of divestment, which he has covered in great depth over his lifetime, but I believe this letter was written independently and distinctly for Stanford. As for whether this was written by his secretary, I don’t think that’s something anyone would know.

    And as for the hypothetical, I think I would publish the piece, just like I would publish other articles submitted as op-eds that were relevant and well-written. Hope that answers your questions, thanks for reading.

  • alsoanalum

    ^ mr. collective punishment over here

  • quomodo

    “When we say “Never again,” do we truly mean “never again” or do we mean “never again to us”?”

    I am appalled that Tutu draws an analogy between the genocide of 6 million Jews and 5 million other human beings and the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Even if this treatment constituted apartheid (and it most certainly does not; see http://stanfordreview.org/article/labeling-israel-an-apartheid-state-is-offensive-incorrect-and-malicious/ ) it would not be equivalent to the horror suffered in the Shoah. Tutu’s reference to “never again,” rhetoric wholly associated with the Shoah, is determinedly inflammatory and anti-Semitic. To compare Israelis, many the descendants of Shoah survivors, to those that tortured, raped, starved, and murdered their parents, their grandparents, their people, is disgusting. This heinous parallel reeks of anti-Semitism.

    No matter your views on the situation, Israelis are clearly not committing genocide against Palestinians. Comparing this situation to the Shoah minimizes the experiences of the millions who suffered and died. Tutu’s rhetoric is hurtful, harmful, purposely inflammatory, and anti-Semitic.

    On a slightly different note, where is the outrage against Lebanon?

    “According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in “appalling social and economic conditions.” They labor under legal restrictions that bar them from employment in at least 25 professions, “including law, medicine, and engineering,” a system that relegates them to the black market for labor. And they are “still subject to a discriminatory law introduced in 2001 preventing them from registering property.”

    Israeli Arab Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and other commentators accuse Lebanon of practicing apartheid against Palestinian Arabs.” (Wikipedia)

    Why so much hate directed toward Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, and no condemnation of Lebanon, which unlike Israel, very clearly practices Apartheid against Palestinians?

  • South African

    DT: “I have visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories”

    Which would These Be?

    DT: “I have witnessed the racially-segregated roads and housing”

    That is a lie. There are no racially segregated roads and housing in Israel. Facilities are segregated by citizenship as in other countries.

    Miss Israel 2013 is Ethiopian. Hello?

    DT: “I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college”

    Gosh, and I have spent hours at San Francisco airport trying to attend college. How humiliating! 😛

    DT: “the daily denial of basic rights and dignity”

    How about we start with the PLO and Hamas, government of Gaza, both publicly accepting the right of Israel to exist — in Arabic?

    Tutu has a perspective problem. He thinks that because he came from a situation of unjust oppression that anyone claiming the same is a good guy. He is wrong.

    If the Palestinians were to put down their weapons, there would be no more war.
    If the Israelis were to put down their weapons, there would be no more Israel.

  • Chris Guiver

    “Which would These Be?”

    Educate yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Palestinian_Territories

    “That is a lie. There are no racially segregated roads and housing in Israel. Facilities are segregated by citizenship as in other countries.”

    Bull. Ever been to Jerusalem? Look me in the eye and tell me that an African migrant worker would be allowed to live in the same building as Haredim.

  • Chris Guiver

    So your point is that because Lebanon practices apartheid, it’s okay for Israel to do so as well?

  • quomodo


    1) Israel doesn’t practice apartheid — did you read the linked article???
    2) If Israel *did* practice apartheid, both Israel and Lebanon should face equal criticism for apartheid! But I only see Israel being criticized — where are all the articles in the Daily about the situation in Lebanon, all the protests against Lebanon, all the calls to divest from companies working/profiting from Lebanon, all the demonization of Lebanon?

  • Chris Guiver

    “1) Israel doesn’t practice apartheid — did you read the linked article???”

    Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Jimmy Carter disagree with you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid_in_Israel

    “2) If Israel *did* practice apartheid, both Israel and Lebanon should face equal criticism for apartheid! But I only see Israel being criticized — where are all the articles in the Daily about the situation in Lebanon, all the protests against Lebanon, all the calls to divest from companies working/profiting from Lebanon, all the demonization of Lebanon?”

    Israel practices apartheid, and the failings of other countries does not justify this fundamental breach of human rights. What if the United States had justified the way it treated homosexuals based on the way Iran and Saudi Arabia treated its gay population? Israel is an ally of the United States and claims to be a democracy. It is therefore held to a higher standard than Lebanon. If you want to start an initative calling for a divestment from companies working/profiting from Lebanon, you have my support.