One thing Jews the world over have in common is a collective paranoia. No matter what the event or where it happens we are always examining the entrails to discover the effect on us even when the connection is tenuous in the extreme.
So it was hardly surprising that the death of a giant like Nelson Mandela should immediately launch a period of soul searching rarely witnessed even on Yom Kippur. So how did it end for us? Well there were a few own goals. The suddenly cost conscious Bibi Netanyahu was conspicuous by his absence citing the high cost to the state of him making the trip. Shimon Peres felt too tired and ill to attend even though the usually sprightly 90 year old generally seems to be able to travel the world at the drop of a hat when he is to be the centre of attention.
But did it really matter and did the world look on in horror at their absence. The New York journalist J.J. Goldberg felt it mattered. He said the object of Zionism was to see the Flag of Israel fluttering alongside those of the other nations which make up the world family. As a Brit I confess I looked pretty hard for the Union Jack but never found it, and I saw one half shot of Prince Charles looking rather anonymous amongst a crowd of dark suits.
The Memorial service, which strangely came before the burial was rather surreal. The country’s President was roundly barracked and booed and the sign language interpreter for the deaf seemed to do everything but interpret. The poor man later rejected accusations of being unqualified for the job and claimed to have been put off by angels floating around him on stage. In contrast President Jacob Zuma failed to proffer any reason being it rational or supernatural for his obvious unpopularity, and here is the rub.
The attendance or not of one or both of Israel’s two most famous living politicians would have made little or no difference to relations between the two countries. Despite the enormity of his personality Mandela was unable to prevent South Africa from becoming just another corrupt African country. As his strength waned so the corruption grew worse under each succeeding president. Black education and housing are said now to be worse than under the apartheid regime. Meanwhile President Zuma builds a swimming pool at his private mansion.
The South African Government is hand in glove with the African and Arab so called revolutionary regimes who all distinguish themselves by their lack of democracy and the whittling away of human rights. A short hand pumping visit from either of Israel’s leaders would have done nothing to advance the interests of the Jewish State. Though of course the moral reason for going was and remains unchallengeable.
Were there any plus sides? The truth is that a tiny country like Israel is never going to stand out at a gathering even when their representatives are welcome guests. But back to the moral question of the Jews and Mandela.
Denis Goldberg who spent 22 years with Mandela in prison has accused South Africa’s Jews of not doing enough when it mattered. He of course is right but this self flagellation should end there. Those who identity this habit with Catholics or Shi-ite Muslims are way off base. Though as a matter of course we only confess once a year at Yom Kippur I can say without exaggeration that given enough time and encouragement Jews will confess to anything and everything.
We should take off the sack cloth and ashes and accept that the Jews are just like any other people. What an admission. Given the chance all normal people opt for a quiet life rather than that of heroes or revolutionaries. If we put the question another way we arrive at a different conclusion. If we ask, “did a disproportionate amount of Jews openly back Mandela” the answer is yes. There was of course Mr Goldberg, now one of the few original ANC leaders left alive. There was Joe Slovo who founded with Mandela the ANC’s military wing. Those around Mandela who were not black were mostly Jewish as were the principals of the law firm who gave him his first job and stuck with him through thick and thin until his final triumph.
If we look at the Civil Rights struggle in America it was Jews who stood in the forefront of those calling for an end to segregation. It was not until the bodies of two Jewish students were found in a shallow grave in the Deep South along with an Afro-American colleague that the movement finally gained traction. Here too the majority of Jews stayed silent but those who stood up to be counted were in a greater proportion than in the rest of the white religious and ethnic groups.
But what about Israel and its support or partnership, one has to be careful with words, with Apartheid South Africa. Ben Gurion once said that Israel will be a normal country when the first prostitute is picked up for soliciting. On this basis Israel has been a normal society for years. There is an old maxim which states “My enemies enemy is my friend.” Certainly pre-Rainbow South Africa was no friend of Arafat or Castro. Israel was the pariah who, while not understanding what they had done to deserve the tag, made common ground with the acknowledged world outcast. It was a victory of pragmatism and political expediency over moral fibre and judgement but in many ways understandable as those Israel perceived as its natural allies deserted her. Israel in its pioneering days openly helped the Third World to help themselves. The reward was to become an outcast for what proved to be the short term lure of Arab cash in dictator’s Swiss banks dressed up in the name of revolutionary solidarity.
Those who today describe modern day Israel as an apartheid state belittle the evil of this creed, what it stood for, and the suffering it caused. Usually the people who peddle this rubbish are those who also make light of the holocaust or compare it to any and every disaster that tragically takes human life.
The treatment of Israeli- Arabs is little different to that suffered by any party viewed as a fifth column, the enemy within. At the start of the second World War Italian ice cream sellers and coffee shop owners who had lived and worked in Britain for half a century found themselves interred. So were Jews fleeing Germany in the early stages of the war. The United States locked up Japanese who could trace their ancestry in America back generations after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
The plight of Israeli Arabs has lasted more than half a century. Though unprecedented in the modern world so is the period of the state of war between the two peoples both declared and undeclared.
But lets end with Nelson Mandela. Though by no means a Gandhi pacifist he realised that at some stage there would only be victory when both sides put down their arms and sought reconciliation. Most Arabs have yet to accept that Jews are welcome in the Middle East let alone have a state of their own all be it in an area that is their historical home based in what is a tiny fraction of the total lands Arabs call their own. The Palestinian Arabs still cannot even now, despite peace talks, bring themselves to accept as a part of a future deal Israel being recognised as the “Jewish State.”
This hurdle must be crossed and accepted before any other agreements can be made. One thing the celebrations of Mandela’s life have made abundantly clear is the PLO, Hamas, Arafat and Abbas are not the natural successors of the Great Man or his way of thinking. It’s an insult to his memory to suggest otherwise.