Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Picture: Enrico Jacobs

Israel’s embassy in South Africa hit back at Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Wednesday, saying his call for Cape Town Opera not to perform in Israel would “do nothing but increase the intense hatred between” Israelis and Palestinians.

Cape Town Opera’s managing director, Michael Williams, said on Wednesday that they would not call off their trip to Israel: “Cape Town Opera respects the views held by retired Archbishop Tutu. We are, however, first and foremost an arts company that believes in promoting universally held human values through the medium of opera and we are accordingly reluctant to adopt the essentially political position of disengagement from cultural ties with Israel or Palestine.”

Social activist and commentator Rhoda Kadalie also entered the fray labelling Archbishop Tutu a “bigot” in the debate on whether Cape Town Opera should travel to Israel to perform the opera Porgy and Bess.

But the Palestine ambassador to South Africa, Ali Halimeh hailed Tutu’s call for Cape Town Opera to postpone its trip saying: “If a man like Desmond Tutu can’t speak against oppression, then who can?”

Halimeh said on Wednesday night that all forms of pressure should be put on Israel to stops its occupation of Palestine and calls such as Tutu’s were part of this pressure.

“When we have Palestinians who want to go out of the country to perform or go and participate in sports abroad then Israel stops them. What Desmond Tutu calls for is right because the same kind of restriction should be placed on those who want to perform in Israel. Israel must know that enough is enough,” he said.

He rejected the notion that Tutu’s call would increase hatred between Palestine and Israel.

“That is not true at all. On the contrary, it will make the world more aware of Israel’s aggression towards Palestine. Desmond Tutu’s call must be supported,” Halimeh said.

Tutu said on Tuesday that only the “thickest-skinned South Africans” would perform in Israel before an audience that would exclude Palestinian residents of the “occupied West Bank” only 30 minutes from Tel Aviv, while including people from illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Tutu added that it would be especially “unconscionable” to perform Porgy and Bess “with its universal message of non-discrimination” in the present state of Israel. He added that it would only reinforce Israel’s “fallacious claim to being a civilised democracy”.

The embassy retorted that Tutu’s call for a “cultural boycott” of Israel “is yet another phase in the biased campaign, waged by him and those who share his sentiments, that distorts and demonises Israel, while singling it out”.

“Imposing a boycott cancels out any possibility of dialogue and reconciliation; and Tutu would have achieved more had he used his position to unite warring people, rather than forcing them apart. Tutu’s words will do nothing but increase the intense hatred between the two peoples.

“Tutu’s unbased doubts regarding Israel being a civilised democracy - as well as his other false accusations - reflect either a lack of understanding of the situation, or deliberate populist incitement.

“Israel is the only country in the Middle East that secures the freedoms of media, academia, religion and various minorities, protecting inter alia the freedom of artistic expression and encouraging cultural dialogue.

“Tutu’s destructive call to avoid cultural co-operation will not only prevent such a dialogue, but rather increase hatred and hostility between Israel, its neighbours and other peoples, including South Africans.

“It is regrettable that Archbishop Tutu, while not keeping his decision to retire from public life, chooses to single out Israel and focus on what happens ‘30 minutes from Tel Aviv’ rather than However, a group of Israeli peace activists, have written to the Cape Town Opera, on behalf of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, appealing to them not to perform in Israel. The BDS movement calls on international civil society organisations and people of conscience all over the world to impose boycotts on Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.

Executive Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), David Jacobson said: “The SAJBD strongly rejects the recent appeal by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for Cape Town Opera not to visit Israel. Peace and understanding is best served through constructive and positive engagements.”

“We completely reject Archbishop Tutu’s claim that Israel is founded on “discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity”. There is in fact no other country in the Middle East that can claim to be as inclusive, non-discriminatory and multi-cultural as Israel.”

Meanwhile, Achmat Sedick, deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council, identified with Archbishop Tutu’s sentiments.

“Archbishop Tutu’s comments are very prudent, highlighting the issues playing themselves out in Israel – inequality, discrimination, disposition, infringing on occupied territories,” Sedick said. - Cape Times