Great people aren’t necessarily good people. Monumental achievements and heroic stances do not erase multiple flaws, weaknesses, and character deficiencies. No more is this paradox of humankind evident than in two towering religious figures: Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Cardinal August Hlond of Poland.
After earning the Nobel Peace Prize for his unflagging moral leadership in the struggle against South African apartheid, Tutu’s greatness, achieved in the pursuit of justice for his people, is secure. Tutu, however, is not a good person. His embrace of humanity doesn’t extend to Jews, whom he does not like, and openly views with contempt. "Whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people,” he once wrote. “They can't ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people."
Tutu’s theological hatred for Jews flows seamlessly into contemporary anti-Semitism. "The Jews thought they had a monopoly of God: Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings," he also wrote. Tutu accuses Jews of "fighting against" and being "opposed to" his God. He has compared the features of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the features of the apartheid system in South Africa. He warns of Jewish "arrogance," "power," and money. Better beware. The "Jewish" — not Israeli — "lobby" is "powerful" and "scar[y]." He trivializes the Nazi Holocaust, alleging that "the gas chambers" made for "a neater death" than did apartheid.
When confronted, Tutu’s facile denial is the signature response of the tried-and-true Jew-hater: “My dentist is a Dr. Cohen.”
Tutu’s Jew problem was on full display after Israel repelled the Hamas-led storming of her borders by Gazans instructed to race for Israeli communities to murder and kidnap. The resulting 63 deaths of the would-be invaders — 52 of which were later acknowledged by Hamas as terrorists — saved the lives of thousands of lives on both sides border who would have perished in a full-blown war. No country under assault would have done differently — except to exercise less restraint. Tutu’s commentary? “People who recognize the humanity in others do not author or perpetrate massacres.” His great achievements for South Africa aside, Bishop Tutu's demonstrated animus for the Jewish people disqualifies him from passing judgment on the Jewish State.
Another mistake is assuming that greatness is the equivalence of saintliness. Witness the Vatican campaign for Cardinal August Hlond.
Over turbulent and tragic decades, Hlond was a source of strength to Polish Catholics. He was incarcerated by the Gestapo during WWII. During the Cold War, he courageously spoke out against the Soviet suppression of religion.
Simultaneous to these heroics, Hlond poisoned his flock against Polish Jewry. In 1936, Hlond wrote, “So long as Jews remain Jews, a Jewish problem exists and will continue to exist ...It is a fact that Jews are waging war against the Catholic church, that they are steeped in free-thinking, and constitute the vanguard of atheism, the Bolshevik movement, and revolutionary activity. It is a fact that Jews have a corruptive influence on morals and… that, from a religious and ethical point of view, Jewish youth are having a negative influence on the Catholic youth in our schools.”
“Catholic leaders from Cardinal Hlond on down preached anti-Semitism and an economic boycott of the Jews,” said a 1946 U.S. State Department Report on Poland. Hlond’s words echoed those of the Nazis in Germany, who were saying the same thing: “It is good to prefer your own kind when shopping, to avoid Jewish stores and Jewish stalls in the marketplace.”
While he urged Catholics not to physically harm Jews, Poles heard Hlond describe Jews as outsiders, in a land they helped settle hundreds of years before. “One may love one's own nation more, but one may not hate anyone,” he wrote. “Not even Jews.” That “not even,” which assigned enemy status to Jews, contributed to an environment that led the murder of countless Jews by ordinary Poles, during and after the Holocaust.
It is no wonder that a full year after the end of WWII, Poles in Kielce massacred Jews who survived Nazi death camps and who had returned to rebuild their shattered lives and communities. Bowing to pressure from a shocked world, Cardinal Hlond condemned the killings — but a week later, he blamed the attack not on anti-Semitism, but on rumors that Jews were killing Polish children, and the perception that Jews were "occupying leading positions in Poland in state life." Hlond steadfastly refused to meet with survivors of the Holocaust. Most Jews understood the threatening message, and fled the land of their birth.
Last month, Pope Francis moved along the proposed beatification of Hlond, allowing him to be designated as Venerable. So as America witnesses a wave of toppled statues (for failing to resist the racism of the day) and toppled careers (in the wake of #MeToo charges), is Pope Francis really going to bestow the mantle of sainthood on a lifelong theological and civil bigot?
Christians, not only Jews should be reminding His Holiness that sometimes being great isn’t good enough.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean, Director Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization. Abraham Cooper has been a longtime activist for Jewish and human rights causes. His extensive involvement in Soviet Jewry included visiting refuseniks, helping to open Moscow’s first Jewish Cultural Center, and lecturing at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Sakharov Foundation. In 1977, he came to L.A. to help Rabbi Marvin Hier found the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and for three decades Rabbi Cooper has overseen the Wiesenthal Center’s international social action agenda including worldwide antisemitism and extremist groups, Nazi crimes, Interfaith Relations, the struggle to thwart the anti-Israel Divestment campaign, and worldwide promotion of tolerance education. Widely recognized as an international authority on issues related to digital hate and the Internet, Rabbi Cooper was listed in 2017 by Newsweek among the top most influential Rabbis in the United States. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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