Former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson, human rights lawyer Joel Joffe and singer Annie Lennox are among prominent people who have signed a petition in support of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, after he was labelled an anti-Semite for his views on Israel.
The petition, which counts some 1 600 signatures, states that the slur and calls for the Nobel Peace laureate to be removed as patron of the Holocaust centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg are “totally unacceptable”.
It was launched in response to an online petition initiated by the vice-chairman of the South African Zionist Federation David Hersch who decried Tutu’s criticism of Israeli policy.
The original petition said Tutu’s call for the Cape Town Opera Company not to perform in Israel and for academic institutions to cut ties with those in Israel were “only the most recent examples of Archbishop Tutu’s anti-Israeli behaviour”.
It went on to describe his support for sanctions against Israel as “morally repugnant”.
The counter-petition was launched by members of Open Shuhada Street, an activist organisation campaigning for rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
It said Tutu was “a most appropriate patron” of the Holocaust centres.
The petition also defended Tutu’s call to the opera company as “based on his firm belief in human rights and equality”.
The text added: “For his advocacy of non-violence and human rights Archbishop Tutu is an ideal patron for the Holocaust Centre because he reminds us that we have the strength and the duty to struggle against racism and violations of human rights at home and in every country around the world.
“To use the Holocaust in an attempt to deligitimise Tutu is to undermine its legacy and to insult the memory of its victims.
“To call him an anti-Semite, because he has attacked the policies of the Israeli government, is outrageous, renders the term meaningless and enfeebles the necessary efforts to defeat real anti-Semites and racists.” — Sapa