All of those committed to the struggle for justice and peace in the world are mourning the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was a giant in the struggle against South African apartheid and against all forms of racial injustice. For Palestinians, his support for their struggle for justice rendered him an iconic figure.
The Guardian’s obituary failed to make any mention of his repeated criticism of Israeli policies, and his commitment to the cause of Palestinian liberation. However the concern about this omission was made more serious by the deletion of a large number of comments in response to the obituary which all highlighted Tutu’s condemnation of Israeli apartheid on the grounds that such comments “violate the Guardian’s community standards”.
The comments deleted included the following:
“It’s a pity that this fine obituary makes no mention of Desmond Tutu’s stand on Israel and Palestine. He was uniquely well placed to judge whether Israel’s policies in the OPT amounted to apartheid. The fact that he said they did made an important contribution tom the struggle for justice in Palestine” and:
“An excellent obituary that amply demonstrates the breath and depth of Desmond Tutu’s moral compass. This also extended to his staunch defence of the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, who he believed were suffering similar apartheid policies experienced by South Africans. In 2013 he told the Washington Post; “I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t! The God who was there and showed that we should become free is the God described in the Scriptures as the same yesterday, today and forever. What’s being done to the Palestinians at checkpoints, for us, it’s the kind of thing we experienced in South Africa.” Sadly many of our contemporary political leaders are currently doing what Desmond Tutu could not do; they are keeping quiet.”
After correspondence from PSC and others, including some who had had their posts removed, the Guardian has now reposted all of the deleted comments. You can read them here. We are pleased that the Guardian, after pressure, has taken action to restore the deleted comments and privately acknowledged that they should not have been deleted. It is disappointing however that they have not chosen to publicly acknowledge their actions. We are also pleased that the Guardian has now published a piece that addresses Tutu’s support for Palestinian rights – you can read it here.
What remains of concern is the fact of the original deletions. It is difficult to view these actions away from the context of the pressure being applied by Israel and its supporters to render any labelling of its laws and policies as racist, and any call for a sanctions-led response, to be forms of antisemitism. Tutu himself was subject to this critique during his lifetime, specifically after his endorsement of the Palestinian call for BDS.
PSC organised a letter to be sent to the Guardian for publication signed by over 30 prominent figures including many who were active in the struggle against South African Apartheid. The Guardian did not publish the letter but its main ask – that the comments be restored – has now been acted upon. We publish the letter with signatories below for you to read.
PSC will be writing again to the Guardian Editor and seeking a meeting to address what action the Guardian will be taking to ensure that such issues do not emerge in the future. We will also be urging them to make space in their pages to fully address all aspect of Desmond Tutu’s legacy including his criticism of Israel’s system of apartheid and fierce and unyielding advocacy for the rights of the Palestinian people.
Tutu once said “I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t!” We should not allow those who wish he had stayed silent to tarnish his memory and the lesson he gave all of us about what it means to be a consistent antiracist.
To the Editor, The Guardian
Desmond Tutu’s death is mourned by all who recognise his titanic status in the struggle against racial injustice. For Palestinians his support for their struggle for justice made him an iconic figure. Regrettably, your obituary made no mention of his repeated criticism of Israeli policies, and his commitment to Palestinian liberation.
Tutu’s early support for Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions was founded upon his recognition of Israel’s practice of apartheid. It is a crucial part of his legacy.
The concern about the failure to address this in the Obituary is exacerbated by the deletion of comments, including by three of the signatories to this letter, in response to the Obituary which all highlighted these issues. The grounds given were they: “violate the Guardian’s community standards”.
It is difficult to view these deletions away from the context of the pressure being applied by Israel and its supporters to render any naming of its laws and policies as racist and any call for a sanctions-led response to be antisemitism. Tutu himself was subject to this critique after his endorsement of the Palestinian call for BDS.
We call upon the Guardian to restore the posts and for its comment pages to address Tutu’s legacy of support for Palestinian rights. Tutu once said, “I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t!”. This memory is the lesson he gave us about what it means to be a consistent antiracist.
Professor Kamel Hawwash, Chair Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Ben Jamal, Director Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Chief Mandla Mandela MP (South African Parliament)
John Mcdonnell MP
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary NEU
Jo Grady, General Secretary UCU
Chitra Karve, Chair, Action for Southern Africa
Neeshan Balton, CEO Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
Christabel Gurney, Anti-Apartheid Movement archivist
Andrew Feinstein, former ANC MP, author
Gillian Slovo, Writer
Ken Loach, Film Director
Brian Eno, Musician and Producer
David Randall, Musician
Alexei Sayle, Comedian
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer
Aimee Shalan, Chair British Palestinian Council
Sara Husseini, Director British Palestinian Council
Nadia Hijab, Author and Human Rights Activist
Mark Seddon, Director, Centre for UN Studies, University of Buckingham & former Speechwriter for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Victoria Brittain, Journalist
John Pilger, Journalist
Asad Rehman, Director War on Want
Professor Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter
Professor Nur Masalha
Dr Swee Chai Ang, Founder Medical Aid for Palestinians
Ian Williams, President of the Foreign Press Association in New York
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC
Chris Gunness, Former UN Middle East Communications Director
Professor Richard Seaford
Professor David Mond, University of Warwick
Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land society
Dr Colin Green, Professor of Surgery, University College London,
Dr Derek Summerfield, Kings College London