Why we have removed the op-ed comparing Tutu to Hitler
I refer to an op-ed piece in the SAJR Online where Leon Reich, representative of Likud SA, writes a scathing, angry and heartfelt attack on (Archbishop Emeritus Desmond) Tutu’s approach to Israel, to Jews and to the rest of the world. In the article he compares Tutu to Hitler and to Stalin.
Whereas I am not sure that many Jews would ever mistake Tutu as being a friend of our people, or a fair and objective commentator on the subject, the article concerned me for the following reasons: Tutu is simply not Hitler and he is not Stalin. He might be many things, including anti-Semitic, but he is not responsible for the deaths of six million of our people. And comparing him as such is to denigrate the Holocaust and the brutality of the time.
We cannot allow others to do that and we certainly cannot do it ourselves. That period will always remain bitter and painful for us, and which loss will stay with us for generations to come. And whereas Reich might not have stated it as such, and might have had no intention of doing this, the article does allow for this broad comparison, which is not acceptable.
The fact that Tutu might have used the Nazi theme along with the comparison of Israel to an apartheid South Africa on multiple occasions himself, is not a reason for us to do so. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than Tutu does. It is what we stand for, it is what we strive for and it is who we are as a people.
At the same time I am uncomfortable by the swift and immediate criticism of the article by the Mail and Guardian and others. The question is if they are as quick to condemn Jessie Duarte (ANC deputy secretary-general) for her Nazi comparisons along with other who have done so.
At the same time the Jewish community was accused of curtailing freedom of speech when a schoolboy chose the wrong accessory. At that time we were blamed for stifling the very notion of a concept that is dear to the South African Constitution. They screamed for “freedom of speech and expression”, even if we disagreed with the gesture and message, whereas in this case there seems to be no discussion of this concept at all.
Freedom of speech it seems, belongs to everyone but us and we need to be aware and cautious that we don’t accept this as a given. And so, even though I believe that it is the correct decision, it is not an easy or comfortable one.
I believe that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves either. We are living in difficult and emotional times. The community is under threat and we have been let down by the likes of Tutu and so many others. It is no wonder that articles like the Reich one will be written with anger that he feels. In many respect it is frustration that we all feel.
As the SAJR, we have the responsibility to present all views in line with our broad editorial policy, but these views need to be expressed with respect and with dignity. That is what we strive for and that is who we are, as a paper, as a community and as a people.