Growing up in the 1980s, particularly in San Francisco, I strongly identified with the struggle against apartheid. (Helen Suzman, one of the main anti-apartheid activists, may have been a relative.)
And while I was certainly happy to see Mandela freed and rights granted to all of South Africa’s citizens (during the euphoric times of the falling of the Soviet Union), I never identified with him as a leader. In the spectrum of statesmen pursuing freedom, he seemed closer (but not identical by any means) to a Castro than a Martin Luther King. King, who famously said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, understood that the Jewish struggle for independence and sovereignty, as expressed in Zionism, was a just movement. Mandela felt more comfortable with Arafat and Kaddafi – real enemies of freedom and human rights.
Now certainly he was disappointed with Israel’s cooperation with South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Arab countries invested much more in South Africa during that time, and an oil embargo could have crippled the regime much earlier – and there was no such embargo. So it wasn’t just about lingering resentment towards Israel for their actions in previous decades (an approach which would have contradicted his general focus on reconciliation). It would seem rather that our national liberation movement just didn’t count.
David Hartman pointed out that after everything that has happened to the Jews over the millennia, we really want to be loved. And we don’t understand why when we’re not. This explains why we loved Clinton, but are cold to Obama (even if their policies aren’t so different). This explains why the crowd in Tel Aviv was upset when Bob Dylan didn’t say “Hello Tel Aviv”, but we get so excited about an Israeli Wonder Woman.
Mandela never showed that love. So I think we can respect him for persevering in his decade long quest for equal rights in South Africa , and honor him for achieving that goal without full out civil war. His place in history is secure. But the adoration found across the rest of the world won’t be found here.