James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Monday, October 15, 2007

Missed message on St. Thomas and Tutu

The most dangerous divide in the USA today, and the greatest mark of its sickness, is not between the extreme right and what the corporate press wrongly calls the extreme left but between the country's rulers and its citizens.

We had a great case in point in Minnesota recently, and though the story got national and even international attention, not a single one of the big-name columnists or talking heads picked up on that deepest element.

The people in power obviously, and to our great detriment, missed the point entirely, and that seems to include those few who might actually care.

You could hardly have avoided the story. The Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic school, canceled a scheduled appearance at the university by Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican bishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Dease also demoted Cris Toffolo, director of the school's justice and peace program, because she was the primary mover behind inviting Tutu.

The reason for his actions, Dease said, was that “some elements” of the Jewish community indicated to him that Tutu's appearance would be “hurtful” to that community because of antisemitic statements the bishop has made and positions he has taken against Israel.

Yeah, right.

It was long ago demonstrated beyond any possible doubt that the accusations against Tutu were false, part of a campaign of lies by a right wing Zionist group in this country which regularly attacks anyone who makes serious criticism of Israel's government or its policies. It acts with the same viciousness and lack of concern for truth that characterizes the Bush administration.

A great many people, aside from Dease, are aware of that, just as they are aware of the falseness of the same crowd's smear campaign against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Dease and his university took a whupping. The news media, at least the print outlets, howled. In very short order, the school, its president and officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis received a couple thousand emails and letters protesting the treatment of Tutu. The university's faculty called foul.

A substantial number of the letters and emails were written by Jews who no longer buy into the belief that any criticism of Israel is clear proof of antisemitism. Leaders of some Jewish organizations and the Jewish press chimed in on the side of reversing Dease's decision.

Dease caved – to a point. He admitted he'd made an error. When he canceled Tutu, he said, “I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.”

One would normally assume that a person in a position such as Dease's would be careful about facts and decisions, but, obviously, he operated under the old American understanding: If a single person calls antisemitism, you capitulate without another thought.

Awakened to the new reality, he restored the invitation to Tutu, but it's unlikely the offer will be accepted. A third-tier public school, Metropolitan State University, grabbed the bishop quickly when Dease showed stupid. Tutu's staff said the bishop probably won't have time to appear at St. Thomas, too.

Dease declined to restore Toffolo as director of the program she had headed, however, claiming she was knocked down because of “how she handled” the invitation to Tutu. The subtext there is that she didn't seek his permission first, and that permission would not been have been granted. (Let's keep these things under our hat, so the public won't get wind of our stupidities and hypocrisy.)

But here's the real lesson: The American public, including a very substantial segment of our Jewish population, have grown extremely skeptical of the knee-jerk accusations of antisemitism every time Israel's right-wing rulers are criticized. Awareness of the brutality of that country's government toward its Palestinian citizens and neighbors is now common. The lies and false accusations, as with Tutu and Carter, have been widely recognized.

Then, too, most of the sentient segment of the American public, Jewish and not, has become aware that there are great concerns and substantial dissent to the right wing rulers in Israel itself. Israel's population is no more of one mind than is ours. It has become clear that when a big percentage of the Israeli public is against the actions of their government (just as here), the smart thing is to start looking at what might be wrong with that government and its policies.

And here's the divide: Our rulers steadfastly refuse to recognize the truths that much of the American public has come or is coming to know.

In the phony “debates” of presidential candidates of both wings of the Corporate Party, perhaps the only position that has produced boot licking fealty from almost all candidates, and certainly from all of those seriously in the running, is utter, unquestioning devotion to the Israeli government. (They say "Israel," but, as mentioned above, there are many political positions in Israel that American politicians decline to recognize. American politicians are unconditionally backing the government, not the people of Israel.)

Our politicians are far, far behind the public on dealing honestly with Israel.

And know what? Even if they get it, the politicians are not about to change. They, especially the Democrats, are as dependent, or think they are as dependent, on money from that Israel Lobby that sometimes claims not to exist as they are on corporate dollars.

There's no question: there are some high rollers, some very big campaign contributors among Jews, and some of them are more concerned for Israel's right wing government – as well as for all the other issues that motivate very rich and very selfish right wingers of all religious stripes – than they are for this country's needs.

A sellout is a sellout is a sellout, on either side of the donation equation.

Democrat candidates also are far more afraid than they need to be of the supposed Jewish voting bloc.

Fact is, I don't know a single person, Jew or not, whose political positions are based on whether a pol bends knee to Israel. Undoubtedly there still are some, but I seriously doubt they're in the majority among American Jews, and their numbers obviously are diminishing. Such hypocritical obeisance is increasingly seen as offensive, in fact.

As the incident at St. Thomas shows, most Americans have gotten a hell of a lot smarter about Israel over the years. Our “leaders” get ever more stupid and venal.