A recent speaking tour about Israel brought me to South Africa, following a visit to Norway. Both countries are hostile environments when it comes to the Jewish state. In Norway, the three faculties of the Norwegian universities refused to host me, but student groups broke the boycott against pro-Israel speakers by inviting me to speak. In South Africa, the boycott held and I was precluded from speaking at any university.
The South African boycott against me, as an advocate for Israel, was spearheaded by a sitting judge named Dennis Davis, who aspires to serve on South Africa’s highest court and who authored an op ed in the Cape Times headlined “Dershowitz is not welcome here!” It was cosigned by a dozen other mainstream lawyers and academics strongly opposed to Israel.
I was originally invited to speak to the faculty and students at the University of Cape Town but Judge Davis pressured the school to make it impossible for me to appear. The University’s excuse was insufficient interest in my talk to warrant the heavy security my presence would have required. So instead I spoke off campus. More than 1,000 people including hundreds of students showed up for my talk. Another 1,000 people attended a second talk.
The justification offered by Davis for trying to censor me is that I have been critical of Bishop Desmond Tutu for calling Israel an Apartheid state and for accusing the Jewish people of being “arrogant,” “peculiar,” “claiming a monopoly” on God, and on the Holocaust. He also accused me of being opposed to peace and of supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, despite my long term support for the two-state solution and the end of the occupation. And he totally mischaracterized my views on torture, collective punishment and academic freedom. (For a full rebuttal to Davis’ pack of lies see my response in the Cape Times E-dition 3.28.11 and 3.31.11)
I am critical of Bishop Tutu’s call for boycotts against apartheid Israel, because it is a totally false charge. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that does not practice any form of apartheid: Jordan prohibits Jews from becoming citizens or owning land; Saudi Arabia practices gender apartheid; all Muslim countries engage in sexual orientation apartheid; Hamas is notorious for its anti-Christian apartheid; and the Palestinian Authority has said that “no Jew” will ever be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. Israel, on the other hand, is a racially diverse country in which Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, on university faculties and even in the Cabinet. The court that recently convicted Israel’s former president of rape included an Arab judge. Nothing like this ever happened in apartheid South Africa.
Indeed, Tutu’s South Africa, remains a far more segregated country today than Israel. Poor blacks live in segregated temporary settlements, and de facto apartheid can be seen throughout South Africa.
Moreover, the South African government, the African National Congress and Bishop Tutu himself have far worse human rights records than does Israel. They have supported some of the most despotic regimes in the world, simply because the despots who head these regimes in Libya, Iran, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, and the Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza–sided with their legitimate struggle against apartheid in years past.
Yet in a hypercritical display of double-standard immorality, they will never forgive Israel for its support of Dr. Klerk’s South Africa, despite the reality that most Arab and Muslim nations traded extensively with the apartheid regime. They demand a moral pass for serving as enablers of repression on the ground that these tyrants supported them, but they refuse to give Israel a pass for having supported a tyrannical regime that helped them during trying times.
Bishop Tutu’s call for a boycott against the Jewish state is hypocrisy at its worst. First, a boycott is the personification of collective punishment directed against all Israelis, regardless of their individual views or actions. Second, it singles out only Israel for a boycott, while encouraging “reconciliation” (and trade) with some of the world’s worst human rights offenders. Third, it hurts the poorest people mostly blacks in South Africa. Consider the recent boycott of Ben Gurion University by the University of Johannesburg, a boycott encouraged by Tutu. Ben Gurion has helped Johannesburg with research on water purification, which affects many poor South Africans. This joint research project which helps South Africa far more than Israel has now been ended because of the Tutu-inspired boycott.
Now Tutu has called for a worldwide cultural, academic and economic boycott against the Jewish state, a boycott reminiscent of the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods in the 1930s. The difference, of course, is that today a total boycott of Israeli products would include cell phones, Intel processors, numerous medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, and important environmental and agricultural innovations.
I’m proud of standing up against Bishop Tutu’s singular bigotry against the Jewish nations and the Jewish people. I will continue to do so until and unless he stop applying a double-standard to all things Jewish.
Yet I defend Tutu’s right and those of his sycophants such as Judge Davis to express their anti-Israel views. I would never try to censor them, as they have tried to censor me and others who express views supportive of Israel. The difference is I am not afraid of the truth, of debate or of the marketplace of ideas. Those, like Judge Davis, who tried to ban me from speaking on university campuses are clearly afraid to have all sides of the Arab-Israeli dispute aired. They have resorted to the age-old tactic employed by those who do not trust the public to make up their own minds: censorship of opposing views. That seems to be the approach taken by South African universities when it comes to Israel.
South Africa thus joins Norway as among the nations of the world most intolerant of pro Israel–even moderately pro Israel–views. In at least one respect, South Africa is even worse: one major university has imposed a formal academic boycott against an Israeli university, thanks to Bishop Tutu; and another university has succeeded in preventing its students from hearing a pro-Israel speaker on their campus, thanks to Judge Davis. But in another respect, South Africa is far better: its vibrant Jewish community is willing to fight back against those who would censor pro-Israel views.