Sentletse Diakanyo
Sentletse Diakanyo

Yes, Cape Town Opera should boycott Israel!

It appears it is an open season for launching cowardly attacks on Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One thing that we have come to learn about Tutu is his unwavering resolve in the pursuit of justice, equality, peace and freedom of the downtrodden, persecuted and oppressed. He has never been intimidated into silence by those who wield influence and power; nor has he been predisposed to populist rhetoric in order to ingratiate himself to the powers that be. Tutu was unapologetic in his stance against apartheid; and continues to mount fierce resistance against the injustices visited upon the voiceless and powerless.

Tutu went to Boston, Massachusetts, in 2002 to address the conference on “Ending the Occupation”. He compared the situation in Palestine to what happened to black people in South Africa during apartheid. He asked: “Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions?”

The archbishop urged Israel to “strive for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel, both with secure borders”.

Tutu’s views on the conflict between Israeli and Palestinians are nothing new. It was with no surprise to learn that he had encouraged the Cape Town Opera to cancel their visit and intention to perform Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Tel Aviv Opera House, before an audience that would exclude Palestinian residents of the “occupied West Bank”, while including people from illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

During apartheid, musicians and others in the entertainment industry actively raised the consciousness of the world to the atrocities and violation of human rights by the apartheid regime against the defenceless black people in South Africa. Musicians such as Miriam Makeba and others established themselves as powerful voices in the fight against apartheid. Musicians and performers of the arts had during the fight for liberation from the shackles of apartheid raised the level of activism in recognition of the influence their contribution can make.

It is therefore preposterous to hear the managing director of the Cape Town Opera, Michael Williams, say that they are “first and foremost an arts company” and “are accordingly reluctant to adopt the essentially political position of disengagement from cultural ties with Israel or Palestine”.

Hanna Munitz, Israeli Opera’s general director, repeated absurd sentiments expressed by Williams by claiming that “the agenda is culture and art, and definitely not politics”. The fact that Palestinians would not be allowed to attend such performances is in itself discriminatory and political.

Comments by the archbishop unleashed a flurry of attacks from Israel’s embassy in South Africa, including apologist groups such as the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation. The Israeli embassy went so far as accusing Tutu of hate speech. They claim the archbishop’s call for the boycott of Israel would do nothing but increase the intense hatred between Israelis and Palestinians. Defenders of Israel’s apartheid regime continue to portray the Jewish state as victim of some campaign to demonise them. However it is the continual oppression of the people of Palestine and enforcement of apartheid laws that isolate and limit the freedoms of Palestinians that demonise Israel.

It is now common knowledge that Israel was in bed with the apartheid government and was assisting them with the development of nuclear weapons. The end of apartheid in South Africa did not translate into the freedom of Palestinians, but rather over the years saw the intensification of the violation of their human rights and their subjection to war-crimes by Israel.

The claptrap by Israel’s embassy and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in response to Tutu’s comments is laughable. It is important that they be reminded that Tutu has spent his life fighting for peace and justice. It was in recognition of such commitment that the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 1984 awarded Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee encouraged the rest of the world to use peaceful methods to stand in the vanguard of the campaign for racial equality as a human right. It is unfortunate that Israel continues to pass apartheid laws such as a Bill that allow communities of fewer than 500 people to appoint admissions boards, which will be able to reject Israeli-Arabs from settling there. The Bill stipulates that acceptance committees will be capable of denying the application of anyone who does not suit the residents’ cultural and social perspectives, or who does not have sufficient funds to build a home there.

If SA Jewish Board of Deputies is committed to racial equality and human rights, it should be directing its energies in condemning such racist laws by the government of Israel, and stop barking incessantly at anyone who has enough balls to stand against the war-crimes perpetrators.

Williams is perhaps ignorant of the fact that it was because of people like Tutu that the Cape Town Opera is today able to move freely outside the country and perform where it pleases. It is a reasonable expectation that at least those who once were subjected to a repressive regime — though perhaps not Williams — support similar struggles. Solidarity with the oppressed and taking a principled stance against racial exclusivity and violation of human rights should take precedence over the lavishness and ceremony of red-carpet events.

To accuse Tutu of hatred, anti-Semitism and bigotry is just plainly stupid!