pops“Even when presented with evidence to the contrary, he [Mandela] never seems to have progressed very far from his initial post-jail understanding that their [the Palestinians’] situation was essentially analogous to those of blacks in Apartheid South Africa.” Saks, D., 2011, Jewish Memories of Mandela, Johannesburg: South African Jewish Board of Deputies, p216

If one reads Jewish media reports discussing the life and times of Nelson Mandela, an overwhelming sense generated is that South Africa’s famous icon, revered across the world had very close and intimate contact with the country’s Jewish community.

While this is true and underscores one of Mandela’s many strengths – the ability to reach out to diverse ethnic and racial formations – it certainly doesn’t mean that he therefore tolerated Israel’s repression of the indigenous Palestinian population. Neither does it mean that Mandela remained aloof from the suffering of Israel’s non-Jewish victims.

If the howls of protests that emanated from SA’s Israel lobby when it was reported that Yasser Arafat was due to visit Mandela is a measure of the intolerance displayed by sections of the Jewish community, it does bring to the surface the false sense of ‘owning Mandela’ Jewish media accounts subtly portray.

Not only do such reports mislead and distort crucial historical events, they provide a false narrative implying that SA’s freedom struggle was entirely insular and its successful transition to a constitutional democracy disconnected from similar struggles elsewhere in the world.

There cannot be any dispute that in the Israel/Palestine context there are as many similarities as there are contrasts with SA’s road to freedom. The common denominator resides in the fact that both SA and Palestine have been engaged in long and costly anti-colonial struggles. That SA finally sat ‘round the table’ to find a historic compromise in order to end a horrendous inhumane construct known and hated around many parts of the world as apartheid, is a reflection of the determination to secure peace, justice and equality for all in a unitary state.

Twenty years later as the world mourns and celebrates the life of Mandela, liberation for Palestine from the clutches of Zionist-colonial domination seems remote. But if Margaret Thatcher was to be believed, SA also seemed to be nowhere near ridding itself of the chains of apartheid during 1987 when she uttered these infamous words: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

Such disdain was the order of the day in Britain which to its discredit, features as another common factor in both scenarios. For instance during 1990, when Mandela declined to meet Thatcher while on a trip to London, Conservative MP Terry Dicks asked: “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?” That same year, another Tory MP, Andrew Hunter, called for an investigation into alleged secret links between Mandela’s African National Congress and the IRA.

South African author and journalist Allister Sparks questioned such irrationality when he commented on the ‘assassination-option’ to eliminate Arafat by the regime of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “ Do Sharon and Olmert really imagine that the ‘removal’ of Arafat, by bullet or physical expulsion, would make the Palestinian people who elected him more compliant and more likely to accept the Israeli point of view in this long-drawn-out struggle, any more than the ‘removal’ of Nelson Mandela for 27 years made black South Africans more willing to accept apartheid?”

I presume that the ‘evidence’ Saks refers to in the quote above was possibly posited on wishful thinking. In other words, vainly hoping to persuade Mandela that his reading of the Palestinian situation was erroneous and of the mark.

Mandela’s view on Palestine and support for its emancipation was entirely consistent with the official ANC policy. It would be an insult to his memory if anyone, let alone SA’s Zionist lobby imagined that he was ‘out of touch’ and needed ‘persuasion’ to realign his views to conform with the Israeli narrative.

Iqbal Jassat

Executive Member: Media Review Network

Johannesburg, South Africa