web analytics
September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Nelson Mandela and Zionism

Mandela once wrote that Jews, in his experience, were far more sensitive about race because of their own history.
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

There has been much reflection over the past few weeks on the legacy of the ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela. And at some point we can anticipate a febrile exchange over his true views on Israel and the Middle East.

We shouldn’t underestimate the significance of such a debate. Mandela has entered the pantheon of 20th-century figures who exercised extraordinary influence over global events.

In the 1940s, many Britons could tell you exactly where they were when Churchill delivered his famous “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech to the House of Commons; in the 1960s, it was hard to find an American who couldn’t remember his or her precise location when the news of Kennedy’s assassination came through; and in the 1990s, it seemed, at least to me, that everyone could recall what he or she was doing at the moment the world learned Mandela had been released after serving 27 years in a South African jail.

I certainly remember where I was on February 11, 1990, when Mandela finally exited prison. Along with thousands of others, I stood at the gates of the South African Embassy in London, an imposing edifice on the eastern side of Trafalgar Square. During my late teens, I’d become a regular attendee at rallies and protests outside the embassy demanding Mandela’s release. I can still hear the joyous roar of the crowd gathered around me, as we celebrated the fact that Mandela was no longer a prisoner of the apartheid regime.

Before this account gets overly saccharine, I should add that not every opponent of apartheid was a consistent advocate of democracy elsewhere in the world. Many of the protestors around me were, frankly, diehard Stalinists. And while they accurately perceived the monstrosity that was apartheid, they were only too happy to excuse the brutal crimes of the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

Which brings us to the question of Mandela’s political legacy. There is no shortage of platitudes on the left about Mandela’s heartfelt commitment to racial tolerance, painstaking negotiation and civil disobedience in the face of injustice. Equally, many on the right will accurately recall that Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) was closely aligned with the Soviet Union and with a host of thoroughly unpleasant terrorist organizations, like the PLO, who dressed themselves up as “liberation movements.” As a recipient of both the Soviet Order of Lenin and the American Presidential Medal of Freedom, it might be said that Mandela embodied this contradiction.

Still, Mandela was no orthodox leftist. In his autobiography he discusses how he was strongly influenced by the Atlantic Charter of 1941, a mission statement shaped by the visions of Churchill and FDR for a post-war order in which freedom would reign, fear and want would be banished, and self-government would emerge as a core principle.

Elsewhere in the book he takes care to distinguish the African nationalism he subscribed to from the communist beliefs that prevailed among those he worked with — and his understanding of nationalism bears a close resemblance to the national movements that surfaced in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, including Zionism.

This latter point is important because there is a widespread misapprehension that Mandela was an opponent of Zionism and Israel. In part, that’s because a mischievous letter linking Israel with apartheid, purportedly written by Mandela, went viral on the Internet (in fact, the real author was a Palestinian activist named Arjan el Fassed). Yet it’s also true that, in the Cold War conditions of the time, the ANC’s main allies alongside the Soviets were Arab and third-world dictators like Ahmed Ben Bella in Algeria and Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. The confusion is further stirred by the enthusiasm of some of Mandela’s comrades, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to share the South African franchise on the word “apartheid” with the Palestinians.

But those activists who want to make the Palestinian cause the 21st-century equivalent of the movement that opposed South African apartheid in the 20th century will – assuming they conform to basic standards of honesty – find it very difficult to invoke Mandela as support. Mandela’s memoirs are full of positive references to Jews and even Israel. He recalls that he learned about guerilla warfare not from Fidel Castro but from Arthur Goldreich, a South African Jew who fought with the Palmach during Israel’s War of Independence. He relates the anecdote that the only airline willing to fly his friend, Walter Sisulu, to Europe without a passport was Israel’s own El Al. And the ultimate smoking gun – the equation of Israel’s democracy with apartheid – doesn’t exist.

Mandela once wrote that Jews, in his experience, were far more sensitive about race because of their own history. And of course it is absolutely true that there are parallels between the oppression suffered by South African blacks under racist white rulers, and Jews living under hostile non-Jewish rulers.

Mandela’s diagnosis was that Africans should be the sovereigns of their own destiny. Similarly, the founders of Zionism wanted nothing less for the Jews.

Sadly, none of that will stop today’s advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement from falsely claiming Nelson Mandela as one of their own. But the truth is subtler than that. Mandela’s complicated legacy doesn’t really belong to any political stream – and that is one more reason to admire him.

About the Author: Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).


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.

3 Responses to “Nelson Mandela and Zionism”

  1. Brian Massey says:

    The author should also have mentioned that Nelson Mandela among other things said in his famous speech in the dock " I am Prepared to Die" that the structures and ethical standards adopted by the ANC in their freedom struggle were based on Menachem Begin's Irgun. If you do not believe me read the entire speech on the ANC website. This truth needs to be repeated. Nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin were soul mates and the Jewish people are certainly in this and many other respects a light unto the nations!

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Israel. Aug. 31, 2015.
Sen Cotton in Israel: ‘It Isn’t Over ‘Til the Votes are Counted’
Latest Indepth Stories

So it is critical that readers in the districts indicated come out to vote.

We urge readers to seek out upcoming rallies scheduled for times and places that work for them.

To be sure, the worst of what was directed at Mr. Nadler by some random hotheads with no real power or influence (calling him a “kapo,” for example) was over the top.

We can readily understand that it would be an embarrassment to the president were Congress to reject the deal he struck, even if that rejection would be vetoed and go nowhere.

As the First Zionist Congress was indisputably one of the seminal events in modern Jewish history, it is not surprising that it became the subject of some of the most beloved, beautiful, and rare Rosh Hashanah cards ever created.

Many in the media impart bias in place of truth; convey personal prejudice over objective facts.

Nahal Haredi is the ultimate solution, according to Branski, serving haredim from a wide variety of backgrounds – chassidish and yeshivish, Sephardi and Askenazi.

A recent study found that 54% of Jewish college students experienced/witnessed anti-Semitism in 2014

The purpose of an attack on Joseph’s Tomb is to murder Jews at prayer and destroy a Jewish holy site

A nuclear Khomenist Tehran will be a threat to Western democracies and to Jerusalem in particular

The MONSTERS of Nebi Saleh know well the damning, visceral impact of powerful, deceitful imagery.

Jewish Voice for Peace openly supports BDS movement against ALL of Israel & ending the Jewish State.

In recent years, there has been a big push to grow and develop American Football here in Israel.

Unlike Judaism & Christianity which honors “truth,” Islam pursues “Taqiyya,” strategic lying

More Articles from Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen

Corbyn leading the Britain’s Labour Party polls, describes Hamas & Hizbullah as England’s “friends.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reviewing one of Iran's nuclear plants.

The Middle East has rapidly changed for the worse the past five years. The worst may be yet come.

UN Amb Prosor: Anti-Semitism “can even be found in the halls of UN disguised as umanitarian concern”

The Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland informed the host he could not say “Israel or Jewish state”

The coalition the US has assembled to fight ISIS is based on an immediate coincidence of interest.

A growing chorus of influential voices is arguing that Israel needs to finish the job in Gaza.

Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?

As of this moment, the Kurds have little reason to hold back from declaring independence.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/nelson-mandela-and-zionism/2013/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: