Divestment at Berkeley: Tutu weighs in

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful letter in support of the student activists at U.C. Berkeley who are working to get their student Senate– and beyond that, hopefully, the wealthy University of California system as a whole– to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Tutu’s letter is important both because of the immense moral weight of his voice and because of its timing. Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Berkeley student Senate will be having a re-vote on the divestment decision, made necessary by the fact that an earlier 16-4 vote in favor of the divestment was vetoed by the Senate’s president.
Tutu’s letter was preceded by this one, also supporting the divestment campaign, that came from Naomi Klein. (Klein’s position on BDS has been evolving in a good direction, I think.)
Tutu wrote in his letter:

    I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
    In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
    The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.

Best of luck to all the pro-BDS activists at Berkeley on Wednesday!

7 thoughts on “Divestment at Berkeley: Tutu weighs in

  1. Jack

    Can anyone possibly question the authority or sincerity of Desmond Tutu to speak out on this issue and to call it what it is – apartheid? On my trip to the occupied West Bank, I saw the same things.

  2. Brother Thomas White

    How does Tutu do it?
    His country is being wiped out
    by AIDS and more than 3000 white
    farmers have been murdered since
    the end of apartheid. (Yes, 3000!)
    And still …. he seems to have lots of time
    to write letters to college kids encouraging them
    to join hopeless boycotts of Israel. Maybe, just maybe, if he asked Israel for some help in dealing with the truly monumental issues facing South Africa, he’d get something real accomplished.

  3. Yann

    Helena,
    Could you please explain to me why you think Klein’s position on BDS has been evolving?
    What do you think about Chomsky’s position on BDS?
    Thanks for all,

  4. vadim

    Yes mjm, funny that the HAMASbarista/ Hezbollista playbook reads almost exactly the same way (except they usually skip the “we rock” part of the litany since they have few achievements to brag about). Also, they tend to soft-pedal “everybody sucks” since global human rights standards -most especially their own- trivialize their grievances wrt israel.
    But “they suck” and “you suck” — well, they (you included) have those down pat!
    Take this post — CLASSIC “they suck”. Israel sucks, all day, every day. It never gets old!

  5. J K

    Really, vadim? What do you mean by “global human rights standards – most especially their own- trivialize their grievances wrt israel.”? Meaning that Israel does not commit the worst crimes in the world is just a variation of “everybody sucks.” Hezbollah and Hamas have certainly never committed crimes on the scale Israel has, so clearly it can’t mean that their grievances are trivial compared with Israel’s against them, it would be a great improvement if Israel behaved as well as Hamas and Hezbollah have. And Hezbollah has the notable achievement of driving an aggressor out. The reason why it never gets old is that, uh it is true that Israel abides by international law and morality rather worse than its opponents, just as the white South African government sucked worse than the ANC.

  6. vadim

    Hezbollah and Hamas have certainly never committed crimes on the scale Israel has
    JK I wont bother reciting the many war crimes committed by H&H ; HRW and Amnesty have already done so ( so too has the Goldstone report). unlike yourself I consider HAMAS and Hezbollah’s futile, endless wars of aggression against Israel, and their flagrant use of human shields to be crimes from which most others flow in this conflict. You’ll never see it that way I’m sure. I don’t expect to change the mind of someone with “Israel sucks’ tattoed on their eyelids.
    If he’s saying what I think, I’m closer to mjm’s position: that harping on who sucks and who doesn’t amounts to propaganda, not dialogue.

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