Chief rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein has condemned the controversial "anti-Tutu" petition which calls for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to be axed as patron of the two Holocaust centres in this country, although he considers Tutu's criticisms of Israel "unfair". Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, has condemned the controversial “anti-Tutu” petition which calls for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to be axed as patron of the two Holocaust centres in this country.

However, Goldstein added that he considered Tutu’s criticisms of Israel “unfair”.

The petition, launched in December by three Jewish Capetonians, calls for the Nobel Peace laureate to be ousted as patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre because of his “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements”.

In a statement on Thursday, Goldstein said: “I believe it is wrong to call for the resignation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a patron of the Holocaust Centre.

“In deference to Archbishop Tutu’s widely recognised leadership role in the Struggle against apartheid and to his revered position in South Africa, it would be an act of disrespect to remove him as a patron.”

Goldstein, who is also a patron of the Holocaust centre, described it as an important institution in South Africa, which not only honoured the memory of the six million Jews the Nazis killed, but also educated thousands of South Africans in the “vital lessons of the Holocaust (and) the horrific consequences of hatred and racism”.

“The centre preaches and teaches sensitivity and commitment to human rights, tolerance and the dignity of all people, irrespective of race, colour or creed. For this holy and vital work to be disrupted by the divisive politics of the Middle East would be a real tragedy,” Goldstein said.

“The correct approach, I believe, to the archbishop’s unfair criticisms of Israel is not through protest action of petitions, but rather to engage with him in a dignified and respectful manner on the substance of the real issues from a rational, intellectual and historical point of view, so that truth and peace can ultimately triumph.”

The online petition was started by Capetonians Joselle Reuben, Howard Joffe and David Hersch, who, although he is one of four vice-chairmen of the SA Zionist Federation, drew up the petition in his personal capacity.

The federation has said the petition was launched without the organisation’s approval and represents the personal views of the three.

By late Thursday the petition had 401 signatures from around the world.

A counter-petition, in defence of Tutu, had 2771 signatures.

Although the Zionist Federation has said the anti-Tutu petition did “not reflect any statements which have been issued by official representatives of the South African Zionist Federation”, chairman Avrom Krengel would not say whether the federation supported or condemned either petition.

But Krengel questioned Tutu’s patronage in a written statement last November, saying that Tutu’s “present conduct has met with wall to wall condemnation from the community, best expressed by our Chief Rabbi’s excellent article recently published in the Jerusalem Post… Admittedly, Tutu’s continued office as a patron clearly needs to be reassessed and addressed by his fellow patrons of the Foundation”. - Cape Times