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ADL Tries to Intimidate Michigan State for Inviting Anti-Apartheid Activist Desmond Tutu

By Matthew Miller

Lansing State Journal, April 14, 2009

Group assails MSU's Tutu invitation

Academic freedom cited by Simon in response to criticism

Michigan State University announced last week that
retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu would give this year's
commencement address. Two days later, the Anti-Defamation League, a
Jewish advocacy organization, filed a protest.

In a letter to Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon,
two ADL officials wrote that Tutu, whose opposition to apartheid in
the 1980s won him the Nobel Peace Prize, had made statements about
Israel that "conveyed outright bigotry against ... the Jewish people."

They said a proposed cultural and academic boycott of Israel, which
Tutu supports, was "based on ideas that are anti-Semitic and should
be anathema to any institution of higher learning truly committed to
academic freedom."

They asked MSU to reconsider the invitation.

Simon responded this week. She said no.

While noting that university leaders had publicly opposed such a
boycott, she wrote, "Michigan State University rejects the notion
that free intellectual exchange and scholarly activities should be
casualties of political disagreement."

It's an apparently open and shut matter, but it has set off minor
ripples on campus.

Professors and students interviewed Thursday were unanimous in their
support of Simon's stance on academic freedom and on allowing Tutu to

Opinions diverged on the ADL's tactics and on the boycott that Tutu
has advocated.

David Wiley is a professor of sociology who headed MSU's African
Studies Center for 30 years before stepping down this year. He played
a role in MSU's decision to divest from South Africa in 1978. And he
called the ADL's request "improper."

"Again and again, the ADL and some other Jewish agencies confuse
being critical of Israel with being anti-Semitic," he said. "In fact,
Bishop Tutu has always been for inclusion of the marginal, whether
it's blacks in South Africa or the Jewish community."

Tutu has said he supports the existence of the state of Israel. He
also has compared the treatment of Palestinians to that of blacks
under apartheid.

And he is involved in the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural
Boycott of Israel, which wants to cut relations with - and investment
in - Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel
withdraws from the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Such a boycott, said Ken Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies at MSU,
would dramatically hinder the work of his program. It would punish
those Israelis who are most committed to peace.

And it "rests on an analogy between South Africa and Israel which is
patently false and ignoble."

Geoff Levin, an MSU sophomore and the Israel advocacy intern at MSU
Hillel, said he respects Tutu's accomplishments, but is unhappy with
his views on Israel.

"I wouldn't push to have him removed from the speaking list at all
because of the great works he has done," he said.

"But I do feel like the pro-Israel community and the Jewish community
need to voice our discontent with what he's been pushing for."

Salah Hassan is an MSU English professor and a member of Michigan
Professors Against Occupation, an ad hoc group that opposes the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

"The best way to put an end to this call for a boycott," he said,
"would be to end the occupation."

"It's fully within the rights of ADL to protest someone coming who
they don't like," he said.

"But realistically, had the president of MSU agreed to retract the
invitation, that would have stirred a significant controversy."

Additional Facts

May 8 convocation

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be the featured speaker at MSU's spring undergraduate convocation. The ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. May 8 at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Matthew Miller




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent