(photo credit: AP [file])
Faculty members, students and others have urged the University of St. Thomas to reconsider its decision opposing a campus visit by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
University spokesman Doug Hennes said the situation will be discussed next week with the school's president, the Rev. Dennis Dease.
Dease defended his decision to oppose the visit in a statement Friday, saying that a speech Tutu delivered in 2002 was offensive to the Jewish community because it compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians to Adolf Hitler's policies.
"I spoke with Jews for whom I have a great
respect," Dease said. "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."
Dease has received more than 1,800 e-mails, encouraged by Oakland, California-based Jewish Voice for Peace, asking him to reverse his stand and invite Tutu to the campus. The e-mails also asked Dease to reinstate Cris Toffolo as director of the school's peace and justice program, the group said.
Toffolo has said her support for Tutu's visit was cited as a reason for her removal from the post, but Dease denied that. Toffolo is still a faculty member at the school.
On the campus of the private Catholic university in St. Paul, students have put up fliers supporting Tutu.
St. Thomas theology professor David Landry called Dease's stance "very regrettable." Landry added that "a lot of Jews have written they don't find Tutu's remarks terribly offensive, and I've read his speech and I don't think he equates the state of Israel with Hitler, and I don't think he referred to Zionism as racism."
Mordecai Specktor, publisher and editor of American Jewish World, a weekly Jewish newspaper in Minnesota, said: "The Jewish community can survive a speech by Archbishop Tutu. We've endured worse."