Dear Mandla Mandela,
There is a well-known African proverb: “The words of the elders do not lock all the doors; they leave the right door open.” Your grandfather Nelson Mandela was a great, singular and visionary man, and it is in his memory and the struggle for which he bravely stood that I write this open letter to you.
Nelson Mandela was a man who always listened, even to his opponents, and fought hard for dialogue and understanding. It appears that you have not inherited these vital qualities from your grandfather. On your recent visit to the region, you became a tool in a hate campaign, a campaign that seeks to suppress the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic, ancestral and indigenous homeland.
In recent comments during your visit to the Palestinian Authority, you claimed that Israel is the “worst version of Apartheid.” However, you made no attempt on this visit to our region to meet with any Israeli official, organization or individual. If you had, you would have found that Israel is actually the opposite of Apartheid, it is a story of liberation, emancipation and anti-colonization. You would have heard how a people exiled and enslaved two thousand years ago were scattered to the four corners of the earth and subjected to humiliation, oppression, slavery, dhimmitude and even attempted annihilation.
Even while under the most trying circumstances, the Jewish people never forgot their heritage and their historic, ancestral and indigenous homeland with a remnant always remaining in the Land of Israel. You would have heard how the Jewish people, unique in history, returned to their land, throwing off two millennia of colonial foreign and occupying rule and reconstituted sovereignty. We came from more than 100 different countries, speaking dozens of different languages and from a myriad of backgrounds and traditions.
Unfortunately, even while continually extending our hand in peace and friendship to those whose ancestors came to our region as an occupying and colonizing force, our opponents and enemies continue to seek our destruction.
I am certain that if you sought to understand and research the conflict beyond the superficiality you are currently exposed to, you would see the truth. The Jewish people were the colonized, not the colonizers, the indigenous, not the occupiers, and the liberators and not the conquerors of this land.
Unfortunately, either for domestic political reasons, to shore up the Muslim vote in troubled ANC areas in South Africa, or in a misguided attempt to emulate your grandfather, you have actually shamed his legacy. Comparing Israel, a nation that took in more refugees per capita than any nation in history, and where people of any religion, ethnicity and background can reach every level of office, to Apartheid, dishonors your grandfather’s legacy.
Your grandfather fought against a brutal system that created a legal apparatus to keep people of color from mixing and associating with the white ruling classes. There were separate sinks, bathrooms and sidewalks for blacks and whites. The black majority was banned from voting or holding public office, and had few rights.
I would like to know where any of this exists in Israel, because if it did, I would be the first to stand against such injustice. However, like me, you probably know that there are no such limitations in Israel. The facts are that there are fifteen Arab Members of Knesset, four from the Druze community, including a government minister, and countless more who came from Africa, including myself, and I am honored to be the Chairman of a Knesset Committee.
There is an Arab Supreme Court Justice, Salim Joubran, who sent a former Israeli prime minister to jail.
Any minority can run for president and prime minister, and all Israelis have exactly the same rights and freedoms embedded in our quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.
You know better than I that this was not the case in Apartheid South Africa. In fact, the opposite was true. That is why your analogy of Israel to South Africa is not only a nefarious lie it degrades the legacy of Apartheid and thus cheapens and devalues the struggle of your people that your grandfather led.
Every time you use the term Apartheid so frivolously you chip away at the memory of a regime that terrorized South Africans for decades. By comparing Israel to Apartheid, you do not harm Israel as much as the memory of your people’s sacrifice for freedom and liberty. Such banal and hackneyed comparisons sully this sacrifice and undermine one of the greatest struggles in modern history.
However, it is not too late to rectify your error and historic injustice. I invite you personally to visit Israel, to visit our robust democracy and its seat and representative institution, The Knesset; to see for yourself how hopelessly far reality really is from the image you are perpetrating.
Your grandfather visited Israel on many occasions and, while he was an undisputed supporter of Palestinian statehood, he recognized “the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism” and proclaimed that “we insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders.”
Your elder, Nelson Mandela, left this door open for you.
You can ignore it and remain divisive, belligerent and anti-Semitic, or you can walk through that door to embrace understanding and dialogue, and hear, perhaps for the first time, the story of a people, who, like yours, successfully threw off oppressive foreign colonialism and strove towards national liberation in their historic, ancestral and indigenous homeland.
My door remains open to you should you wish to follow your grandfather’s example.
Dr. Avraham Neguise
Member of Knesset and Chairman of the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs