Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has thanked all who supported him after his call for a cultural boycott of Israel led to a demand for his removal as patron of the SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation.

More than 300 people have signed an online petition calling for Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to be axed as patron of the Holocaust centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg because of his “numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements”.

The petition, launched by three Capetonians - David Hersch, vice-chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, Joselle Reuben and Howard Joffe - has been signed by 343 people from the UK, US, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and South Africa, all of whom support the call for the trustees of both centres to give Tutu the boot.

The petition describes Tutu’s call to stop the Cape Town Opera Company from performing in Israel late in 2010, and for academic institutions to cut ties with those in Israel, as “only the most recent examples of Archbishop Tutu’s anti-Israel behaviour”.

It describes Tutu’s support for sanctions against Israel as “morally repugnant” based on “horrific and grotesquely false accusation against the Jewish people”.

Hersch and other signatories called on the trustees of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre to “have the courage to avoid the politically correct and cowardly route... and terminate Archbishop Tutu’s patronage of both holocaust centres in South Africa”.

The petition said no matter what honours had been earned by Tutu, he was not above sanction.

“His track record regarding Israel and his many anti-Israel pronouncements speak volumes as to his being the wrong person to hold this position,” it said.

A paragraph at the end calls on the trustees also to terminate the appointments of Professor Kader Asmal and Judge Richard Goldstone as patrons of the holocaust centres. The petition was picked up by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who wrote an online article in FrontPage Magazine, called “Tutu and the Jews”, in which he states: “The decent people of South Africa have become aware of Tutu’s bigotry... It is time for the rest of the world to recognise that the bishop is no saint.

“When it comes to Jews, he is an unrepentant sinner”.

Dershowitz, a frequent commentator on the Israel/Arab conflict, is known for his involvement in several celebrity court cases, including those of Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst and OJ Simpson.

One of the comments below Dershowitz’s article, signed by “Johnny”, states: “Chain Tutu to a plough and let him pick some taters.”

Now another group of South Africans has launched a counter online petition in defence of Tutu, calling him “the most appropriate patron of the South African Holocaust Foundation”.

The pro-Tutu petition has been signed by 381 people from several countries.

South Africans who have signed it include Arthur Chaskalson, former head of the Constitutional Court and now president of the International Commission of Jurists, human rights lawyer Geoff Budlender and Nathan Geffen of the Treatment Action Campaign.

The petition states that while the Holocaust was a crime against humanity that must never be forgotten, its lessons belonged to “all of humanity”.

The mission of the Holocaust Foundation was to build “a more caring and just society in which human rights and diversity are respected and valued”.

“This is precisely the cause to which Tutu has dedicated his life. He represents the finest tradition of resistance to all forms of oppression. To call him an anti-Semite because he has attacked the policies of the Israeli government, is outrageous, renders the term meaningless, and enfeebles the necessary efforts to defeat real anti-Semites and racists,” the petition says.

Tutu’s life had been lived in the spirit of “never again”, which was the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust.

While disagreements should be debated openly, to call Tutu an anti-Semite and a bigot were personal attacks and totally unacceptable.

“We, the undersigned, give our support to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as a most appropriate patron of the South African Holocaust Foundation,” the petition said.

A comment by signatory Rebecca Elfasi of the UK states: “How can anyone who established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and is a beacon of light around the world for truth, humanity and goodness, be accused of something so vile? He is one of the greatest human beings of all time.”

Tutu, who is in Zurich where he was given the Fifa Presidential Award for 2010 on Monday, was not available for comment.

Richard Friedman, the director of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, and its chairman, Mervyn Smith, also overseas, could not be reached for comment.

However, Friedman’s assistant, Jurina de Jager, said on Tuesday: “The response I received is that our office and Tutu’s office will deal with the matter of the petition together when they all get back.” - Cape Times