Nelson Mandela’s connections to Jews and Israel


Nelson Mandela’s connections to Jews go back a long way. In the 1940s, he was hired by Lazer Sidelsky, a Jewish lawyer from Johannesburg, as a legal clerk. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald

Nelson Mandela was the celebrated opponent of apartheid in South Africa who was imprisoned for 27 years for his role in leading the movement to end white rule. When that movement succeeded, Mandela became post-apartheid South Africa’s first President in 1994, and later the winner of a Nobel Prize for Peace. He became, and remains after his death, the most revered figure for black South Africans, a kind of secular deity in the firmament of the new South Africa.

Mandela’s connections to Jews go back a long way. In the 1940s, he was hired by Lazer Sidelsky, a Jewish lawyer from Johannesburg, as a legal clerk.

“It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience, I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice,” Mandela wrote in his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” “The fact that Lazer Sidelsky, one of the firm’s partners, would take on a young African as an articled clerk — something almost unheard-of in those days — was evidence of that liberalism.”…

Countless other Jews had close relationships with Madiba [a term of respect used for older men], as Mandela was called by friends and supporters. People such as Isie Maisels, Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo, Lionel Bernstein and many others helped him during various stages of his decades-long struggle against apartheid. Some of Mandela’s former associates later relocated to Israel.

Arthur Goldreich, for instance, helped hide Mandela and the African National Congress in the 1960s. Born in Johannesburg, Goldreich came to Israel in the 1940s to fight in the pre-state Jewish underground, yet moved back to South Africa in 1954 to fight apartheid. In the 1960s, he pretended to operate a farm outside Johannesburg, which really served as the underground headquarters of the ANC and its leaders, including Mandela, who posed as a worker on the farm. In 1963, South African authorities raided the farm and Goldreich was imprisoned. He escaped to Britain but immediately decided to move to Israel, where he died in 2011 at an old-age home in Herzliya.

Cape Town-born journalist and social activist Benjamin Pogrund is another close associate of Mandela’s who has since moved to Israel. The former deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, the country’s leading newspaper, Pogrund was among the pioneers who reported about black politics in South Africa.

In 1961, Pogrund helped Madiba organize an illegal strike. “Mandela and I met secretly and regularly,” Pogrund recalled in Saks’s 2011 book “Jewish Memories of Mandela.” “We had a system of sending messages to arrange to meet, which would either be at a friend’s house in Fordsburg, or when I would drive to a street corner at night, pick up Mandela — his worker’s overalls disguise did little to hide his tall, imposing figure — and we would sit in my car in a dark street and talk about the strike campaign.”

Mandela later mentioned three books that he read in prison that were crucial to his education. One of them was The Revolt by Menachem Begin.

Now South Africa is hostile to Israel; it has downgraded diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, and has consistently voted against Israel at the U.N., where its ambassadors have inveighed against it for its supposed mistreatment of the Palestinians. Among those at the forefront promoting anti-Israel policies is Mandela’s grandson Mandla, who converted to Islam on 2016, and since then has been among the most vocal critics of Israel.

Black South African Christians who support Israel have now started waging their own campaign on behalf of Israel. Recently they have erected billboard on a major thoroughfare showing Mandela next to a statement he made more than once: “We insist upon the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

A report on Mandla Mandela is here: “In Pushback Against South African Anti-Zionists, Local Israel Advocates Launch Billboard Campaign Citing Nelson Mandela,” by Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, October 27, 2021:

Pro-Israel advocates in South Africa this week launched a billboard campaign highlighting the support of the country’s late President, Nelson Mandela, for Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign, independent state.

The first billboard poster was unveiled on Monday [Oct. 25] on the M1 North highway in the Sandton district of Johannesburg. Two other billboards showcasing the benefits to South Africans of Israeli innovations in water technology were placed in the same district by the group, South African Friends of Israel (SAFI).

The billboard campaign, one hopes and expects, will expand beyond the initial three. And there are other telling quotes by Mandela about Israel that might be used, including Mandela’s statements that “we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism” and equally significant, his remark that “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israeli within secure borders.”

The billboards that show Israeli innovations in water technology are meant to remind South Africans of all the economic benefits that the South Africans could derive from better relations with the Jewish state. In particular, South Africa needs water, and Israel is a world leader in water technology, including waste water management, desalination, drip irrigation, and producing water out of the circumambient air. This billboard campaign can be expanded to include so many more of the advances that Israeli technology has made and is willing to share with friendly states. Israel is also a world leader in solar energy (another area where South Africa needs help), in civilian drones, and in cybersecurity. Let the billboards show the South African public what the Start-Up Nation can do for their country, once political reconciliation between the two nations is achieved.

“Nelson Mandela was a true South African friend of Israel, a man who stood with the Jewish community and insisted on the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland within secure borders,” Bafana Modise, spokesperson for SAFI, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

The billboard poster displays a photograph of Mandela alongside a quote taken from a speech he delivered to the South African Jewish community in August 1993 that stated: “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist.”…

Mandela’s historic comments on Israel have gained added significance given the current hostility of the African National Congress (ANC), the party he led, toward the Jewish state, which is contemptuously regarded in ANC circles for supposedly imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians. In recent years, ANC leaders have warmly embraced the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, downgraded the status of South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv, and promoted both the boycott campaign targeting Israel and its associated antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Mandela’s 47-year-old grandson, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, has been particularly outspoken in condemning Israel. The younger Mandela, who converted to Islam in 2016, has described Israel as “the worst apartheid regime.” Last week, he led calls for a boycott of the Miss Universe 2021 contest being held in Israel in December.

A website launched by SAFI [South Africans For Israel] as a companion to the billboard campaign gathers speeches and statements made by Nelson Mandela about Israel which confirm that his views on Zionism, Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians were very different from those expressed by his grandson.

In the speech quoted on the billboard, delivered to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on Aug. 21, 1993, Mandela expressed his deep sympathies with both Jewish and Palestinian national aspirations.

“As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination,” Mandela said at the time.

On a visit to Israel in Oct. 1999, Mandela reaffirmed his position at a joint press conference with then Israeli foreign minister David Levy. Lauding Israel as an “economic powerhouse” long before the country acquired its “start-up nation” reputation, Mandela opined, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”

Nelson Mandela was certainly sympathetic to the Palestinians, whose desire — prompted by Islam — to destroy the Jewish state he did not understand; he spoke about “Palestinian nationalism” rather than about the endless Jihad being waged against Israel. But he never spoke about Israel, as his grandson does, as an “apartheid” state, for he knew what real apartheid was, as Mandla Mandela does not.

Would it matter to Mandla Mandela if it were to be pointed out to him that in Israel, which he persists in calling “apartheid Israel,” Arabs serve in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, go abroad as ambassadors for the Jewish state? Does he know that the chairman of the largest bank in Israel, Bank Leumi, is an Arab? Would Mandla Mandela change his mind if he discovered that in Israel, Jews and Arabs study in universities together, work in offices and factories together, play together on sports teams and in orchestras, jointly own restaurants and tech start-ups, and are treated in the same hospitals by both Jewish and Arab medical personnel? No, of course not. Mandla cannot be reached by appeals to facts. His mind is made up.

Why not take this information I’ve just provided, and put it on billboards in South Africa as an irrebuttable riposte to that preposterous charge of “apartheid”? Let it be titled “Apartheid? What Apartheid?,” and below that title, the names of Arab MKs now in the Knesset, of Arabs who have served on the Supreme Court, of Arabs who have served as ambassadors, as leading business executives, as doctors, and more.

But for others, less fanatical than Mandla in their anti-Israel faith, a reminder about Nelson Mandela’s views of the Jewish state might begin to change some minds. Mandela insisted on the “legitimacy of Zionism” and on the right of Israel not to withdraw from territories unless its security needs are met, in no uncertain terms – “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israeli within secure borders.” Raise high those billboards, South Africans For Israel, put up as many as you can afford, and hope that Mandela’s message, and the truth about Israel’s soi-disant “apartheid,” and the economic appeal of the Start-Up nation will, one after the other, eventually sink in.


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