A profile in cowardice

St. Thomas administration behaved shamefully on Tutu’s speech.

Last week it was reported that the University of St. Thomas would not allow Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at their school. Tutu, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid in South Africa, was invited by a student group called PeaceJam. However, the St. Thomas administration decided that because Archbishop Tutu had in the past dared to draw a moral parallel between the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and apartheid in South Africa, he would not be welcome.

Archbishop Tutu has criticized the occupation of Palestinian lands and the demolition of their homes, and had aimed that criticism not at the Jewish people, but at the Israeli government. Former President Jimmy Carter has raised many of the same issues in recent years, and has also unfairly been labeled anti-Semitic.

According to University President the Rev. Dennis Dease, Tutu’s remarks had been “hurtful” to Jews. Setting aside this patronizing claim, we find it hypocritical that St. Thomas had no problem with playing host to Ann Coulter’s hate-speech, as the school did two years ago, but draws the line when a moral hero of 20th century expresses criticism of another country’s government.

We are encouraged by the fact that a number of students and faculty at St. Thomas have protested this decision, as have a number of Jewish groups who feel Tutu should be able to speak at St Thomas. The policies of Israel’s government should be no more exempt from criticism than the policies of China, or France, or the United States for that matter. This ham-handed stifling of debate won’t hurt Archbishop Tutu, but unfortunately it will prevent the student body at St. Thomas from hearing one of the world’s most respected voices on human rights, regardless of whether one agrees with his opinions about the Israeli government. A disgrace indeed.