Israel’s trade with South Africa was about seven percent of America’s, less than a tenth of Japan’s, Germany’s, or England’s. But Tutu never threatened South African or American citizens of Japanese, German, or English extraction with punishment. Citizens of Arab nations supplied 99 percent of the one resource without which apartheid South Africa could not have existed: oil. Tutu made countless inflammatory remarks about Israel’s weapons sales to South Africa (mainly of naval patrol boats) but said almost nothing about South Africa’s main Western arms supplier, France, which built two of South Africa’s three nuclear reactors – the third being American. He was also silent about Jordan’s sale of tanks and missiles to the apartheid regime.
Tutu’s insistence on applying a double standard to Jews may explain an otherwise mysterious feature of his anti-Israel rhetoric. He once asked Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eliahu Lankin, “how it was possible that the Jews, who had suffered so much persecution, could oppress other people.” On another occasion, he expressed dismay “that Israel, with the kind of history her people have experienced, should make refugees [actually she didn’t] of others.”
In other words, Jews, according to Tutu, have a duty to behave particularly well because Jews have suffered so much persecution. The mad corollary of this proposition is that the descendants of those who have not been persecuted do not have a special duty to behave well, and the descendants of the persecutors can be excused altogether for behavior it would be hard to excuse in other people. This may explain not only Tutu’s decision to pray for the Nazis while berating the descendants of their victims, but also his long and ardent devotion to the PLO, whose leader, Yasir Arafat, was both the biological relative and spiritual descendant of Haj Amin el-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who actively collaborated with Hitler in the destruction of European Jewry.
Rabbinical tradition, however, provides a simpler explanation of Tutu’s eagerness to “forgive” the Nazis while excoriating the descendants of their victims: “Whoever is merciful to the cruel,” the rabbis warn, “will end by being indifferent to the innocent.”
Edward Alexander’s most recent book is “The Jewish Wars” (Transaction Publishers, 2010).