Suzie Dym
Suzie Dym Courtesy

Parents should keep their eyes open to what their kids may be learning about Desmond Tutu in schools in Israel and abroad – even (this from personal experience) in yeshiva.

US President Biden has called Tutu “a true servant of God” and has vowed that Desmond Tutu’s legacy will “echo throughout the ages.” Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, has chimed in that Tutu’s “legacy” will “resonate as a gift to all humanity.” When politicians use “legacy” language, this is a sure sign that educational programming is on its way, or already here, waiting to be instilled in our (your) children, who will hear about "the power of Desmond Tutu’s message of justice, equality, truth, and reconciliation as we confront racism and extremism in our time today” – to paraphrase President Biden.

The late Desmond Tutu did have a message of truth and justice and reconciliation, but not for Jews. His virtue existed, but it was markedly selective. When it came to Jews, his messaging changed entirely.

Don’t let your children be told otherwise, when your back is turned because you are at work and your child is being educated in your absence. If your children’s teachers present Desmond Tutu as an exemplary figure, don’t let it go. Take it up with them.

For example, some teachers, especially young ones, may not know or may not realize that the late Tutu said outrageous things about the Shoah. Tutu said publicly that under apartheid, “children were made to starve by deliberate government policy....You don’t need gas chambers: when you put children where there’s no food, gas chambers would make a neater death.”

In fact, apartheid was a deliberate government policy in South Africa which includes forced relocation of black people to Bantustan territory. However immoral and insufferable this was, which it was, it never caused millions of people to starve to death; this simply did not happen. Nor was there any deliberate government policy to starve children, or anyone to death. In contrast, there certainly was, without any doubt, a deliberate government policy, of the Nazis, to send Jews to their death, millions of them -- in gas chambers.

In addition to the above outright falsehood, Tutu also exercised a double standard – against Jews – as Professor Alan Dershowitz has pointed out. Dershowitz wrote that Tutu demanded of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims that they “forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust”. In contrast, Tutu himself refused to forgive the Jewish people for allegedly “persecute[ing] others”.

Tutu himself acknowledged being frequently accused of anti-Semitism. His attitude to the Jews proves that Tutu was not pro-human rights. He was a pro-black patriot, which is fine and good, but is not the same thing -- at all -- as being pro-human rights – if there is such a thing.

Tutu was a prolific and aggressive anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agitator. This too is part of his legacy. This will be faced only if ordinary people, and ordinary parents, insist that this be so. Modern cancel culture, including in American schools, ostensibly demands that all heroes need to be perfect otherwise they are not heroes. But the same standard is not being applied to anti-semites.

One reason why parental vigilance is important, is that Tutu was a brutal critic of Israel – the world’s only Jewish state. In actual fact, the State of Israel has never deliberately set out to mistreat “the Arab Palestinians”. Yet deliberately mistreating them is exactly what Israel and “the Jews” are daily, hourly, mass-accused of doing, by Israel’s mis-treaters. And this effort is triggered by the likes of Tutu and was bolstered by his unassailable legitimacy.

So letting your kids’ educators idolize Desmond Tutu, without, in the same breath, clearly pointing out that Tutu had big plusses but equally big minuses, is not just wrong, it is dangerous. For Israel, and for Diaspora Jewry.

Tutu will, in all probability, be canonized by educators energized by powerful influencers like US Presidents Carter and Obama and Biden and the Nobel Committee. Only your vigilance, as a citizen and as a parent, can change this. Slowly, painfully, and at best, partially.

Susie Dym is a spokesperson for Mattot Arim, an Israeli NGO working toward peace-for-peace since 1992