When I heard about the death of Nelson Mandela just hours ago, my heart sunk like the hearts of many others around the globe. He was a truly amazing man who made a tremendous difference not only to his native and beloved South Africa, but to the entire world. His struggle against apartheid, a genuinely deplorable system of oppression, inspired his own people and led to majority rule in South Africa. But his legacy of promoting equality and individual freedoms extends to the entire human race.
He spent over a quarter of his fortunately long life in prison, convicted for leading a non-violent resistance against apartheid and despite spending so long behind bars he only served one 4-year term as President to demonstrate his belief in democracy. After this, he went further than that and in his capacity as a non-violent leader he gave the people of the world both an idol but more importantly, a symbol of what they wished their leaders could represent. Nobody can disagree that David Cameron, Barack Obama or Bibi Netanyahu could never match in a hundred years the eloquence, sacrifice, modesty and the dignity of Nelson Mandela. And so the people of the world hope, perhaps in vain, for a world leader with the power to unite the world in admiration and in the hope of freedom again. To be there for the people to relate to. And so he became a hero for his nation, an aspiration for world leaders and a symbol of resilience and freedom for the world.
When I was born, Mandela was 79 years old and had already built his legacy as a legend. As I grew up, I was part of a generation that was taught that legacy and taught to see him as the last generation saw MLK or JFK; as a model on which to resolve our conflicts and create change in the world through peace. It is inspiring to know that when I told my friends late at night about the passing of Mandela, they also cried. Such is the inspiration that he gave to people and the colossus that he was.
As I say that, it is a saddening thought that there will be some who will think and write of the “controversial” Mandela. The apartheid that Mandela so bravely fought against is today equated with Israel, namely the Boycott movement and pro-Palestine activists who compare what he fought against with the situation that Palestinian Arabs experience today in Israel. With this, they make him into a polarising figure which is the opposite, in my opinion, of how he should be remembered. In his unifying role, this is not how he should be remembered at all. But already, the boycotter trolls on news websites copy and paste this quote by Mandela:
“we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
This quote is bandied around by the Boycott Movement world-wide and sadly, it can make the legacy that Mandela a mixed one for some Israelis around the world. However, on visiting Israel, another quote by Mandela is less quoted and sadly skipped by anti-Israel activists.
I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders…
One of the reasons I am so pleased to be in Israel is as a tribute to the enormous contribution of the Jewish community of South Africa.
Yes, Nelson Mandela said that on his state visit to Israel, in a October 1999 speech. Perhaps he said that because he understood the historic parallels between South African blacks and Jews the world around. The Group Areas Act which restricted black residency rights can be compared with the Nuremburg Laws or the Pale of Settlement in Russia. Mandela understood that in the same way that South Africans wanted their own nation for their own culture and identity, the Jews wanted the same.
His legacy should not be polarising or complicated or twisted for any angle. He was a profound man, an incredible leader, an inspiring writer, an amazingly good human being. He fought hard for freedom, both his own and that of his people, and won in the end. He did not believe in apartheid, and he surely did not believe in the demonisation of Israel. Moreover, his legacy of fighting apartheid does not live on in often anti-Semitic boycott rallies or in throwing rocks. As I say that, I sadly remember that his memory will be hijacked by the people of “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”. Yet, I only hope that people will see through that.
He lived a life fighting for the self-determination of his own people, and to live safely in his own borders. He fought and won against an oppressive majority and with that, he won. This victory rings, too, for the victory of the Jews who fought for the same things. And with this other, less circulated quote from his Israel speech he showed that.
South Africans should be proud of their great son. Although he is gone he shall live with a legacy as powerful as those of Martin Luther King of the last generation and Mohandas Gandhi of the one before it. He was a remarkable man, and his death does not only unite the nation that he nurtured and founded in mourning, but the whole world too.
I hope that in spite of attempted polarisation of this great man, Israelis will see through it and transcend political stripes to join in paying respects.
Baruch Dayan haEmet.