Tutu's appearance—slated for the spring of '08—was made possible by the university's partnership with PeaceJam International, a youth-centered project that taps Nobel Laureates to teach young adults about peace and justice. For four straight years, the Catholic university's St. Paul campus had played host to PeaceJam festivities featuring Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Shirin Ebadi.Yes, that Desmond Tutu.
But in a move that still has faculty members shaking their heads in disbelief, St. Thomas administrators—concerned that Tutu's appearance might offend local Jews—told organizers that a visit from the archbishop was out of the question.
"We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy," says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas's vice president for university and government relations. "We're not saying he's anti-Semitic. But he's compared the state of Israel to Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are hurtful to some members of the Jewish community."
St. Thomas officials made this inference after Hennes talked to Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
"I told him that I'd run across some statements that were of concern to me," says Swiler. "In a 2002 speech in Boston, he made some comments that were especially hurtful."
During that speech, titled "Occupation Is Oppression," Tutu lambasted the Israeli government for its treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories. While a transcription clearly suggests his criticism was aimed at the Israeli government ("We don't criticize the Jewish people," he said during the speech. "We criticize, we will criticize when they need to be criticized, the government of Israel"), pro-Israeli organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America went on the offensive and protested campus appearances by Tutu, accusing him of anti-Semitism.
Update: See the "offensive" Tutu quote in the comments (thanks, Jose), and Juan Cole reminds us that:
Ann Coulter once said of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Coulter can speak at UST. But not Desmond Tutu.