The Danger of Desmond

A Light Unto his Nation – a Dark Side to Jews

By David E. Kaplan

The recent passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa  presents a conundrum  – how could someone deservedly so loved and respected, referred to as “a moral compass” and the “conscience of the nation” be an antisemite?

It would seem unthinkable!

The Good and the Bad. The beloved late Archbishop Desmond Tutu internationally respected for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist also caused concern for his negative attitude to Jews.  

Tutu is only another in a long lineup of outstanding personalities who having contributed superlatively to making the world a better place but nevertheless expose this “other side”, this “dark side” – of antisemitism.

So how should Jews come to terms and relate to the legacies of legends?

To this day, Israelis  have a problem with the “genius” German composer Richard Wagner, who while revolutionising the course of music in the 19th century, remains controversial in the Jewish state not only because of his virulent antisemitism but the suggested impact of that hatred. Hitler’s favourite composer, the Fuhrer found Wagner’s music and world view – his antisemitism –  inspirational, begging the question:

What role did Wagner play in the cultural evolution towards the genocidal ‘Final solution’?

Struck a Chord. Hitler’s favourite composer, Richard Wagner, whose music and musings inspired the Nazi Fuhrer.

Jews are left with the question:

Can we separate the man from his art?

What of the Impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edward Degas, who were both vocal about their antisemitism and at the time of the Dreyfus affair, were proud to stand and be counted in the anti-Dreyfus camp? Less nuanced than Renoir, Degas’ hatred was so deep-rooted that that he once threw a model out of his studio, screaming at her that she was Jewish – she was in fact Protestant!  During the Dreyfus affair, Degas ended relationships with Jewish friends, including Ludovich Halevy, who had been like family to him.

Beneath and Beyond. Belying his ugly antisemitism, the unquestionable beauty of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Two Sisters (On the Terrace)’, 1881

The works of Renoir and Degas are wondrous; their impact on pushing the boundaries of late 19th century French art incomparable.

Should Jews boycott appreciating their art?

True Colours. Edgar Degas’ ‘Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint’  captures on canvas his understanding and passion for ballet. Just the opposite was his attitude to Jews who he despised and proudly stood at the time in the anti-Dreyfus camp during the infamous trial that exposed French antisemitism.

Platform of Popularity

Is there a more iconic American motor car than the Ford and yet its fonder was a notorious antisemite. Has it stopped anyone from buying a Ford vehicle?

Sitting around a campfire in 1919, a friend of Henry Ford records him addressing their group of fellow campers raging that:

 “all evil to Jews or to the Jewish capitalists…The Jews caused the war, the Jews caused the outbreak of thieving and robbery all over the country, the Jews caused the inefficiency of the navy…”

Fueling Antisemitism. The iconic American automobile engineer and manufacturer Henry Ford – known for changing the auto industry but also for using his immense power and influence to vilify Jewish people – poses in the driver’s seat of his latest model, outside the Ford factory in Detroit, Michigan, c. 1905.

In other words, the Jews are responsible for all the country’s ills.

That same year, Ford began publishing a series of articles that claimed of “a vast Jewish conspiracy” that “was infecting America”. The famed industrialist would then then go on to bound the articles into four volumes titled “The International Jew” and distributed half a million copies. As passionate a car-maker, he was as passionate in his hate for Jews.

As one of the most famous men in America, Henry Ford legitimised ideas that otherwise may have been given little authority.

Archbishop Tutu joins this list of impressive influencers in the impact they can have in creating negative mindsets against Jews. The reverence Tutu justly deserved in his struggle against Apartheid and his subsequent role in facilitating national reconciliation through his adept chairmanship of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, provided him a platform and a protection when it came to his vocal attacks on Jews.

This is what made him dangerous in life and no less today in death. In paying tribute to the celebrated esteemed icon, eulogies in the media and online, spared no effort to exploit this ‘heavenly’ masqueraded opportunity to convey the Archbishop’s animus towards the ‘collective Jew’ –  Jewish state of Israel.

Cognisant of the danger of a Tutu protected by his international acclaim and popularity, Jay Nordlinger – a senior editor of National Review and author of a ‘Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize’ – wrote in 2014: 

The most harmful of them [Nobel Laureates] is Desmond Tutu: because he is a South African hero who  for decades  has peddled the lie that Israel is an “apartheid state”. Coming from him, it is more harmful than from (the countless) others.”

The accusation of being an antisemite did nor seem to bother the Archbishop. Whenever so questioned, Tutu would flippantly respond with his two preferred stock answers:

  • Tough luck” 


  • My dentist’s name is Dr. Cohen

There is however one major difference between the mindset of a Wagner, Renoir, Degas and Ford and that of Archbishop Tutu – the intervening  Shoah!

Lost in Thought. From the man who said “The gas chambers made for a neater death” begs the question what was Archbishop Tutu truly thinking on his visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on 26 December 1989 (AFP)

It is doubtful that the nineteenth and early twenty century antisemites could have foreseen the Holocaust or predicted the impact of their animus in contributing to what was to follow. Tutu, on the other hand, had the benefit of hindsight and still could be so insensitive that on a visit in 1989 to Israel’s Holocaust memorial  – Yad Vashem – to say that the Nazis ought to be forgiven for their crimes to the Jewish people. Two thirds of European Jewry were wiped out in a methodic mass murder and at the memorial to their memory all the Archbishop could say was:

We pray for those who made it happen, forgive them and help us to forgive them, and help us so that we, in our turn, will not make others suffer.”

This, he said, was his “message” to the Israeli children and grandchildren of the murdered!

Where were the archbishop’s  prayers for the  six million victims, including 1.5 million murdered children?

Tutu’s behaviour baffled no less a fellow Nobel Peace Laurette, Elie Wiesel who said:

 “For anyone in Jerusalem, at Yad Vashem, to speak about forgiveness would be, in my view, a disturbing lack of sensitivity toward the Jewish victims and their survivors. I hope that was not the intention of Bishop Tutu.”

Clearly it was “the intention” otherwise how else do you explain Tutu saying that “The gas chambers made for a neater death” than Apartheid’s resettlement policies?

And for those who rush to ‘explain’ Tutu’s fulminations against Jews as ‘a perfectly understandable’ default position of viewing all perceived problems in the world through a South African lens, how do you excuse Tutu declaring back in 1984,that:

 “The Jews thought they had a monopoly on G-d” or his other insensitive observations:

  • Jews … think they have cornered the market on suffering
  • that Jews are “quick to yell ‘antisemitism
  •  that Jews display “an arrogance of power – because Jews have such a strong lobby in the United States.”

Tutu draws close to the antisemitic thinking of  Henry Ford when he expressed in April 2002 that:

People are scared in [America] to say wrong is wrong, because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin were all powerful, but, in the end, they bit the dust.”

Tutu did not talk here of an Israeli but a “Jewish” lobby and longingly predicts that in the end, the implied devious and “powerful, very powerful, ” Jewish power brokers will be crushed like their kindred spirits – Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. In the age-old tradition of antisemitic diatribe, what a despicable construct from the Archbishop designed to sow suspicion and foster hatred of Jews. All the worse in that the ‘voice’ behind this venom enjoyed the ‘moral’ authority of the South African Anglican church.

Written Proof. A letter written by Hitler’s favourite composer Richard Wagner in April 1869 to philosopher Edouard Schuré warning about “corrosive” Jewish influence on culture was auctioned in Jerusalem for $34,000.
Wagner wrote in this letter that Jewish assimilation into French society meant that it was harder to see that “corroding influence of the Jewish spirit on modern culture”.

Whichever way one tries to decipher these disturbing words, Tutu comes out “in his own words” an antisemite.

Beneath the beloved veneer of South Africa’s archbishop resided an unabashed enemy of the Jews and there lies the conundrum:

When famous personages, who contribute to mankind are acclaimed by an appreciative populace and then use their platform of popularity to turn on the Jews, are they to be revered or reviled?

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

10 thoughts on “The Danger of Desmond

  1. I asked the crowd to chant with me: “We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews.”

    My plea to the people of Israel is to see beyond the moment, to see beyond the anger at feeling perpetually under siege, to see a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist – a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign.

    It requires a mind-set shift. A mind-set shift that recognizes that attempting to perpetuate the current status quo is to damn future generations to violence and insecurity. A mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism.

    Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support.

    Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free.

    He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.

    Taken from an article given to HaAretz newspaper by Desmond Tutu in 2014

    1. All you quote Richelle from the Archbishop reinforces the writer’s conundrum. The positive verbiage in the Tutu quote does not negate the fact that he frequently expressed antipathy towards Jews using the most despicable parlance. This undermines his credibility and impartiality when it comes to Jews and Israel’s security. There lies the conundrum!

      Another famous Christian like Tutu, Martin Luther, defied his church’s authority on highly principled grounds, but look what he said about Jews: “Set fire to their synagogues or schools….”

  2. Richelle Shem Tov’s comment “One Thought on the Danger of Desmond” quotes from some of “The Arch’s” statements reflecting his views on the Israeli / Palestinian issue. Like the writer I strongly oppose the occupation, and was never a supporter of Netanyahu or his policies and a fervent supporter of peace with our Palestinian brothers. By politics are left of center – I voted for Mandela in our first elections and have always identified with just causes.
    I currently live here in Israel, but lived most of my life in Johannesburg, where we Jews were constantly exposed to the open hostility of the ruling ANC, the mainstream media, BDS who enjoy not only ANC support, but a host of other organizations like the “Media Review Network”, the Palestinian Solidarity Organization, Israel apartheid week, hosted on the campuses of universities around the country.
    If you Richelle would take the time to research these groups you might find more than an an undertone of not only anti-Israel sentiment, but open and unashamed anti-Semitism. These groups unlike the boycott movements of against the old apartheid regime of South Africa, whose call was never for the destruction of the country but only for regime change, call only for the destruction and demise of the State of Israel. A subtle difference and “The Arch” was in the forefront of that cry, and hardly concealed those feelings.
    Tutu sat on the board of the South Africa Holocaust Museum a position that justified his continued maligning of Israel and the Jews. He was a celebrated member of the “Elders” together with Mary Robinson, Kofi Anan and others well known for their bias and hostility.
    You might not remember him strutting around in his purple robes at that infamous “hate fest” in Durban in 2001. You might recall the “Russel Tribunal on Palestine” held in Cape Town in November 2011 described as “a charade of bias dressed up as impartiality” by a leading South African Jurist, where a gathering of some of the worlds best known anti-Semites gathered and amongst that lot was Tutu hobnobbing with the best of them.
    Being the “Icon” and world respected anti-apartheid warrior he knew only to well the value of the apartheid slur emanating from South Africa.

  3. I do appreciate the unexpected replies to my comment and respect all opinions. I will try and explain myself but not expect to alter differing points of veiw.

    Of course I do not agree with every expression coming from Desmond Tutu, or any other person – even those who I greatly admire. There was however much that I could identify with and at least understand.

    . It certainly cannot come as a surprise that a Jewess who grew up in apartheid South Africa and chose to make her home here is deeply disturbed and disappointed when finding herself again in the position of being part of a nation ruling over another. It should not come as a surprise that throughout the world there are so many people who care about human rights ( including many of our own Jewish people), who support the Palestinian cause – this surely does not make them anti-Semites. Anti-Semitism like all forms of racial hatred and prejudice is strongly to be condemned. We of all people, who have suffered throughout generations from the severest of racial hatred and have survived the Holocaust should stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer racial discrimination and especially those people who share this land with us.

    It is to be remembered that at one stage Israel supported the Apartheid regime in SA. Surely activists involved in the struggle against this regime will not forget, though hopefully will forgive. A people who have achieved freedom from the yolk of such a regime will surely sympathize with a people who still live under occupation –

    Yes I am well-informed and well understand the security problems and the enmity of our Arab neighbours. Am I naïve to believe that good will, especially from the ruling and occupying forces can enable a solution? At least there should be ongoing effort to attain such a goal; at least our behavior should have morality as a top priority.

    From this I try to make clear that I have no problem with my admiration of Desmond Tutu, though I repeat that I cannot pretend to know everything about him or to agree with all I do know.

    1. The writer left it an open question for the reader’s response to Tutu’s antisemitism to still “revere” him or be “reviled”. You have chosen to “revere” him and that is your free choice. Others may feel differently that even while respecting his positions are alarmed at his hateful characterizations of Jews, which emanating from such a highly esteemed and high profile international figure, is all the more dangerous in spreading the hatred of Jews and contributing to global antisemitism.

  4. Like you, Richelle, I do agree there was much that Tutu could be admired for, but being the man of such “moral integrity” his ongoing derogatory anti-Semitic remarks which were consistent over many years, (please see my letter to ‘The Arch’ written in 2014 below, there were others that I had published in mainstream media well before that date)
    Like you and many others I would like nothing better than to see a free and democratic Palestine. Something that I believe was possible over the years but for misguided leadership (on both sides), and an education system based on hatred instead of harmony, which was not the case here. However, a debate for another time.
    Israel’s support of South Africa was most certainly not supportive of the policies of the regime of the day. It was for expediency only. I was very friendly with a high-ranking Israeli Diplomat stationed in Pretoria and know that there was no support for apartheid. Also, the Israeli embassy at the time was a very low-key mission compared with what it is today.
    Richelle, living here perhaps you’re not aware of what the ANC has turned South Africa into. Traveling in the rural areas of SA one sees the degradation of the vast majority of the people condemned to a life of hopelessness, with an education system – to quote Tutu “was better under apartheid than the ANC”. Towns with raw sewerage running through the streets, intermittent water and electricity supply, while the ruling elite of the ANC drive around in their Aston Martins, Bentleys and dressed to the hilt in Gucci and Dior. The obscenity of the looting of the poor is beyond belief and unemployed youth running at almost 50%, and under the ANC of today nothing will change. So, I ask who is better off – the vast majority of South Africans or the Palestinians who still today, have attaining independence well within their grasp?

  5. As a footnote to my earlier post, you quote Israel’s support of apartheid SA.
    It may interest you to know that despite the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) – made up of ministers appointed by the President – created to ensure that weapons sales would be in line SA’s constitutional values. That saying, countries to whom weapons are sold must conform, respect and protect human rights and democracy.
    It was revealed as recently as last November that SA had been exporting arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both at war with Yemen, where the UN has estimated 85000 children killed in that conflict, to the value of almost US$720m
    According to “Open Secrets” South Africa has previously supplied arms to countries such as Rwanda, Syria, Zimbabwe, and Libya. As recently as 2020 Turkey has imported weapons from Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (a SA company) and it’s no secret about Turkey’s actions against its Kurdish population, and to date more than half a million civilians killed in the 11 year Syrian civil war.
    So Richelle, does this mean that SA supports the carnage in those countries mentioned? Or is it finance and expediency at play?

    1. Hello again Allen Wolman. It seems we are getting into an ongoing discussion here. Although I have lived away from SA for close on 60 years, my family lived there for many years and some still do. I’ve been kept up to date and have visited dozens of times. I like so many others have been deeply disappointed in much that is happening under the ANC rule but remembering well the Apartheid period am still aware of the difference.

      I must mention here that Israel has provided and does provide arms and military assistance to the worst possible regimes. I still think that whatever SA or other countries do, I cannot possibly condone what is happening under our rule in our own back yard in the occupied territories. I get the idea that this is also your opinion. However we have strayed from the original subject,

      Kind wishes to you and to David, who, though we may differ here and there, I feel is a friend.

      1. Richelle, indeed we have both strayed from the subject whilst trying to get our points across.
        My closing points being that as good an “Icon” as Tutu was there is another ugly side of this man of God and of all people those anti-Semitic (and that they were) should be widely publicized – as much as the sterling work he did.
        Remember Mark Anthony’s speech:
        “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
        I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
        The evil that men do lives after them;
        The good is oft interred with their bones”

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