web analytics
April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar, 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.

Mandela was released after 27 years, in February 1990. Four years later he was elected president. On the first Shabbat after his election, he visited the Marais Road synagogue in Sea Point.

In 1994, at the opening of an exhibition on Anne Frank, Mandela recounted how a handwritten version of her diary had inspired him and fellow prisoners on Robben Island.
(JTA)

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
"Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah." That's his Jihad. What's yours? - An ad campaign sponsored by  the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
MTA Hopes to Change Rule, Ban ‘Killing Jews’ Anti-Jihad Ad
Latest News Stories
"Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah." That's his Jihad. What's yours? - An ad campaign sponsored by  the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

New York’s MTA plans to vote on a change to its rules it hopes would allow it to exclude the “Killing Jews” anti-jihad ad campaign.

Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden gleefully announced two of his three Catholic children married Jews – not thrilling his Jewish audience.

Armenian Archbishop Sevan (R) sits next to Greek Bishop Atallah, as they watch a live screening from Echmiadzin, Armenia, of the Church canonization of the genocide victims as saints, in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

In Jerusalem, the bells from 18 churches in the Old City of Jerusalem rang 100 times on Thursday evening, April 23, to remember the Armenian Genocide.

IDF soldiers - once upon a time.

The IDF has come up with an 81-second video showing 67 years of Israeli land, sea and ground soldiers in action.

Tennessee becomes the first state to formally condemn the BDS movement.

Snow fell in Tzfat (Safed) Friday morning, not enough to stick to the ground but enough to make residents wonder if they were dreaming or perhaps it is January. Several inches of snow fell on the Hermon as a rare mid-April storm faded away after blowing away Israelis’ Yom Ha’Atzmaut plans for cook-outs and hiking, […]

All polls show Clinton would win against any Republican, but has she peaked too soon?

Armenians marched with Armenian flags, signs, and torches from the Armenian Quarter of Old City as they mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, on April 23, 2015.

Iranian warships neared Yemen to support Houthi rebels despite the presence of US vessels in the area.

Poet Erez Biton, who was awarded the Israel Prize for Literature on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, used the occasion to warn against sponsors of the Boycott Israel movement. “Strident voices are being heard in the world including those who are challenging the very existence of the State of Israel,” he said. “There are even those among them […]

IDF tanks shelled a site in Gaza in response to the rocket(s) launched at Israel.

Cyber centers that guard unclassified networks reportedly detected the Pentagon security breach and kicked the hackers off “in a way that minimized their chances of returning.”

An American general says the US is facing a “national security” crisis over obesity among the nation’s youth.

10:22 PM Walla reports that according to an IDF source, 3 rockets were launched. At this point they do not think it was Hamas who launched them. 10:16 pm No specific terrorist group in Gaza has yet claimed responsibility for the rockets. 9:55 PM Reminder from the IDF: If you hear the Red Alert siren […]

The family of USAID development worker Dr. Warren Weinstein says they are “devastated” by the news he was killed in a CIA drone strike on Al Qaeda.

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: