Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who earned a Nobel for his peaceful opposition to apartheid, on Tuesday urged Cape Town's renowned opera troupe not to tour Israel until what he calls discrimination there ends.
In a statement, Tutu compared Cape Town Opera's planned visit next month to international artists performing in apartheid South Africa, when it was "a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity.
"Cape Town Opera should postpone its proposed tour next month until both Israeli and Palestinian opera lovers of the region have equal opportunity and unfettered access to attend performances," he said.
He added it would be "unconscionable" to perform "Porgy and Bess," which he says has a "universal message of nondiscrimination."
Tutu charges that by bringing international artists to perform, the Tel Aviv Opera House "advances Israel's fallacious claim to being a 'civilized democracy.'"
Hanna Munitz, Israeli Opera's general director, responded in a statement, saying her house and Cape Town Opera were apolitical.
"The agenda is culture and art, and definitely not politics," Munitz said. "Both houses relate to culture as a bridge, the aim of which is to be above any political dispute. Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that very big performance companies arrive in Israel from abroad all the time."
Tutu has long been a sharp critic of Israel. Last month, he backed calls for a South African academic boycott of Israel.
Tutu retired earlier this month, saying he wanted to travel less and spend more time with his family. He did not, though, say he would stop speaking out on issues he has championed.
Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.