South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has a long history of defaming Israel as an apartheid state, has come out publicly against the proposed legislation in some states to limit funding for state universities that carry out academic boycotts against Israel.
I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people.
By defending “those who speak their conscience,” Tutu is apparently expressing concern for the free speech rights of those who want to boycott Israeli academics. Defending free speech, of course, would be a noble position for Tutu to take – if only he applied it equally across the board.
But Tutu doesn’t really care about free speech at all. He cares only about harming Israel. Otherwise, he would have joined the 250 college presidents and 134 members of Congress who reject academic boycott as an affront to academic freedom. A true fighter for free speech would have, at least, railed against both measures.
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But not Tutu.
In fact, Tutu expresses strong support for the BDS movement, which he claims “exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave.”
Tutu is completely wrong about the motives of the BDS movement, which makes no pretense of seeking a two-state solution. But even if he were right, it would not justify his lack of support for “those who speak their conscience” in Israeli academies.
Freezing Israeli academics out of the free exchange of ideas harms both the academy and any chance for finding common ground that could lead to the “lasting peace” Tutu claims to be supporting.
Tutu’s two-faced position is similar to the one adopted by a group of pro-BDS academics who published a letter last month complaining about “accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”
So silencing Israeli academics, simply because they come from Israel, is fine. But to take any counter-measures is grave a violation of rights aimed at “punishing and intimidating” the boycotters.
It’s another reminder of what one BDS group said when caught using Israeli technology: “BDS is a tactic, not a principle.”