web analytics
March 31, 2015 / 11 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


Mandela: Close Ties With South African Jews But Also With Arafat

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – In the early 1940s, at a time when it was virtually impossible for a South African of color to secure a professional apprenticeship, the Jewish law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman gave a young black man a job as a clerk.

It was among the first encounters in what would become a lifelong relationship between Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s tiny Jewish community, impacting the statesman’s life at several defining moments, from his arrival in Johannesburg from the rural Transkei region as a young man to his years of struggle, imprisonment and ascension to the presidency.

Mandela, who died last Thursday at 95, wrote of the early job in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and acknowledged the disproportionate role that Jews played in the struggle against apartheid.

“I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice,” Mandela wrote. South Africa’s Jews remembered Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president, as a close friend, one with deep ties to prominent community figures and a partner in the decades-long effort to end apartheid.

“I was extremely privileged to lead the community during his presidency,” said Mervyn Smith, who was chairman and later president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the community’s representative body. “We met with him on many occasions and the talk was direct and open.”

For Mandela, who rose to prominence as a leading opponent of the discriminatory racial regime known as apartheid, Jews were vital allies. Jewish lawyers represented him in multiple trials, and Jewish activists and political figures played leading roles in the fight.

But Mandela’s ties to prominent South African Jews were personal as well as political. The former president’s second marriage, to Winnie Madikizela in 1958, took place at the home of Ray Harmel, a Jewish anti-apartheid activist. When Mandela married again, in 1998, he invited Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris to offer a private blessing on the nuptials.

On Israel, Mandela’s relationship with the Jewish community was not free of controversy. His African National Congress cultivated close ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Mandela warmly embraced its leader, Yasir Arafat.

Confronted with Jewish protests, Mandela was dismissive, insisting that his relations with other countries would be determined by their attitudes toward the liberation movement.

“If the truth alienates the powerful Jewish community in South Africa, that’s too bad,” Mandela was reported to have said, according to Gideon Shimoni, author of Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.

David Saks, author of Jewish Memories of Mandela, noted that Mandela stressed his respect for Israel’s right to exist even as he defended his relationships with Palestinian leaders. It was perhaps illustrative of his policy of inclusivity that Mandela accepted an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1997 when many in his party remained opposed to any ties with Israel.

Mandela was born in 1918 in the village of Mvezo, in the southeastern part of the country. As a young lawyer he was active in the African National Congress, which was beginning to challenge laws it considered unjust and discriminatory.

In the 1950s, Mandela was tried for treason. He was acquitted with the help of a defense team led by Israel Maisels. Several years later, when he was accused of attempting to overthrow the apartheid regime during the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was defended by several Jewish lawyers.

Mandela was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1964. He served most of his sentence on Robben Island, a former leper colony off the coast of Cape Town. The legendary, feisty Jewish parliamentarian Helen Suzman visited him there. Another prison visitor was the journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who worked frequently with Mandela in the 1960s.

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.

2 Responses to “Mandela: Close Ties With South African Jews But Also With Arafat”

  1. Yechiel Baum says:

    Mandela close with Arafat and they both burn in hell!
    The alleged radiation from Arafat is help and not radiation poison

  2. Yechiel Baum says:

    close with South African Jewish money which he extoled from them to keep the blacks from squatting in their homes. Look how many Jews left when he came out. Even his wife Winnie divorced him. What does that tell you about the man?

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Did the Israeli Air Force bomb a chemical weapons site outside Damascus on Saturday?
Saudi Arabia to Permit IAF Jets Entry to Bomb Iran
Latest News Stories
Chaim Topol as Tevye the Milkman

Chaim Topol, has been awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.

Did the Israeli Air Force bomb a chemical weapons site outside Damascus on Saturday?

The Saudis are so afraid of a nuclear Iran, they might be prepared to let Israel attack Iran via their airspace.

20th Knesset Opening Session

The Knesset opening session was buzzing with new faces, as 39 new Members of Knesset joined their veteran colleagues in the swearing in ceremony.

Pesach Sacrifice 2015 4

The Temple Institute renacted the entire Pesach sacrifice ceremony.

“On days like today we want these children to feel the joy that any normal child experiences on their bar mitzvah.”

A family. 7 Children. An indescribable tragedy. How do they go on? How do we react? And what lessons are we supposed to learn?

More than 40 refugees were killed in a Saudi-led air strike while PA office accuses Israel crime by building homes.

The military implicitly admits to having improperly allowed a missionary group to indoctrinate soldiers.

Talks are likely to extend beyond Obama’s self-imposed deadline that he had said he won’t change.

The Iranian regime is hard up for propaganda, but maybe it is prophesying the future.

The Arabs rolled burning tires and three rocks at soldiers at the central Gaza security fence.

The Histadrut national labor union and the Federation of Israeli Employers have agreed to raise the minimum wage to 5,300 shekels ($1,334) by 2017, approximately half the average salary in Israel. The employers and the union previously agreed to a three-stage hike in the minimum wage. The latest agreement adds a fourth stage whole pegging […]

The clowns are back in town while ringmaster Netanyahu tries to tame the beasts.

A Reuters poll shows that America is increasingly polarized, especially about President Obama.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continued to lash out at a possible “bad deal” with Iran Monday and said, “The agreement being formulated in Lausanne sends a message that there is no price for aggression and on the contrary – that Iran’s aggression is to be rewarded.” Netanyahu said in a statement: The moderate and responsible […]

Release of a gag order reveals that the Israeli citizen and a friend traveled to Syria last year.

More Articles from Meira Schneider
Nelson Mandela

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – In the early 1940s, at a time when it was virtually impossible for a South African of color to secure a professional apprenticeship, the Jewish law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman gave a young black man a job as a clerk.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/global/mandela-close-ties-with-south-african-jews-but-also-with-arafat/2013/12/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: