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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

A Closer Look: When a Nobel laureate knocks, answer

By Zac Farber

The Rev. Dennis Dease, President of St. Thomas University, brings a whole new meaning to the word flip-flopper. In 2005, he allowed the controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter to speak on campus. Her speech was met with protests but St. Thomas weathered the criticism.

The next chance Dease had to choose between academic freedom and avoiding controversy, he consulted with his staff and chose the latter.

The only problem was that the potentially contentious speaker he declined to let speak this summer was the Rev. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the first black archbishop of South Africa.

Dease accused the peace activist of making anti-Semitic comments against Israel in a 2002 speech he delivered in Boston

“I spoke with Jews for whom I have a great respect,” Dease told the Star Tribune.

“What stung these individuals was not that Archbishop Tutu criticized Israel, but how he did so, and the moral equivalencies that they felt he drew between Israel’s policies and those of Nazi Germany, and between Zionism and racism.

But this interpretation of his speech is less than obvious.

“Israeli Jew, Palestinian Arab can live amicably side by side in a secure peace,” Tutu said near the beginning of the speech.

He did say that what was going on in Israel “reminded [him] so much of what used to happen to us blacks in apartheid South Africa.” This claim is less than treasonous-President Jimmy Carter wrote a book last year called “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.”

But the closest Tutu came to declaring Israel a Nazi cousin is here, and the comparison is nebulous at best: “People are scared in this country to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful-very powerful,” Tutu said in his Boston speech.

“If you flout the laws of this universe, you’re going to bite the dust. Hitler was powerful. Mussolini was powerful. Stalin was powerful. Idi Amin was powerful. Pinochet was powerful. The Apartheid government were powerful. Milosevic was powerful. But, this is God’s world. A lie, injustice, oppression, those will never prevail in the world of this God.”

These are emotionally charged words but they are more of a rhetorical flourish than a direct comparison of Hitler with the Israeli government.

Compare this criticism against a government body with Coulter’s blatantly racist 2001 remark referring to her strategy for dealing with radical Islam: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Not surprisingly, Jewish groups showed little outrage in reaction to Tutu’s original speech and to the possibility of Tutu speaking at St. Thomas.

“Just for criticizing Israeli policies doesn’t mean he should be banned from speaking,” Mordecai Specktor, editor of the American Jewish World, a weekly newspaper for the Minnesota Jewish community, told the Star Tribune.

“I would have had no problem with them allowing him to speak,” Sim Glaser, a Minneapolis rabbi, told the Star Tribune.

Dease “received more than 2,500 e-mails from a national Jewish peace group urging him to reverse his decision,” the Star Tribune reported Tuesday.

And then, showing that all along Dease stood for nothing but saving his own reverence from embarrassment, he flip-flopped Wednesday and decided to invite Tutu because, as he said, “Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.”

The lesson Dease did not learn: sometimes risking controversy is the way to minimize it. The Tutu to-do is what happens when a university makes decisions out of fear of reprisal and not out of any sort of moral reasoning or lucid policy.

As for Macalester we welcome any Nobel laureate to Kagin any time-no questions asked.

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