web analytics
September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

How Mandela Eased Doubts Among Jewish Leaders

I first met Mandela in Geneva in 1990 as part of a delegation of American Jewish leaders.

Nelson Mandela at Yad Vashem

Nelson Mandela at Yad Vashem

Nelson Mandela will always be remembered as a symbol of courageous resistance to the racist policies of apartheid South Africa. He was a true hero of conscience. But he also will always have a special place in the memory of the Jewish community.

I first met Mandela in Geneva in 1990 as part of a delegation of American Jewish leaders. My colleagues and I spent two and a half memorable hours with the then-newly free African National Congress leader. It was a warm session with good personal feelings on all sides.

Mandela, who died last week at 95, understood far more than we anticipated about the Jewish experience and the meaning of Israel as a Jewish state. He expressed deep appreciation for the Jewish community of South Africa’s support for him during the long years of his imprisonment and expressed a desire to reciprocate that friendship and appreciation.

Over the years, the Jewish community had not always seen eye to eye with Mandela. Many in the community were unhappy with his support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and particularly his embrace of then-Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

Another concern was that Mandela, in repeatedly referring to Israel as a “colonialist” regime, seemed to be questioning the fundamental legitimacy of the Jewish state. It was difficult for American Jewish leaders to consider joining in the welcome for this great freedom fighter without having a better understanding of his views toward Israel and the Jewish community.

There were concerns as well about how Mandela would be received on his first visit to the United States. Clearly he was a hero to the African-American community. But for the Jewish and Cuban communities it was a far different matter. The Cuban community was angry over his close ties to Castro, and the Jewish community had serious concerns because of his ties to Arafat.

The 1990 meeting was pivotal to clear the air and better understand the man. Mandela said to us, “Look, I appreciate what the Jewish community has done for me. On the other hand, if the test of my friendship with you is that I have to be an enemy of your enemy, then I cannot be your friend.”

Referring to his personal struggle and years in imprisonment and isolation, he said, “I needed the support of anybody I could get. And Arafat gave me support. And Castro gave me support.”

At the same time, Mandela understood that while Israel was being boycotted by most of the countries in the world, the white South African government was one of the few countries dealing with it. Mandela said he understood that relationship, too.

“I’m not angry at you and Israel because Israel was dealing with the apartheid South African government,” he told us. “Therefore, don’t be angry at me because I was dealing with Castro and Arafat. If you can understand that, we can go forward.”

This was quintessential Mandela. It was that kind of pragmatic approach to life and to relationships that really explain what he achieved with South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was not a matter of hatred, or of vengeance or getting even. It was a matter of addressing pragmatic, practical realities.

At our meeting, Mandela spoke not only of his unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist but also of his profound respect for its leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin. He also assured us that he supported Israel’s right to security and to protect itself from terrorism.

We came away from that encounter with no doubt about his recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist endeavor and the right of the Jewish people to a state in the Middle East.

It was also during the meeting that I first suggested that Mandela should meet with a fellow prisoner of conscience of our generation, Natan Sharansky. To the African-American community, Mandela was their prisoner of conscience. Sharansky was ours. I told Mandela that I believed it would be appropriate for them to meet and exchange their experiences and dialogue toward mutual understanding and common ground. He agreed, having avidly read Sharansky’s book Fear No Evil while in prison.

Through the assistance of Harry Belafonte, we ultimately arranged the meeting, which took place on June 29, 1990 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

It was a very emotional meeting between the two prisoners of conscience and a poignant moment for the African-American and Jewish communities. When I look back on my life’s accomplishments, that moment was among the most deeply meaningful and personally significant.

Nelson Mandela’s strength of character, commitment to justice and abiding passionate belief in the commonality that binds all humanity are the touchstones of every great leader. He will be long remembered in the Jewish community both for his legacy of ending apartheid and building a free and democratic South Africa, and for maintaining close ties of friendship to Israel and the Jewish community.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

4 Responses to “How Mandela Eased Doubts Among Jewish Leaders”

  1. Foxman, you're just a shill for any liberal BS.

  2. Yosef Shomron says:

    More revisionism from status quo "Jewish" organizations. Mandela and his ANC were communists trained and armed by the Soviets. At his trial Mandela didn't deny that the terrorist wing of the ANC ( which he headed), planted over 160 bombs in public places in South Africa killing scores of civilians. Even the ultra left Amnesty International refused to support him at his trial. Lets not forget the hundreds of blacks tortured and killed by the ANC through barbaric "necklacing". Here is a link on youtube showing Mandela singing with his ANC buddies about killing whites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcOXqFQw2hc. I'm not surprised by Abraham Foxman's moral stigma – he did support the destruction of Gush Katif and 4 Jewish towns in Samaria and the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes.

  3. Roy Neal Grissom says:

    By all means, let's not let a little thing like rabid anti-Zionism get in the way of our deification of another revolutionary atheist.

  4. He was a man of integrity!

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
IDF map of terrorist tunnels that were found near Israeli communities near the Gaza border, identified and mapped. July 27, 2014. These were destroyed by the IDF. Residents fear there are more that have yet to be uncovered.
Gaza Belt Communities Fear Lack of Security, IDF Pullout
Latest Indepth Stories
0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP

The War projects to lower Israel’s 2014 GDP 0.5% but will have little influence on foreign investors

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

champions

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are actually fighting to “liberate Jerusalem and all Palestine.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

More Articles from Abraham H. Foxman
Nelson Mandela at Yad Vashem

I first met Mandela in Geneva in 1990 as part of a delegation of American Jewish leaders.

Leo Frank

The trial was a shock to American Jews, as was Frank’s lynching two years later.

Worried about a nuclear Iran? Do you think such a development would not only threaten Israel’s existence but would intimidate the Arab countries of the Gulf, put the radical Islamist regime in position to threaten the West, and lead to unmanageable nuclear proliferation? Have no fear! Kenneth N. Waltz, the highly respected professor of international relations at Columbia University, argues in a recent article of Foreign Affairs magazine that “Iran Should Get the Bomb.”

There was a time when no one living in Israel needed a reminder of what was at stake when the Jewish state was created in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust.

The threat of the infiltration of Sharia, or Islamic law, into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent years.

On the evening of December 11, 1995, businessman Aaron Feuerstein was with family and friends at a restaurant in Boston. It was his seventieth birthday, and a group of well-wishers had gathered to throw him a surprise party.

So there it was, “perfect proof” of what John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were saying about the Israeli lobby: the pressure mounted and Charles Freeman, the designated chairman of the National Intelligence Council, decided to withdraw his name from consideration.

Coming just weeks after the explosion of global anti-Semitism that followed Israel’s military action in Gaza, the timing couldn’t have been better for the London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism, held Feb. 16 and 17.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/how-mandela-eased-doubts-among-jewish-leaders/2013/12/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: